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Ken Barlow
K Barlow 2008.jpg
William Roache as Ken Barlow in 2009.
Coronation Street
Portrayed by William Roache
Duration 1960—
First appearance 9 December 1960
Created by Tony Warren
Book appearances Coronation Street: The Complete Saga
Coronation Street Treasures
Occupation (retired), previously Teacher,Waiter

Kenneth "Ken" Barlow is a long-standing fictional character in the UK television ITV soap opera, Coronation Street. Portrayed by William Roache, he is the only remaining character from the first episode of the series in 1960, having appeared in it continuously from its inception.[1] Ken has fathered three children including twins, Susan Barlow and Peter Barlow and Daniel Osbourne. He also adopted Tracy Barlow, his third wife Deirdre's daughter by her ex-husband Ray Langton. The character has also been a teacher, a newspaper editor, a community activist, a trolley-pusher at a supermarket and a Santa Claus portrayer, before returning to teaching and writing. He has been married four times, widowed twice, and divorced once, and has had 27 girlfriends.[2]





Ken has appeared in Coronation Street since December 1960 and is the only character of the original cast that still appears. In the soap's early years, Ken was frequently presented as resenting what he saw as the anti-intellectual, repressed climate around him. A scathing article he wrote for a newspaper led to clashes with his father and a Rovers punch-up with Len Fairclough. Ken never stopped standing up for what he believed was right but as time passed, he grew to love the street and the people who lived on it. Ken drives a blue Skoda Favorit hatchback. He is incredibly unreliable and often received scathing comments from acid-tongued Blanche.


Personality and identity

The character has a reputation amongst the viewers as boring and a man of morals. Roache said of his character in during an interview for a book based on the show in 1991: "He is a man of integrity who fights for what he thinks is right",[3] the author Graeme Kay, who along with Roache talked about the character evolution within the show, wrote: "He began as a bit of a prig, in the eyes of working-class father Frank, but matured into a sound family man, only to go astray. He changed from teacher to news paper owner, through various jobs, but threw that away too. He has always liked to see himself as a big fish in a small pond, with his steely, domineering manner and feeling of superior intellect.".[3] In 2007, Virgin Media made an article on the history of the soap opera which stated, "Perhaps unfairly dubbed boring, Ken is ultimately an intelligent man, frustrated by the cards life has dealt him – although the hair, clothes and strong morals haven’t helped."[4] He is the Street’s resident intellectual who’s never quite managed to break free from his roots.[5]


ITV publicity made a point about how many relationships and flings he has had with women when asked about his love life stating "This could take a while… Ken has had more girlfriends than most of the Street’s male residents put together."[6] Along with his four wives, the character has had a total of 27 girlfriends, including a character played by the now famous actress Joanna Lumley.[7]



After attending Bessie Street School, Ken lives at No 3 Coronation Street with his parents whilst he is a student at Manchester University (where he gaines a 2nd class honours degree in History and English). While at university, he meets Susan Cunningham and later has an affair with librarian Marion Lund. In 1961, Ken's mother dies, and he turns down a teaching post down South to support his father and starts work as a personnel officer at Amalgamated Steel.

Ken marries Valerie Tatlock in July 1962 and they move into No 9 Coronation Street. Ken is now teaching. In 1964, he has a fling with exotic dancer Pip Mistral but his marriage survives. Twins Peter and Susan are born on 15 April 1965. In January 1966, Ken has an affair with newspaper reporter Jackie Marsh. Valerie finds out and leaves initially but returns later. In March 1967, Ken spends 7 days in jail after being arrested on a student march (this is alluded to in December 2000 when Peter mentions that his father had been nicknamed 'Red Ken'). In June 1968, the Barlows sell No9 and move into one of the newly-built maisonettes - No14 Coronation Street.


In 1970, Ken's brother David is involved in a car crash in Australia, along with wife Irma and son Darren. David and Darren have died, whereas Irma has survived. Ken refuses to go over to David's funeral as it is a waste of money only to see him buried, so only Irma's mother Hilda Ogden goes over to support her. In 1971, Ken is offered a teaching post in Jamica, and accepts this, as this would be a new start for Valerie and his children. However, while Valerie gets ready for their leaving party, she is electrocuted by a faulty hairdrier which sets fire to the flats. Ken is devastated. He sends his kids Peter and Susan to live with Valerie's parents as he can't cope. In April 1975, Ken's estranged father Frank dies in his sleep of natural causes. This has a big impact on Ken, as he has lost his entire family.

In April 1972, Ken moves into No1 to live with Valerie's Uncle Albert. He is now a teacher at Bessie Street School, and gets friendly with a pupil's mother - Rita Bates, wife of Harry Bates. Norma Ford starts work as assistant in the Corner Shop in May 1972 (living in the flat above), and makes her interest in Ken clear. He initially resists as he is chasing Elaine Perkins - the headmaster's daughter, and only sees Norma on the rebound from Elaine. Soon afterwards, he meets up again with Rita Bates - now using her maiden name of Littlewood - who is on the rebound from Len Fairclough, and they spend the night together.

In October 1972, Ken visits his children in Glasgow and returns, married to Janet Reid. Unfortunately, Janet doesn't want to be a stepmother and the marriage breaks down. By May 1974, Janet has left Ken. Ken gives up teaching and becomes an executive at the Mark Brittain warehouse - and has an affair with shop steward Peggy Barton. In 1976, Ken loses his job after a fire and is a taxi driver for a while, but soon gets a post as Community Development Officer, in charge of the Community Centre. When Wendy Nightingale visits the centre to conduct a survey on reading habits, she falls for Ken. Wendy is married, but leaves her husband for 5 weeks to live with Ken. Wendy's husband, Roger, attacks Ken when he is spurned - but he and Wendy reconcile when she realises she hates life on Coronation Street.

In February 1977, Janet returns, after being thrown out by her lover, and pleads with Ken to take her back. He refuses, but agrees to let her stay the night. The next morning, he finds her dead, having taken an overdose during the night. Ken is initially suspected of murder but is cleared, although it does little to assuage his guilt.


In 1979, Ken begins dating divorcée Deirdre Langton. By January 1980 their relationship has grown sufficiently that she strongly hinted to Ken that if he asked her to marry him she wouldn't say no. This only scares Ken away - saying he is too old for her and would be unsuitable as he has already been married twice. Ken and Deirdre go away to Glasgow together at Easter 1981 to see Ken's twins, and after a couple of weeks of thought, they agree to marry. On 27 July 1981 Deirdre finally becomes the third Mrs Barlow. Although they plan to buy a house elsewhere, Albert Tatlock's declining health means that Deirdre and her four-year-old daughter Tracy move into No1 with Ken and Uncle Albert.

Settled in a mudane relationship, in February 1982 Deirdre broaches the possibility of having a child - which Ken very firmly refuses, saying he doesn't want the responsibility of another child. In May 1982, there is a spate of muggings and a detective asks youth club organiser Ken if he has seen anything suspicious. Deirdre is immediately suspicious of local lad Ray Attwood, sporting a new expensive Walkman. Ken refuses to contact the police, citing his position with the youth club and lack of firm evidence. After Betty Turpin is mugged, Deirdre goes behind Ken's back and reports Ray, who is indeed responsible for the muggings. Ken feels that Deirdre has betrayed him, and also has to apologise to Betty, realising if he had reported the matter earlier, she would not have been mugged. In the same month Ken relents and agrees that they should try for a child.

By 1983, Deirdre has become bored with Ken and she has an affair with Ken's rival, Mike Baldwin. The episode in 1983 when she ends her affair with Mike and reconciles with Ken was the highest rated episode and the news was so big, in real life the news was broadcast over a scoreboard at Old Trafford while Manchester United were playing Arsenal.[8][9]

After a turbulent number of years, which saw the death of Uncle Albert in 1984 and his daughter Susan marry his nemesis Mike Baldwin in 1986, Ken begins a relationship with council secretary Wendy Crozier in October 1989. When Deirdre finds out, she is furious, and throws him out. She shocks Ken by saying she wants a divorce.


Early on New Year's Day 1990, Ken finds himself homeless and goes to live with Wendy, but things don't work out. He is forced to sell his 33% share in the Recorder newspaper (which he had bought in 1983) to pay off No1's mortgage. He ends up living in a little bedsit at Chepstow Road. By August he returns to the Street, living in the shop flat (much to Deirdre's consternation) and teaching again, this time at Weatherfield Comprehensive. Ken is devastated when Deirdre goes to Paris with Phil Jennings in 1991, as he had hoped for a reconciliation, and New Year's Eve sees Ken letting himself into No1, arranging some pills into a large triangle and preparing to take an overdose - only the timely intervention of Bet Gilroy saves him.

In 1991, Alma Sedgewick has been dumped by Mike Baldwin in favour of Jackie Ingram, and Alma starts an affair with Ken. However, Mike's marriage only lasts a week, and on Christmas Day 1991, Mike lures Alma back into his bed - but only to get back at Ken. Honesty gets the better of Alma, and she confesses to Ken on New Year's Eve at a hotel they are staying at. Instead of sympathising, Ken walks out and sees in his second New Year alone. 1992 sees Ken fall for another of his pupil's mothers - Maggie Redman. The Baldwin/Barlow feud erupts again, Mike Baldwin is the father of Maggie's son, Mark. Mike hates the thought of Ken spending Christmas Day with his son but Ken's pride gets the better of him. He cannot handle the situation and he and Maggie split up.

In 1993, Ken begins dating hairdresser Denise Osbourne in a rather on-off relationship. When Deirdre returns in late Spring 1994, she is keen to try and rebuild their relationship but is stunned to hear that Denise is expecting twins and Ken is the father. Denise will not let Ken move in with her at No2, so in July 1994, he moves to Reg Holdsworth's flat across the street at No12 Coronation Street. Baby Daniel is born on 4 January 1995, but Denise finds the situation too much and flees to her sister's home in Macclesfield.

Denise returns in May 1995, more sure of her and Ken, and they move back into No1, which Ken had bought from Mike Baldwin in July 1995. Things go well until Brian Dunkley, Denise's accountant brother-in-law, appeares. It emerges that they had been having an affair for two years. In January 1996, guilt-stricken, Denise asks Ken if he still wanted to get married (he had offered to marry her when she was pregnant, but she refused). He agrees but rejects Denise when he finds out about her affair with Brian. In February 1996, she leaves Weatherfield with Brian but leaves Daniel with Ken. Ken's happiness at being a single dad is short-lived when Denise returns for Daniel in November - rather complicated by the fact that Ken is friendly with Deirdre again. Ken had been hoping that he, Deirdre and Daniel could be a family, but Deirdre isn't keen. It is a double blow for Ken when Kelly Thomson, Daniel's nanny, decides to move in with Denise and Brian. Kelly feels she is doing the best for Daniel but Ken feels that she has betrayed him. Ken's hopes of keeping Daniel are dashed when he is forced to retire from his job as teacher at Weatherfield Comprehensive.

Ken and Deirdre subsequently divorce but remain friends. Ken supports Deirdre during her ordeal when she is jailed for fraud in February 1998, after con man Jon Lindsay implicates her in a financial scam. He puts aside his past differences with Mike Baldwin and together, they are successful in getting Deirdre released. Ken hopes for a reconciliation with Deirdre, but it doesn't materialise.

Christmas 1998 takes an unexpected turn when Deirdre's mother Blanche Hunt comes to visit. Blanche decides she doesn't want to see Deirdre single and tries to manipulate Ken by telling him that Deirdre still has feelings for him. She says the same thing to Deirdre about Ken. At the Valentine's Day dance in February 1999, Ken takes the opportunity to have a few dances with Deirdre, much to the amusement of the party goers. As they are dancing, Ken realises he still has strong feelings for his ex-wife, and admits to her he still loves her. Deirdre is unsure, and Ken backs off for a little while. In March 1999, Ken and Deirdre have a visit from Tracy. Ken and Deirdre are dismayed to find that Tracy has left her husband Robert Preston after a misunderstanding. Ken and Deirdre join forces into helping Tracy and Robert reconcile. They tell Tracy they don't want her to make the same mistakes they did with their marriage. At last they both convince Tracy and Robert to get back together, and they both leave Weatherfield happily reconciled again. Seeing how happy Tracy and Robert are, Ken persuades Deirdre to give their relationship another go, and she finally agrees much to Ken's joy.


In Autumn 2002, Ken's teaching career is ruined by pupil-from-hell character Aidan Critchley, who mocks and terrorises Ken, resulting in the class being disrespectful to him. Aidan had also seriously injured his girlfriend Sarah Platt in a car crash while joyriding, and it is only shortly before being charged with this offence that he goads a furious Ken into punching him, and he promptly resigns. On the day of his court appearance a spiteful Tracy reveals to him that Deirdre had slept with her boss Dev Alahan little over a year previously. Ken is devastated but in the end, decides to stay with Deirdre. In the meantime, he pleads guilty to assaulting Aidan and receives a conditional discharge in court. In January 2003, Aidan is accused of murdering resident Maxine Peacock. Ken does not believe Aidan has committed the crime as he had seen him heavily drunk on the same night. When Audrey Roberts claims that her own son in law Richard Hillman has committed the crime, Ken is the only person who believes her. Ken even goes to talk to Aidan's father who eventually reconciles with Aidan after Richard Hillman is discovered to be the real killer.

Ken and Deirdre eventually remarry on 8 April 2005. However, their wedding day is overshadowed by the death of Deirdre's first husband Ray Langton, who has returned, wanting to develop a relationship with his estranged daughter Tracy. He dies in the Rovers during the wedding reception. Ken and Deirdre's marriage was watched by an estimated 13 million viewers compared to the nine million who watched the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles the following day.[10]

Early 2006 sees Deirdre become a lot closer to old flame Mike Baldwin when it transpires that he was suffering from Alzheimer's. On 7 April 2006, Mike dies in Ken's arms outside Underworld in an episode watched by 12.6 million people.[11], shaking Ken and Deirdre's marriage a little when Ken becomes annoyed by what he considers excessive grief on Deirdre's part. Their marriage suffers further when Tracy is convicted of murdering her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs in April 2007. After a blazing row, Ken leaves and begins rebuilding a relationship with his son Daniel, and the boy's mother Denise Osbourne. Ken and Denise grow closer during his separation from Deirdre.

Convinced that Ken wants to rekindle their passion, Denise makes a blatant attempt to win him over but when she leans in for a kiss, he rejects her advances. After this embarrassing encounter, Ken decides to return to Coronation Street. He and Deirdre apologise for their treatment of one another. The couple forgive each other and reconcile. Deirdre realises that Ken wants to keep in touch with Daniel and suggests he continue his contact with the boy.

In 2008 his storylines included working part-time in Roy's Rolls, a humorous storyline with Roy Cropper being wrongly accused of drug dealing and subsequently being arrested and freed, a friendship with homosexual character Ted Page,[12] the return of his son, Peter and grandson, Simon and beginning a feud with his son over his drink problem.[13]

On 26 January 2009, Ken meets Martha Fraser.[14] He cosily befriends her, and on many occasions, has lengthy chats in her canal boat (their first meeting is when she fishes Eccles, the Border Terrier out of the canal, when she has fallen in). He doesn't tell her about his marriage to Deirdre, and likewise doesn't mention Martha to Deirdre. Ken finds solace in Martha as she is a fellow lover of the arts and it gives him an escape from his domestic problems. He confesses to friend Ted Page that he has fallen for Martha and the pair finally kiss in March 2009. However, following a fire at Peter's flat when he and Simon are almost killed, Ken realises that he should have been listening to Deirdre's concerns about Peter, and not have been concentrating on Martha. On 2 April 2009, he finally admits to her that he is a married man and she angrily orders him to leave. However, he keeps begging her to take him back and tells Martha that he is in love with her, but she doesn't believe this and thinks he is lying. Their secret is also opened to Ted's former girlfriend Audrey Roberts, who tells Peter that Ken is having an affair.

On 1 May 2009, Ken plans to leave with Martha. However he can't, and jilts her and returns home to Deirdre, finding that the goodbye letter he had left to Deirdre has been removed by Peter who had anticipated Ken's change of heart. Even though he has got away with the affair, Ken still feels guilty and eventually he admits to the affair. Although Deirdre is very angry with him, she agrees to forgive him as he had forgiven her fling with Dev.

In late 2009, Peter wants to set up a wine bar at the end of the Street with girlfriend Leanne Battersby, Ken is against it as Peter is a recovering alcoholic. Things aren't helped with the arrival of Simon's other grandfather George Wilson, whom Ken doesn't trust, believing that he has been trying to buy Simon's affection with expensive gifts. Ken resorts to drastic measures to stop the bar from happening, by getting a journalist to investigate it and also selling the story of the Barlow family's chequered history, to the indignation of Peter and Deirdre.


After feuding over the bar for a number of months, Ken and Peter finally settle their differences for Simon's sake in January 2010. However, Ken and his famiy are left reeling when Peter destroys the grand opening of Leanne's bar when he starts drinking again. After Peter realises that he needs help with his problem, Ken, George and Leanne agree that he should spend sometime in Rehab so that he can stop his addiction.


For his portrayal of Ken, William Roache won the Lifetime Achievement award at the British Soap Awards in 1999. In 2005 Grace Dent of The Guardian published an article about how the Coronation Street archetypes shaped characters from other soap operas that would appear later. On the character of Ken she stated: "The heavily plagiarised Corrie stalwart is Ken Barlow, who as "resident intellectual" has been looking down his nose at the proletariat since 1960. Just like poor hangdog-faced Ken, brainy people in soapland (Dr Truman, Roy Cropper, Todd Grimshaw, Emmerdale's Ethan the curate) are always miserable and brooding, due to the terrible burden of their mighty intellect in the face of so many simpletons. It rarely pays to be too clever or too rich in soapland as the majority of plotlines rely upon tragic Shakespearian falls from grace which everyone laughs their socks off at."[15] In early 2009 the character was reported to media regulator Ofcom about a series of derogortory comments about Christianity, which sparked a number of complaints also to broadcaster ITV. A spokesperson for the show defended the character and the scripts which featured the comments saying: "Coronation Street is a soap opera set in modern society and therefore represents views from all side of the religious spectrum."[16]

In popular culture

In the UK, the character 'Ken Barlow' remains a synonym for a boring man. The British group Half Man Half Biscuit highlighted this point in their 2001 song Lark Descending, comparing the character from Coronation Street with a member of the US underground music scene with the lyric: "I could have been like Lou Barlow, but I'm more like Ken Barlow."[17] Ken Barlow's storyline gripped the whole stadium of Old Trafford in 1983 when the culmination of the Ken, Deirdre and Mike storyline was flashed on the scoreboard.[18] The storyline also made national news at the time.[19]


  1. ^ "Corrie's Bill will mark half century". Metro. 07 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  2. ^ John Moss (2002). "Coronation Street Granada Television Manchester". Manchester2002. Retrieved on 2009-02-16
  3. ^ a b Life in the Street. Boxtree Limited. 1991. p. 32. ISBN 1-85283-161-8. 
  4. ^ "Coronation Street: Who's Who?". Virgin Media. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  5. ^ Karen Price (04 October 2008). "Meet the man behind Corrie's Ken Barlow". Wales Online. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  6. ^ ITV (18 April 2007). "Coronation Street: Cast & Characters: Ken Barlow". Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  7. ^ Metro (04 July 2007). "Retirement 'not an option' for Bill". Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  8. ^ "Coronation Street: Who's Who?". 25 January 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  9. ^ Jack Kibble-White (June 2000). "EVERYDAY FOLK AND INFLATION". Off The Telly. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  10. ^ Sarah Ellis (21 April 2008). "Soap bubbles". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  11. ^ Webmaster (08 April 2006). "Baldwin finale pulls in viewers". Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  12. ^ Sara Nathan (04 July 2008). "Ken Barlow in gay rumours". The Sun. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  13. ^ Kris Green (04 July 2008). "Peter Barlow returns to Corrie". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  14. ^ Kris Green (27 November 2008). "Stephanie Beacham joins Corrie". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  15. ^ Grace Dent (30 July 2005). "Crowned with glory". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  16. ^ Kris Green (14 April 2009). "Corrie Ken's remarks spark complaints". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  17. ^ Editor (04 May 2005). "Editor's Recommendation - Half Man Half Biscuit". Bing. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  18. ^ Aideen McLaughlin (01 May 2005). "The nation's favourite TV moment? For those of you who don't want to". Sunday Herald. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 
  19. ^ Karen Price (04 October 2008). "Meet the man behind Corrie's Ken Barlow". Wales Online. Retrieved 2009-06-03. 

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