William Roache was 'always a perfect gentleman', says Coronation Street co-star

Blackburn Citizen: Ms Kirkbride, a stalwart of the ITV soap as Deirdre Barlow Ms Kirkbride, a stalwart of the ITV soap as Deirdre Barlow

Coronation Street star Anne Kirkbride has told a jury that her on-screen husband William Roache was "always a perfect gentleman" around her.

Ms Kirkbride, a stalwart of the ITV soap as Deirdre Barlow, was called as a character witness for the actor who is accused of a series of sex assaults.

Roache, 81, is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit "starstruck" youngsters for sex in the mid to late 1960s.

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

Giving evidence from the witness box at Preston Crown Court, Ms Kirkbride was asked what one word she would use to describe Roache.

She replied: "Lovely."

Ms Kirkbride 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.

The actress swore on the Bible and then chose to stand as she was asked a number of questions by defending barrister Louise Blackwell QC.

She confirmed she had known Roache "for quite some time", after she started in the soap aged 17 or 18.

Ms Kirkbride was asked how she felt on joining Coronation Street.

She replied: "I was terrified for my first day. Very nervous going.

"It 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."

Roache smiled in the dock as she made the comment.

Ms Kirkbride, 59, went on: "He (Roache) 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."

She said her acting career had started in repertory theatre at the age of 16 and her original contract on Coronation Street was "for three lines".

But she added that she became a main character "quite quickly".

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.

After about five minutes of giving evidence, Ms Kirkbride left the witness box.

She briefly glanced towards the dock before she left the courtroom and smiled at Roache.

He smiled back and waved at her.

Roache's 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.

Roache, who faced five hours of questioning in the witness box yesterday repeatedly denied even knowing any of his alleged victims.

He admitted being repeatedly unfaithful to his first wife after their marriage hit the rocks but he vehemently denied any interest in young girls, telling the jury none of the alleged assaults happened.

And he told the jury that, while he enjoyed the company of women, it was not in his "nature" to force himself on anyone.

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.

"How would you describe the length of time in Mr Roache's company?" Miss Blackwell asked him.

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

"Over the last 13 years did you spend a lot of time with him within Granada or outside socially?" Miss Blackwell asked.

"Not outside, always in the studios. We don't really socialise, the odd occasion at functions or charity dos," Mr Gascoyne said.

Miss Blackwell continued: "How many working days the last 13 years?"

"Hundreds," he replied.

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

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."

Miss Blackwell asked: "Have you ever seen him display an unpleasant side to his character?"

"No," Mr Gascoyne said.

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."

Mr Blackwell continued: "If things are going wrong in rehearsals or filming...?"

Mr Gascoyne said: "He's very calm, relaxed and you just get on with it and he takes every day as a new one, which is inspiring to me."

Miss Blackwell said: "In terms of contact towards and with young women, how would you describe it?"

"Completely normal," the witness said, "Well, nothing untoward."

"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.

Under cross-examination from Anne Whyte, prosecuting, Mr Gascoyne agreed that by the time he joined the show he was 32 and Roache was 72.

After giving his evidence, in less than five minutes, Mr Gascoyne left the dock. He smiled and waved at Roache, who raised a hand and smiled back.

Next to give evidence was actress Helen Worth, who plays Gail McIntyre in the soap.

She confirmed she joined Coronation Street in 1974.

Ms Worth, 63, said she was 23 at the time.

She was asked if she had spent a lot of time with Roache during her 40 years in the cast.

She replied: "Yes, in fact our dressing rooms are opposite each other in the corridors."

Like her two Coronation Street colleagues who gave evidence before her, she said there was no socialising off set.

"There was so much socialising on the set that there was not much time for socialising off set," she said.

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

Ms Worth said she was soon made to feel welcome.

"But Bill perhaps was caring more and welcoming to me then," she said. "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."

She said her first Coronation Street contract was for six episodes but "I stayed for 40 years".

She confirmed to prosecutor Miss Whyte that she was aged 14 in 1965.

Ms Worth left the witness box and beamed at Roache in the dock, who returned her smile with a wave.

The next witness to be called was not from the acting world but had made contact with ITV and the defendant's lawyers to come forward to give evidence, the jury was told.

Lucy Tucker, 55, told the court she met the defendant in the summer of 1972 at the home of a close friend of her grandmother's in Colwyn Bay where the defendant was playing croquet.

That same evening Ms Tucker, then aged 13 or 14, said she attended a party at the same house accompanied by her uncle where she again met Roache and had a dance with him.

"How did you find Mr Roache?" Louise Blackwell QC, defending, asked the witness.

"A gentleman, very pleasant," Ms Tucker said.

Miss Blackwell continued: "How do you come to be giving this evidence before the jury?"

The witness said: "When I first heard about Bill Roache being charged last year my immediate reaction was, this is not Bill Roache, he's not like this.

"Every time it was on the news after this I remember thinking, how can I help him?

"I wrote to ITV saying Bill Roache is a gentleman and is not guilty of any of these charges and if necessary I would stand up in court in his defence."

Anne Whyte, prosecuting, put it to the witness that she had met Roache only on one day and at a party with "plenty" of people present at the home of a close family friend.

"So," Miss Whyte continued, "You were escorted by a relative, to a party, where Mr Roache did not sexually assault you. Have I got that right?"

"That's correct," Ms Tucker said.

The court has heard that one complainant said she recalled seeing an actor, who played the character Jed Stone in the soap, near to a dressing room ahead of the alleged assault by Roache.

Kenneth Cope, who played Jed Stone in the 1960s, said he had never seen two young girls in a dressing room with Roache, and neither had he been in a dressing room with the defendant.

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

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