Soap stars back 'gentleman' Roache

Banbury Cake: Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride arrives at Preston Crown Court for the trial of fellow star William Roache. Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride arrives at Preston Crown Court for the trial of fellow star William Roache.

Coronation Street stars today defended William Roache at his sex assault trial.

Soap stalwarts Anne Kirkbride, who plays Roache's on-screen wife Deirdre Barlow and Helen Worth, who plays Gail McIntyre, both took to the witness box praising the character of their co-star.

Roache, 81, was the caring and kind "father figure" and "elder statesman" of the show, who looked after younger members of the cast, the jury were told.

The defendant waved and smiled from the dock as his ITV colleagues left the courtroom after giving evidence at Preston Crown Court.

Roache is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit "starstruck" youngsters for sex in the mid to late 1960s.

His five accusers have told the jury they were assaulted by the actor either while at Granada Studios, in his Rolls-Royce car or at properties he owned.

He faces two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault involving five complainants aged 16 and under between 1965 and 1971.

But today Anne Kirkbride, 59, told the jury Roache was "always a perfect gentleman" around her.

And asked what one word she would use to describe Roache, she replied: "Lovely."

Ms Kirkbride, 59, said she had never seen anything worrying about Roache's behaviour on set with young women from when she joined the show in about 1972.

Louise Blackwell QC, defending, asked the witness how she felt on joining Coronation Street.

She replied: "I was terrified for my first day. Very nervous going. I t was a completely new situation. I didn't know anybody. I very quickly got to know people and it became easier."

Asked what she thought of Roache on meeting him, she said: "He was friendly. I remember the first time I spoke to him was outside a lift and we had a really nice chat and he offered me a cigarette.

"We shared a lot of the same interests in spiritual things. I just found him very easy to talk to."

Miss Blackwell asked her: "At that time, if you had one word to describe Mr Roache what would it be?"

She replied: "Lovely."

Ms Kirkbride, went on: "He was always very helpful. Just very supportive and he made me feel comfortable and at ease in a place where I felt nervous."

Miss Blackwell asked: "Your contact with him in terms of a man and woman together, how did he behave?"

Ms Kirkbride said: "Impeccably. Perfectly. He was always a perfect gentleman."

The barrister asked: "When you first joined was there anything about his behaviour towards young women which was worrying?"

"Not at all," said the actress. "No, never."

Miss Blackwell said: "Over the years have you have seen him in the company of young actor members?"

Ms Kirkbride said: "He has obviously been in the company of younger cast members on a work basis.

"We have had several young actresses play the part of our daughter.

"He has never been anything other than helpful and supportive. There was never a hint or suggestion of anything else in all the years that I have known him."

Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC asked Ms Kirkbride just one question. She said: "In 1965 you would have been about nine."

"That's about right," said the actress.

Helen Worth, 63, who plays Gail McIntyre in the soap, told the jury she joined the show in 1974, aged 23.

She said she was "extremely nervous" when joining the show "as any young actor is to this day" but she was soon made to feel welcome.

"But Bill perhaps was caring more and welcoming to me then," she added, "And has been to every new member of the cast since."

Miss Blackwell asked her how Roache behaved among the cast.

She replied: "He had been there longer than anyone else. We looked up to him. He was a father figure. An elder statesman."

The barrister asked: "During the time that you worked with him, how would you describe his character, particularly in reference to young women?"

Ms Worth said: "He was caring. Never anything more. Just caring. What more can a man be? He was lovely."

Miss Blackwell said to her: "Did you see him in the company of young female cast members?"

"Yes, of course," she said. "I never saw anything that was untoward whatsoever in 40 years."

Fellow cast member Chris Gascoyne, 45, was next to be called to the witness box.

He identified himself as the actor who plays Ken Barlow's son, Peter Barlow, after joining the show in 2000.

"It's been a joy to be with Bill," he said.

Miss Blackwell continued: "Have you been able to assess his character while working alongside him? How would you describe it?"

Mr Gascoyne replied: "Kind, warm, open, good sense of humour. Professional."

"Have you ever had to ask for advice from anybody about Coronation Street?" Miss Blackwell asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"Who would you go to?"

"Bill," he said.

"And how was he?"

"Oh, he's fantastic, yes, always had time."

She continued: "How did he present to the other cast members in terms of being a star?"

Mr Gascoyne said: "Well, Bill kind of sets the precedent for everybody, decent to everybody, kind to everybody and not a star."

"Is there anything you have ever seen about his character that would give you cause for concern about his contact with young women?" Miss Blackwell asked.

"No," Mr Gascoyne replied.

Roache denies all the charges and has told the jury he has never even met any of his alleged victims.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow with the jury asked to return at 11.30am.

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