Ken Barlow gives emotional goodbye to Coronation Street after 59 YEARS

Born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, where Bill Roache’s father was the village GP, his early schooling was near his home, at the Rudolph Steiner School run on the principles of the Austrian philosopher, sparking his lifelong interest in astrology and the paranormal.

He next went to Rydal School, a boarding school in North Wales, well away from the bombed-out towns and cities of then wartime Britain.

National Service followed with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and, in his five years in uniform he rose to the rank of captain, but suffered an accident during live ammunition training with a mortar platoon which permanently damaged his hearing.

Roache said he felt an ‘obligation’ to follow generations of his family who had gone into the medical profession but he was not adept at sciences.

His mother had been a keen amateur actress though he initially felt he was too shy for acting.

Following a stint in the Armed Forces which saw his hearing permanently damaged, William Roache found fame as Ken Barlow, one of only a handful of television and films roles he has ever taken 

But after leaving the Army aged 26 he decided to give it a go, the desire to become an actor ‘burning away in me’, he said.

Minor roles followed before his first big break on television when he was spotted by author Tony Warren for the role of Ken Barlow for a new TV show he was making called Coronation Street.

Depicting a typical down-to-earth Northern community, it picked up the style of social realism of kitchen sink dramas of the early 60s showing the lives of working class folk, spending their time drinking in grimy pubs, living, loving and rowing with cheek-by-jowl neighbours in corner shops, cafes and terraced homes.

Granada’s bosses – and the critics, panned the show, originally commissioned for just 11 weeks, but the viewers disagreed.

The Street went into the ‘stratosphere’ Roache said later, becoming the most watched TV programme in Britain within six months.

Roache bridles at his life’s work being called merely a ‘soap’ claiming the show was ‘cutting edge’ and ‘highly prestigious.’

But as his star rose as the ‘heart throb’ of the Street his personal life began to falter.

Heartthrob: Ken with wife Deirdre Barlow (played by Anne Kirkbride) in 1989

Heartthrob: Ken with wife Deirdre Barlow (played by Anne Kirkbride) in 1989

He had married Anna Cropper while both were acting in Nottingham and they shared time between a flat in Primrose Hill, London, where most acting jobs came up, and a bungalow in Lancashire near his Manchester workplace.

Son Linus was born in February 1965 and daughter Vanya in 1967, but with two young children and living between London and the North the marriage failed.

The relationship was not ‘fulfilling’ and he admitted a series of relationships with other women from 1965 onwards.

He was later to liberally talk about his years of drinking and womanising, coyly giving no denial when the figure of 1,000 lovers was put to him in a TV interview.

He met his second wife Sara Mottram in 1971 and from then on was ‘totally and absolutely faithful’ he said, the couple marrying in 1978.

William toasts the soap's 30th anniversary with champagne at Granada Studios in Manchester.

William toasts the soap’s 30th anniversary with champagne at Granada Studios in Manchester.

In 1981 they had a daughter, Verity but three years later their second daughter, Edwina, died aged 18 months from bronchial pneumonia, before son James born four years later.

Throughout his troubles he was never off-screen and was presented with a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award at the British Soap Awards in 2000 to mark 40 years on the Street.

The following year he was awarded the Member of the British Empire for services to TV drama.

But in 2009 tragedy struck again when his second wife Sara died suddenly from a heart condition, aged just 58.

A year later he became the world’s longest-serving television actor in a continuous role and around that time began a relationship with TV weathergirl Emma Jesson, 36 years his junior.

But after three years they split, reportedly because Roache wanted to concentrate on his ‘spiritual path.’

He has never made a secret of his unconventional beliefs from being photographed in flowing robes at Druid rituals in the 1970s to his current membership of the Pure Love movement.

Roache has what he calls his ‘knowing – a knowing voice I know to be correct, by which I live.’

He believes in re-incarnation and an ‘absolute deity, a total God,’ but denies belonging to any ‘cult, philosophy or religion.’