Kenneth Farrington – No Holds Barred!

After 25 years on Corrie, and nearly six decades on the stage, actor Ken Farrington is telling his story…

Ken Farrington’s autobiography is called Hush My Mouth for a very good reason. The former star of soap and stage – who was the only member of Coronation Street’s original cast not to come from the north – has penned a memoir which describes his industry from his perspective as a selfconfessed jobbing actor. Egos are punctured, upstagers revealed and missed chances mourned in an exhaustive account which is as happy to turn on its author as it is fellow cast members. “A friend of mine has written a review saying it’s ‘scarily honest’,” says Ken.

“Reliving certain experiences like my divorce wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I wanted to be as honest and straightforward as I could. A lot of actors would say the same things, but wouldn’t in public because they have a career. I’ve finished my career so I can now say these things.” This the reality of keeping a career on track, the endless auditions, including Ken’s repeated failure to get lucrative advertising work, the difficult directors and producers, the drinkers and the back-biters (Julie Goodyear gets a particular pasting in the latter camp). But there are also the highs as well, such as when he played Billy Walker in Coronation Street on and off for 25 years, launching Channel Five soap Family Affairs and joining Emmerdale, where his character Tom King went from a three-month role to being at the centre of the soap’s biggest recent storyline in just three years. “There are some really good people who have been through the soaps – Anne Reid and Sarah Lancashire came out of Coronation Street and they are superb actresses,” he says. “I liked working under pressure. In the theatre you have three or four weeks to practice. When I started the Street we rehearsed for a week, did one episode live and the second was recorded. When they said: ‘Stand by studio’ and counted down to action you got this big adrenaline rush.”

Ken began writing his memoir several years ago as a way of collecting stories from his father and grandfather who had grown up in the back streets of Peckham. Gradually his experiences from Coronation Street and the acting profession found their way into his story. When he met Fantom Publishing at a signing event and they offered to publish the book, the decision was made to exorcise those early elements. Instead the story begins at the very start of Ken’s interest in acting, which can be put down to the influence of one man – his former English master Michael Croft at public school Alleyn’s in Dulwich. “Coming from Peckham I thought the masters were there to be seen what you could get away with,” says Ken. “I wasn’t vicious but I was difficult, I would mess about. Michael put me into the under-16s football team which gave me a focus. When he did his first Shakespeare play – an open air version of Julius Caesar in modern dress – he came to the football team and asked if we would be in a crowd scene. Our first reaction was no – we didn’t want to be poofy actors. But then we heard on the last night there would be a booze-up with a bit of ale. As 14/15 year-olds we were well up for a drink. John Stride was in the team, he got a couple of lines as Cinna the poet. He went on to play Romeo to Judi Dench’s Juliet directed by Franco Zefferelli. “It snowballed from there – if you give a kid a sense of direction it changes everything. I became a house prefect, a school prefect, a house captain, ran, swam and played football for the school. It changed my whole life completely from somebody who was on the verge of being kicked out.” When he left the school, following the publication of his best-selling novel Spare the Rod, Michael set up the National Youth Theatre, which helped launch the careers of Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Bonneville and countless more. Ken admits the National Youth Theatre has changed in the past 60 years – financial restrictions mean students now have to pay to go to auditions when before it was free – but he still recommends it to parents as the best way of discovering whether their child really does have a future on the stage. Ken worked closely with Manchester Youth Theatre for many years himself from a desire to give something back to the youth theatre movement.

His book contains advice for anyone who wants to go on the stage. “The first thing when people want to be actors is they want to be stars, celebrities or be famous,” he says. “You’ve got to do it and fall in love with theatre and acting – that is what is important, not your little ego showing yourself off.” In the book he is honest about how he feels his career has gone. Despite being part of two of the country’s biggest soaps, playing Iago and Billy Liar onstage and achieving his long-held ambition to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he admits to being not completely happy in the way his career turned out.

“I would love to have been a bigger star,” he says today. “But not a Hollywood star, a National Theatre star.” He now splits his time between his house in Sanary-sur-Mer, France, and his partner Sandra’s home in the Reigate area, and has been concentrating on writing. As well as his memoir he has penned a “Peter Mayle-type” book about owning Gallic property, based on his 20 years of legal battles with his Sanary neighbours. He has also penned five one-hour episodes about National Service. “I was one of the last to go, I was commissioned and sent out to Cyprus,” he says. “The series is humorous, because there was a lot of fun to be had in National Service with the mix of characters and people, but it’s also quite hard – the bullying and training. It centres on a working class boy who finds himself an officer in charge of boys who come from the same background as him. Perhaps somebody will pick up on it.” And as for acting ambition? “I would like to do EastEnders,” he laughs. “Just to get the full pack. It would have to be a Cockney with a sense of humour. There’s not one in there that is likeable – they’re all horrible!”

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Report by Duncan Hall
Originally published in Surrey Life, July 2018