Memories of a Coronation Street legend
Roy Barraclough, who died earlier this month, was the cross-dressing comic who became one of Britain's most famous faces and yet never sought the trappings of stardom...
Long after Alec Gliroy last strode the cobbles of Coronation Street he remained a firm favourite among fans.
The tributes paid to actor Roy Barraclough following his death earlier this month at the age if 81 were testament to his status among the long-running soap opera’s most-loved characters.
It was a fame the Preston-born actor neither sought nor expected when he set out on a career in showbusiness which was to span a lifetime and elevate him to a household name.
Born in Deepdale, and educated at Deepdale Secondary School and the Harris Technical College, Barraclough was an actor who, quite unashamedly, loved the theatre.
He trained as a draughtsman and worked at Thomas Blackburn’s foundry in Preston, but he was always theatre daft. As a child, he made puppet theatres out of cornflakes boxes and his first role was with St Luke’s Church drama group at Ribbleton in a comedy called Easy Money.
Later, he cut his teeth with Preston Drama Club at the Playhouse Theatre and then, because of an emergency, he played a week with the Reg Salberg Players at the old Hippodrome in Preston in 1957.
Of his days at the Playhouse, home of Preston Drama Club, he would later say: “We provided possibly the highest standard of amateur theatre to be found in the country. This was the place where I spent all my free time, where I learned so much and became hooked.”
Roy’s first real professional stint was as entertainment manager at an Isle Of Wight holiday camp, which was followed by a few low key television roles, but it was his link-up with fellow Lancastrian Les Dawson which catapulted him to stardom.
The pair struck up a profitable partnership as two gossiping neighbours, Ada and Cissie, in a number of Dawson’s TV series and this was how Roy’s face first really became known on television.
He would later say of Dawson, “Les had this wonderful personality and was such a lovely man.”
In 1986 he landed the role of Alec Gilroy and wrote a small piece of Coronation Street history. . . that of playing the most number of different characters in Britain’s longest running soap.
He once told the Post: “My first Street excursion was in 1965 as a guide showing the cast around a cave in the Peak District.
“Then I was a TV salesman, a bed salesman, a window cleaner with the memorable name of I Spy Dyer – who sold his round to the late Stan Ogden – and as a compere in a night club and then, finally, Alec Gilroy.’’
A theatrical agent and owner of the Coronation Street’s Graffiti Club, Gilroy started appearing regularly in 1986, proposing to Bet Lynch in Torremolinos in August 1987 and marrying her in September the same year. His partnership with Bet (Julie Goodyear) was one of the show’s great double acts and he once told the Post: “I honestly believe I would be hard pressed to get another TV role as good as that of Alec.’’
He would quit the show in 1992 after his mother died and his father became seriously ill. The couple lived in Longridge and the pressures of dealing with their poor health and filming six days a week took their toll.
He was to return in 1996 for a couple of years before leaving the Street for good.
But Roy was not the first member of his family to have a brush with fame. His
father Phill Barraclough was a contemporary and briefly a rival of the legendary Frank Swift, one of the most
famous goalkeepers of all time. The duo were on the books of Fleetwood FC during the early 1930s.
Some of Phill Barraclough’s exploits in goal are recounted in the book ‘Through Stormy Waters – the history of Fleetwood Football Club’.
Barraclough Senior, like his son a Prestonian by birth, was between the posts for Fleetwood in the 1932 Lancashire Combination Cup Final. Fleetwood scored an emphatic 5-0 win over Darwen in front of a crowd of 5,030, which compares with the current average of 3,000 for the team as a Football League club.
Though on paper it was a convincing win, Barraclough was commended in contemporary press reports for his performance in goal.
He played for Fleetwood in the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons and moved to Stockport County in the summer of 1933. Away from football, he was a cricketer of some
repute and became an umpire in the Palace Shield.