As a young boy, this scribe actually SAW Bill’s 1960 debut as Ken Barlow in “Coronation Street” (yes, I am that old) and whilst he grew out of watching soaps by his teens, he has noted that Mr Roache is STILL THERE.
In fact many people believe Bill is the World’s longest-serving actor in the same role – however, the truth is a bit more complicated.
A man called Don Hastings has played a doctor in a U.S. soap which started in ’56, called “As The World Turns”. But unlike Bill, he was not there from episode one. He joined it – just two months before Bill began HIS run.
Plus two old biddies have been with As The World Turns for even longer. But as both had spells OFF the show – unlike Bill and Don, their runs cannot be classed as CONTINUOUS.
Moreover, As The World Turns is not itself even the World’s longest-running soap – THAT honour goes to “Guiding Light”, which – like this author – has been going since 1952. However, none of THAT show’s cast has done a run as long as those endured by Bill and Don.
Incidentally, despite holding the record for longest-running TV drama – with a previous 15 year spell on radio (72 years in total!) – CBS have now CANCELLED “Guiding Light” due to failing ratings. It will finally end, later this year.
Anyhoo, Bill has another distinction. Being a soap, As The World Turns runs in the AFTERNOON – not in PrimeTime, as Corry does. Ergo, Bill can still claim the record for PRIMETIME drama’s longest-serving actor in a continuous role.
But until one of these old geezers (Bill, at 77, is two years older than Don) falls off the twig, the argument will likely remain unsettled.
After all, it seems unlikely either of them will QUIT, having both now been in the job for nearly 50 years (Corry will celebrate its half-century late next year, while As The World Turns celebrated its own, some three years ago) – and Bill may have more reason than Don to keep going.
Back in the ’90s, a British trash-paper called the Sun, printed a piece claiming Bill was as BORING as his character on “The Street”. Incensed, Bill sued. The Sun offered £50 grand in compensation. On the advice of his lawyer, Bill took it on to court, where he won – £50 grand.
However, under British law, since this amount was already “in court”, he became liable not only for his own costs, but for those of the Sun’s expensive battery of lawyers as well. A total amount doubtless well in excess of fifty grand.
He then tried to sue his lawyer for giving him bad advice – but LOST (lawyers are not easy to sue, anywhere). A couple of years later, Bill was forced to declare himself BANKRUPT.
As for what his CURRENT finances look like, this writer has no idea – but it may well be that poor old Bill has NO OPTION but to keep Ken Barlow alive. At least, for as long as HE is.
Of course, both of these men have other strings to their bows. Apart from earlier being a singer, Don is also a writer – whilst Bill has his One Man Show and an autobiography.
But while Don’s second wife still lives – sadly, Bill LOST his second wife just last month. Whether THAT will be a factor in Bill’s decisions on his future remains to be seen – at the moment, he has pledged to carry on.
Despite exhaustive research, this writer can find no evidence that these two men with strangely similar – and bizarrely UNIQUE – life-stories have ever MET. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at THAT encounter. Two guys who have lived their entire lives as another person – seen by millions of other people.
But that which holds the main interest on both sides of The Pond – is which of these guys can carry off the Undisputed Crown as the World’s longest-reigning continuous-role actor. For THAT one, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
UPDATE! As The World Turns …got CANCELLED! Which now leaves Bill as the UNDISPUTED LONGEST continually-serving actor in the same role in the WORLD.
He is 80 now, but if he can keep it up until December, 2014 – he will also pass Helen Wagner’s record: she had been in As The World Turns since its beginning in 1956 – but took a few years off. She then passed, in 2010.
However there is now ANOTHER long-serving Corry alumni – Philip Lowrie. HE started on Corry contemporaneously with Bill, but took FORTY-THREE years off – so does not really count.
But at least Philip does have another record (certified by Guinness): as a regular character in a TV programme – he has taken the longest BREAK in history!
One last thing: for a quick look at Bill in that first episode, way back in 1960 – hit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvNwpy_U_KU