Monday, 24 January 2011

Roy Barraclough interview

Roy Barraclough MBE, about to
tread the famous cobbles once more.

.... Talks about his 50 year career

How did you first get the acting bug?
I was about ten years old and my parents had taken me to see a touring production of The Desert Song, which was playing the Royal Hippodrome in Preston, my home town. During the interval I went off to get an ice cream and I came across a door marked ‘private’. I was curious as to what went on behind there so I opened the door and went inside. Here was a world quite unlike the front of house. A stage manager told me to clear off, so off I went with my tail between my legs. But my imagination had been fired. When I got home I built a model theatre.

But you didn’t go onto stage school?
No. I never had any formal training. I studied as a draughtsman. Whilst I was at college I saved up and got a season ticket for the theatre. I also joined a couple of the local amateur societies and acted, played the piano, directed – and, whilst I should have been working – designed scenery.

So, when was your first professional role?
I was about sixteen when I was asked to play a schoolboy in a production at the local theatre. I got paid £4 for the week. However, then there was a long gap until I landed a summer contract as an entertainer at a holiday camp on the Isle of Wight. I then went back to being a draughtsman again. I was desperate to join a repertory company and wrote so many letters of application. In 1962, when I was 27, I finally got a contract with the Nita Valerie Company in Huddersfield. I had many happy years there and then I went to Stoke and then Oldham. Working in rep, you rehearsed one play during the day and performed another at night. A different play every week, that was better than going to drama school.

Most people will know you from television but you’ve always appeared on stage too, haven’t you?
Yes. I always have done, even when I was in Coronation Street, I always insisted on time out to do a stage play each year. That’s why Alec (Gilroy) used to vanish on cruises. I’ve done a whole range – a lot of Arthur Miller, musicals, pantomime of course, more drama than comedy though. Theatre has always been my first love.

What were your first television roles?
Oldham is on the outskirts of Manchester and when Granada Television opened, the casting directors used to come and watch the plays there. Many of us – William Roache, Barbara Knox, Anne Kirkbride – ended up as regulars at Granada. I appeared in some of the early programmes like City 68, Nearest and Dearest and Coronation Street, which I first appeared in around 1964. In 1969 I got my first big role on TV, which was as a regular in Yorkshire TV’s first soap, Castle Haven. Kathy Staff and I played husband and wife. I then starred in a popular children’s series called Pardon My Genie which ran through the early 70s.

You met Les Dawson during that time, didn’t you?
I did. Les had won Opportunity Knocks and had landed his first series at Yorkshire. They had employed an actor to do sketches with him but actors like scripts and Les really liked to make it up as he went along. He didn’t care for rehearsals either. This poor actor walked out on the show and they needed someone to take over – fast! I happened to be on site and they asked me. We got on straight away. He was a lovely man and we worked together for a long time. On screen and on stage. The famous Cissie and Ada sketches came about because we both loved the comedy of Norman Evans and his Over the Garden Wall monologues so when we were bored we used to amuse each other by doing them. The producer overheard us and they got put into the show.

Did you enjoy your Coronation Street years?
Yes, although I always worried about being type-cast. I played quite a few different roles in the show before Alec came along including the man who sold the window-cleaning round to Stan Ogden, a tour guide taking the Rovers regulars on a trip and so on. They brought me in to run a drinking club as they had a story where the Rovers was going to burn down and would therefore be out of use for some time. They then decided to team Bet and Alec up and they then married us off. They always had a struggle to get me to sign a new contract because I was always tempted to go and do something new. So I had breaks every now and again – but if you add it all up, I played Alec across 25 years and from my first Corrie appearance until my last was 34 years.
Do you keep in touch with any of your Corrie co-stars?
Yes, I do – I have a chat with the actors who played Bet, Jack and Vera, Mavis, Betty and Rita now and again. I also have a very close relationship with Chloe, who played my granddaughter Vicky.

So what do you do these days?
Well, I’m very happy to be semi-retired. I’m 76 this year and if you tot it all up, it’s my 50th year in the business so I think I’ve earned a rest. I’m very fortunate in that I’m offered quite a few TV and stage roles but I turn most of them down. It has to be something that really appeals. I did a series called Funland which was set in Blackpool because I loved the scripts, I played the vicar in All the Small Things because it was filmed locally and the rest of the cast were wonderful and it allowed me to work with Sarah Lancashire (Raquel) again. I’ve also played Santa on stage in Southampton, Birmingham and Liverpool over the past few Christmases because the production values of the shows were so good.

And you're about to return to the cobbles - on stage at least.
Yes, Coronation Street has played such a big role in my career and this being my 50th year in the business it seemed like a great way to celebrate by going on tour with the Corrie! stage play by Jonathan Harvey. I’m playing the narrator at Cardiff, Bradford, Southampton and Malvern. I saw the play when it premiered at the Lowry and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t sure how Jonathan was going to get 50 years of stories and characters into a two-hour show but he does it very well indeed. As I sat in the audience I thought then that if it went on tour I’d love to be involved so when they asked it was an instant yes.

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