William Roache: ‘I don’t know’ any of the complainants

Coronation Street star William Roache has told a jury he did not commit any sex offences.

The 81-year-old actor swore on the Bible as he was called to give evidence from the witness box at Preston Crown Court.

Louise Blackwell QC, defending, asked Roache: “Have you committed any of the offences with which you have been charged?”

“No I have not,” Roache replied.

Miss Blackwell continued: “Do you have any memory of being in the company of any of the people that have made the allegations against you?”

“No, not one of them,” Roache replied.

“Do you know any of them in any way?” Miss Blackwell said.

“No,” the defendant replied.

“Or of them in any way?” Miss Blackwell continued.

“No,” he said.

Roache has pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault involving five complainants aged 16 and under on dates between 1965 and 1971.

Roache said he was born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, the son of a local doctor. His early schooling was near his home, at the Rudolph Steiner School where his grandfather had donated part of his property for its grounds.

Talking about Mr Steiner, he said: “He had an interesting philosophy about education – that school should be a place of fun. Handcrafts, dancing, painting… there was no discipline; it was not needed either.”

Speaking of the effect the school had on him, he said: “I did have an interest in things from beyond the sixth sense of the normal. Spiritual matters always remained interesting.”

He next went to a boarding school in North Wales, which he enjoyed less. It had a more traditional academic focus with ‘cold baths in the morning’.

Roache said he was left-handed, but the school made him right-handed.

He told the jury that he joined the Army after leaving school. He was a member of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and, in his five years of service, rose to the rank of captain, and spent two years in Oman.

In the mid-1950s he 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.

“My mother had always been a keen amateur actress,” he said. “She used to direct the amateur dramatic society in Ilkeston.”

Roache won a drama prize as a youngster, but initially felt he was too shy for acting. He said. “But I did, at the age of 26, when I came out of the Army I thought I had to give it a go,” he said.

“It was burning away in me.”

Roache’s first break on television was a lead role in Play Of The Week in 1959, he said. Filmed at Granada Studios in Manchester, he said he had a ‘prestigious part’ in Marking Time, as a soldier who had an affair with a girl.

It caught the attention of Coronation Street author Tony Warren, who saw him perform in the studio.

“He said ‘That is the person I want to play Ken Barlow’,” he said.

His barrister, Miss Blackwell, asked if Coronation Street was ‘a new soap’.

Roache replied: “I still don’t like the word ‘soap’.”

Comparing it to the innovative kitchen sink dramas of the time, he said: “We were the first on television. It was highly prestigious, it was cutting edge. We were a drama and did it like that.”

The actor said the series, filmed in black and white, was originally only commissioned for 11 weeks and that Sidney Bernstein, the head of Granada, did not believe it would work.

Miss Blackwell, dealing with ‘preliminary matters’ before questions began, asked Roache about his hearing difficulties.

“It’s not an age thing,” he told the jury. “It happened when I was in the Army, when I was 21 – a mortar bomb exploded.”

Later questions moved to Roache’s personal life at the beginning of his acting career on Coronation Street.

Roache said he had met Anna Cropper while acting in Nottingham and they got married.

“We had a little flat in Primrose Hill in London. She was an actress too, a very good actress.”

Roache said after Coronation Street launched ‘it went into the stratosphere, we were very highly feted’.

The cast were offered three-year contracts so he decided he also needed a home in the north and bought a cottage in Rawtenstall, Lancashire.

Later he bought two cottages and a plot of land to build a house on elsewhere in Lancashire, the court heard.

But Roache and his wife still lived between London and the north, he said.

“We did not think Coronation Street was going to run for very long and London was the best place to be,” he added.