HE has worked on Coronation Street for nearly four decades and Michael Le Vell can only find one thing to complain about – being made to shave off the moustache that turned him into a gay icon.
In the Eighties his role as mechanic Kevin Webster had both women and men clamouring for his attention.
The 55-year-old said: “Everybody loved my moustache! I was booked up doing appearances at gay clubs throughout the country, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I could go out six nights a week, having a great time, doing Q&As, signing autographs, having photos taken.
“I used to get loads of fan mail, and underpants sent in the post. But then, in the show, Stephanie Barnes shaved off Kevin’s ’tache for a bet and it changed overnight — nobody would book me.
“I have thought about growing it back many times. I even asked the Corrie bosses if we could do Movember but they said no. Gutted.”
Coronation Street celebrates its 60th anniversary next month and Mike is the longest-serving male cast member after William Roache, 88.
In an exclusive interview, he admits he still gets nervous filming with his pal “Bill”, who plays Ken Barlow, and is frustrated by younger cast members arriving late on set.
‘A RIGHT BODY BLOW’
He says with a laugh: “Never in a million years did I think I would still be here after 37 years. I still feel as though I need to pinch myself. I am a big part in one of the most iconic shows in the world. It is like an out-of-body experience.
“I joined as a paperboy called Neil Grimshaw and said to Mavis in The Kabin, ‘Deliver your own bleedin’ papers’. That was radical in them days.
“A few years later I went for an audition and the Corrie casting director saw me and asked me to audition for Kevin.”
As well as William, only Helen Worth (Gail Platt), Sue Nicholls (Audrey Roberts) and Barbara Knox (Rita Tanner) have starred in the soap for longer than Mike. They will all take part in the big 60th birthday storyline, focusing on property developer Ray Crosby, played by Mark Frost, as he tries to tear down the street.
Viewers have recently discovered that Ray’s secret business partner is in fact Kevin’s sister Debbie, played by Sue Devaney. The character returned to Weatherfield after three decades away and stayed with her brother, though she hid her involvement in Mark’s business.
Their plan to redevelop the street has led Kevin to sell his beloved garage.
Mike said: “I didn’t see the Debbie connection. I hope she can redeem herself because we want the actress Sue to stay.
“It would be a fantastic twist for Kevin to find out when she was living under his roof — a right body blow.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in the heart of it all, I am so chuffed. I wasn’t in the first live episode, the 40th. I was absolutely gutted.
“It’s like the Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve shows — we all want to be in those, too.
“But I was annoyed that Kevin sold the garage, I hate to think he would do that.”
Despite being a “mechanic” for years, Mike admits he can’t even change a wheel.
He was recently at the stables where he rides his horses Monty and Magica with fiancée Louise Gibbons, 45, and was asked to do just that.
But Mike says: “I couldn’t get a single nut off. I was jumping up and down on this wrench and I didn’t know if I was tightening it or loosening it.”
The actor has had the privilege of working with some of soapland’s greatest stars, including the late Bernard Youens and Jean Alexander, who played the Street’s Stan and Hilda Ogden.
He said: “When Kevin went to live with Stan and Hilda Ogden it was a big moment in my life, working with Jean day in, day out.
“I was so blessed — nobody is a bigger character than Hilda was. I loved her but she once gave me one of the worst tellings off.
“Bernard was not well and Jean came round with a get well card. I had just finished a scene at the garage and accidentally got some oil on it.
“Jean called me all the names under the sun for being ‘so foolish’. That’s the only time I have seen the bad side of her.
“Liz Dawn, who played Vera Duckworth, was like a mother to us all, just lovely.
“When I first joined the show I was about to get married off-screen. She said, ‘I hope I am going to get an invite to your wedding’. She was the first to turn up on the day.”
Many people associate Kevin with first wife Sally Metcalfe, played by Sally Dynevor, 57. They married in 1986 and had two daughters, Rosie and Sophie, but affairs on both sides finally led to divorce.
Mike said: “They have an enduring relationship, like Stan and Hilda and Jack and Vera Duckworth. They have fallings out but they love each other.
“People relate to that, and that is the magic of Corrie.
“I love Sally to pieces, we are very close and have been through it all together.
“When she had breast cancer I was terrified for her, like one of your own family getting it. We support each other.”
Their daughters have been played by various actresses, but most recently by Brooke Vincent, 28, as Sophie and Helen Flanagan, 30, as Rosie.
Mike says: “Brooke is sweet but crazy. And Helen is as mad as a box of frogs — absolutely barking — and I wouldn’t change a thing about them.
“I remember once Helen stayed at a hotel in London and had everyone evacuated because she’d gone under her bed to get her shoes and found a man under there. When security went to investigate, they realised the bed had a glass base and the man she’d seen was her own reflection.
“Of course I ribbed her about it. It is the way these young kids learn.”
Mike is now in a position to help his younger co-stars.
He said: “If they’re late on set you make a funny little dig about it. With Bill Tarmey, who played Jack Duckworth, his advice was always, ‘If you’re not early you are late.’
“Barbara and Bill are always first on set. Sally, Alan Halsall — who plays Tyrone Dobbs — and myself are always on time.
“I am not naming names, but you get some right dawdlers now. It winds us up. Even to this day I still get nervous on set with Barbara and Bill.
“It is a respect thing. They have an aura, a persona.
“We were filming a night scene recently for the 60th anniversary episode at 4am and I was watching Bill walk from Dev’s to the Rovers. You’d think he was a 50-year-old bloke, such an amazing man.”
Mike could maybe do with asking his veteran co-star for tips on filming action shots.
He said: “Last year the director told me I had to run from one end of the street to the other. I said, ‘As long as I don’t do it too many times’.
‘TIME OF MY LIFE’
“The cobbles aren’t the easiest thing to walk on, never mind run, and you’re trying to look like you’re 18 again.
“On the first take I ran flat out and fell on the floor. That wasn’t in the script, I just went flying. But he had me doing it about five or six times after that. The next day he said he wanted to use the first take.
“That scene is all over the internet now and has become a GIF (meme). I’m quite proud.”
Despite filming almost 3,000 episodes for Coronation Street, there are some that stick vividly in Mike’s mind.
One was from 20 years ago, when Kevin and his second wife Alison’s newborn son dies from bacterial infection GBS.
Mike recalled: “My favourite was when baby Jake died and Kevin talks to Sally about it.
“It was harrowing but so well written. I felt proud watching that back.
“The director, Tony Prescott, said I was one of the only actors who has ever made him cry. Moments like that make everything worthwhile. After scenes like that your body feels drained, it doesn’t know they are pretend emotions.
“I can’t wait to get a script, I still get excited. And I still watch the show because my fiancée Louise loves all the soaps — they are always on.” Apart from a set relocation, Mike says little else has changed about the soap since he joined. He said: “The fundamentals are the same, to entertain with humour, tragedy, love and hate stories. I’m proud we’ve done controversial storylines without ramming issues into people’s faces.”
As well as controversy, humour is a big part of Corrie. On and off screen.
Mike and Alan Halsall work together regularly and do their best to make each other laugh.
He said: “Alan can be a right swine. If you’ve got a tricky sentence coming up, he will say something — put a seed of doubt in your head — and then all you can think is, ‘Don’t cock this line up’. And lo and behold you cock it up.
“I love playing Kevin, I’ve had the time of my life on Corrie — it’s the best job on TV. I would be happy to work here for 60 years.
“On my wages I won’t be retiring, no chance! Kevin might, but I won’t.”
WHO WON THE STREET FIGHT?
SEXIEST FEMALE: Tina McIntyre 62% – Eva Price 38%.
BEST BATTLEAXE: Blanche Hunt 62% – Ena Sharples 38%.
BEST STRONG WOMAN: Rita Tanner 74% – Deirdre Barlow 26%.
HAPPIEST COUPLE: Roy & Hayley Cropper 83% – Sally & Tim Metcalfe 17%.
BEST BADDIE: Pat Phelan 66% – Richard Hillman 34% .
BEST MUM: Gail Platt 54% – Eileen Grimshaw 46%.
BEST BAD GIRL: Tracy Barlow 76% – Becky Grainger 24%.
FUNNIEST CHARACTER: Steve McDonald 70% – David Platt 30%.
BEST VAMP: Elsie Tanner 52% – Liz McDonald 48%.
BEST BARMAID: Bet Lynch 69% – Raquel Watts 31%.
SEXIEST MALE: Jason Grimshaw 50% – Ciaran McCarthy 50%.
BEST DAD: Tyrone Dobbs 61% – Kevin Webster 39% .
BEST DOUBLE ACT: Jack & Vera Duckworth 67% – Stan & Hilda Ogden 33%.
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