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Kenneth "Ken" Barlow is a long-standing fictional character in the UK television ITV soap opera, Coronation Streetmarker. 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.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 also has been a teacher, a newspaper editor, a community activist and a trolley-pusher at a supermarket, before returning to teaching and writing. He has been married four times, widowed twice, and divorced once, and has had 27 girlfriends.



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 receives scathing comments from acid-tongued Blanche.



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", the author Graeme Kay, who along with Roached 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.". 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." He is the Street’s resident intellectual who’s never quite managed to break free from his roots.


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." 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.



After attending Bessie Street School, Ken lived at No 1 Coronation Street with his parents whilst he was a student at Manchester University (where he gained a 2nd class honours degree in History and English). While at university, he met Susan Cunningham.

In 1961, Ken's mother died, and he turned down a teaching post down South to support his father and started work as a personnel officer at Amalgamated Steels where he had an affair with librarian Marion Lund.

Ken married Valerie Tatlock in July 1962 and they moved into No 9 Coronation Street. Ken was now teaching. In 1964, he had a fling with exotic dancer Pip Mistral but the marriage survived. Twins Peter and Susan were born on 15 April 1965. In January 1966, Ken had an affair with newspaper reporter Jackie Marsh. Valerie found out and left initially but returned later. In March 1967, Ken spent 7 days in jail after being arrested on a student march (this was alluded to in December 2000 when Peter mentioned that his father had been nicknamed 'Red Ken'). In June 1968, the Barlows sold No9 and moved into one of the newly-built maisonettes - No14 Coronation Street.


Ken was offered a teaching post in Jamaicamarker; however, on the evening of their leaving party in 1971, Valerie was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer and killed instantly. Ken rented No3 Coronation Street (previously his parents' house), but couldn't cope with raising the twins alone. In the aftermath of Valerie's death, Ken sent them to live with Valerie's parents in Glasgow. Leading the bachelor life again, Ken began dating hotel receptionist Yvonne Chappell; Ken proposed but she soon realised he was only looking for a replacement for Valerie.

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

In October 1972, Ken visited his children in Glasgowmarker and returned, married to Janet Reid. Unfortunately, Janet didn't want to be a stepmother and the marriage broke down. By May 1974, Janet had left Ken. Ken gave up teaching and became an executive at the Mark Brittain warehouse - and had an affair with shop steward Peggy Barton. In 1976, Ken lost his job after a fire and was a taxi driver for a while, but soon got a post as Community Development Officer, in charge of the Community Centre. When Wendy Nightingale visited the centre to conduct a survey on reading habits, she fell for Ken. Wendy was married, but left her husband for 5 weeks to live with Ken. Wendy's husband, Roger, attacked Ken when he was spurned - but he and Wendy reconciled when she realised she hated life on Coronation Street.

In February 1977, Janet returned, after being thrown out by her lover, and pleaded with Ken to take her back. He refused, but agreed to let her stay the night. The next morning, he found her dead, having taken an overdose during the night. Ken was initially suspected of murder but was cleared, although it did little to assuage his guilt.


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

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

By 1983, Deirdre had become bored with Ken and she had an affair with Ken's rival, Mike Baldwin. The episode in 1983 when she ended her affair with Mike and reconciled 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 Traffordmarker while Manchester United were playing Arsenal.

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 began a relationship with council secretary Wendy Crozier in October 1989. When Deirdre found out, she was furious, and threw him out. She shocked Ken by saying she wanted a divorce (Ken had planned to use the Baldwin affair as an excuse)


Early on New Year's Day 1990, Ken found himself homeless and went to live with Wendy, but things didn't work out. He was forced to sell his 33% share in the Recorder newspaper (which he had bought in 1983) to pay off No1's mortgage. He ended up living in a little bedsit at Chepstow Road. By August he returned to the Street, living in the shop flat (much to Deirdre's consternation) and teaching again, this time at Weatherfield Comprehensive. Ken was devastated when Deirdre went to Paris with Phil Jennings in 1991, as he hoped for a reconciliation, and New Year's Eve saw 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 saved him.

In 1991, Alma Sedgewick had been dumped by Mike Baldwin in favour of Jackie Ingram, and Alma started an affair with Ken. However, Mike's marriage only lasted a week, and on Christmas Day 1991, Mike lured Alma back into his bed - but only to get back at Ken. Honesty got the better of Alma, and she confessed to Ken on New Year's Eve at a hotel they were staying at. Instead of sympathising, Ken walked out and saw in his second New Year alone.

1992 saw Ken fall for another of his pupil's mothers - Maggie Redman. The Baldwin/Barlow feud erupted again, Mike Baldwin was the father of Maggie's son, Mark. Mike hated the thought of Ken spending Christmas Day with his son but Ken's pride got the better of him. He could not handle the situation and he and Maggie split up.

In 1993, Ken began dating hairdresser Denise Osbourne in a rather on-off relationship. When Deirdre returned in late spring 1994, she was keen to try and rebuild their relationship but was stunned to hear that Denise was expecting twins and Ken was the father. Denise would not let Ken move in with her at No2, so in July 1994, he moved to Reg Holdsworth's flat across the street at No12 Coronation Street. Baby Daniel was born on 4 January 1995, but Denise found the situation too much and fled to her sister's in Macclesfield.

Denise returned in May 1995, more sure of her and Ken, and they moved back into No1, which Ken had bought from Mike Baldwin in July 1995. Things went well until Brian Dunkley, Denise's accountant brother-in-law, appeared. It emerged that they had been having an affair for two years. In January 1996, guilt-stricken, Denise asked Ken if he still wanted to get married (he had offered to marry her when she was pregnant, but she refused). He agreed but rejected Denise when he found out about her affair with Brian. In February 1996, she left Weatherfield with Brian but left Daniel with Ken.

Ken's happiness at being a single dad was short-lived when Denise returned for Daniel in November - rather complicated by the fact that Ken was friendly with Deirdre again. Ken had been hoping that he, Deirdre and Daniel could be a family, but Deirdre wasn't keen. It was a double blow for Ken when Kelly Thomson, Daniel's nanny, decided to move in with Denise and Brian. Kelly felt she was doing the best for Daniel but Ken felt she had betrayed him. Ken's hopes of keeping Daniel were dashed when he was forced to retire from his job as teacher at Weatherfield Comprehensive.

Ken and Deirdre subsequently divorced but remained friends. Ken supported Deirdre during her ordeal but she was jailed for fraud in February 1998, after con man Jon Lindsay implicated her in a financial scam. He put aside his past differences with Mike Baldwin and together, they were successful in getting Deirdre released. Ken hoped for a reconciliation with Deirdre, but it didn't materialise.

Christmas 1998 took an unexpected turn when Deirdre's mother Blanche Hunt came to visit. Blanche decided she didn't want to see Deirdre single and tried to manipulate Ken by telling him that Deirdre still had feelings for him. She said the same thing to Deirdre about Ken. At the Valentine's Day dance in February 1999, Ken took the opportunity to have a few dances with Deirdre, much to the amusement of the party goers. As they were dancing, Ken realised he still had strong feelings for his ex-wife, and admitted to her he still loved her. Deirdre was unsure, and Ken backed off for a little while. In March 1999, Ken and Deirdre had a visit from Tracy. Ken and Deirdre were dismayed to find that Tracy had left her husband Robert Preston after a misunderstanding. Ken and Deirdre joined forces into helping Tracy and Robert reconcile. They told Tracy they didn't want her to make the same mistakes they did with their marriage. At last they both convinced Tracy and Robert to get back together, and they both left Weatherfield happily reconciled again. Seeing how happy Tracy and Robert were, Ken persuaded Deirdre to give their relationship another go, and she finally agreed much to Ken's joy.


In 2002, Ken's teaching career was ruined by pupil-from-hell character Aidan Critchley, who mocked and terrorised Ken, resulting in the class being disrespectful to him. Aidan goaded a furious Ken into punching him, and he promptly resigned. On the day of his court appearance a spiteful Tracy revealed to him that Deirdre had slept with her boss Dev Alahan little over a year previously. Ken was devastated but in the end, decided to stay with Deirdre. In the meantime, he pleaded guilty to assaulting Aidan and received a conditional discharge in court.

In January 2003, Aidan was accused of murdering resident Maxine Peacock. Ken did not believe the lad could have done it as he had seen him heavily drunk on the same night. He also believed Audrey Roberts' claims that Richard Hillman had committed the crime. Ken even went to talk to Aidan's father who eventually reconciled with Aidan after Richard Hillman was discovered to be the real killer.

Ken and Deirdre eventually remarried on 8 April 2005. However, their wedding day was overshadowed by the death of Deirdre's first husband Ray Langton, who had returned, wanting to develop a relationship with his estranged daughter Tracy. He died 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.

Early 2006 saw Deirdre become a lot closer to old flame Mike Baldwin when it transpired that he was suffering from Alzheimer's. In April 2006, Mike died in Ken's arms outside Underworld in an episode watched by 12.6 million people., shaking Ken and Deirdre's marriage a little when Ken became annoyed by what he considered excessive grief on Deirdre's part. Their marriage suffered further when Tracy was convicted of murdering her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs in April 2007. After a blazing row, Ken left and began rebuilding a relationship with his son Daniel, and the boy's mother Denise Osbourne. Ken and Denise grew closer during his separation from Deirdre.

Convinced that Ken wanted to rekindle their passion, Denise made a blatant attempt to win him over but when she leaned in for a kiss, he rejected her advances. After this embarrassing encounter, Ken decided to return to Coronation Street. He and Deirdre apologised for their treatment of one another. The couple forgave each other and reconciled. Deirdre realised that Ken wanted to keep in touch with Daniel and suggested he continue his contact with the boy.

In 2008 his storylines included working a few shifts 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, the return of his son, Peter and grandson, Simon and beginning a feud with his son over his drink problem.

On 26 January 2009, Ken met Martha Fraser. He cosily befriended her, and on many occasions, had lengthy chats in her canal boat (their first meeting was when she fished Eccles, the Border Terrier out of the canal, when she had fallen in). He didn't tell her about his marriage to Deirdre, and likewise didn't mentioned Martha to Deirdre. Ken found solace in Martha as she was a fellow lover of the arts and it gave him an escape from his domestic problems. He confessed to friend Ted Page that he had fallen for Martha and the pair finally kissed in March 2009. However, following a fire at Peter's flat when he and Simon were almost killed, Ken realised 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 admitted to her that he was a married man and she angrily told him to leave. However, he kept begging her to take him back and told Martha that he was in love with her, but she didn't believe this and thought he was lying. Their secret was also opened to Ted's former girlfriend Audrey Roberts, who told Peter that Ken was having an affair.

On 1 May 2009, the pair were reunited and consummated their relationship on Martha's canal-boat. After they post-coitally confessed their mutual love, Martha informed Ken that she was leaving the Weatherfield canal to spend some time in Tamworthmarker, and then on to the Norfolk Broads, and invited him to either accompany her, or choose to forget about her. Ken returned to Number One to a cosy domestic scene with Peter and Michelle Connor, Blanche, Simon, and, of course, Deirdre. As the walls closed in on him he appeared to grudgingly accept his ongoing fate. However, he later decided to leave with Martha. On 4 May 2009, Ken packed his suitcase and left Coronation Street for Martha's boat, after cancelling his newspapers and taking a Newton & Ridley bar mat from the Rovers as a keepsake. He changed his mind at the last minute leaving Martha to sail away without him, as he stood on the bridge over the canal. He later confessed his infedelity to Deirdre by showing her the farewell letter that he had written to her, however, she forgave him for the affair.


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." In early 2009 the character was reported to media regulator Ofcommarker 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."

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." 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. The storyline also made national news at the time.


  1. John Moss (2002). "Coronation Street Granada Television Manchester". Manchester2002. Retrieved on 2009-02-16

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