Actor and star of Coronation Street

Born: July 12, 1935;

Died: June 1, 2017

ROY Barraclough, who has died aged 81, was an actor whose wide emotional range and particular talent for comedy was well-suited to his most celebrated character role, bar owner Alec Gilroy on Coronation Street.

Appearing briefly as a talent agent in 1972 and then as a series regular between 1986 and 1998, Barraclough’s Alec was a shifty schemer, but with a hapless streak which lent itself to amusing pratfalls. He was a kind of uptight and bookish Del Boy Trotter of the north, and his unlikely marriage to Julie Goodyear’s brassy Bet Lynch was one of the most watchable and entertaining odd couple relationships of the day.

Barraclough’s other key role was half of another double act, and while he was not necessarily the straight man in this partnership either, he certainly played as reserved a foil as Alec did to Bet Lynch. He joined the ensemble cast of Les Dawson’s Yorkshire Television sketch show Sez Les in 1972, and although he had to be convinced to recreate onscreen his jokey rehearsal room mugging with Dawson – a fierce ad-libber – as a pair of old Lancashire fishwives, the arrival of Cissie and Ada in the show created an icon.

The pair appeared in drag and full make-up, Dawson’s Ada as a fierce, gurning matriarch whose every utterance was an excuse for a faux-naïve double entendre; Barraclough’s Cissie always well turned-out and genteel, a prissy Hyacinth Bucket with a hilarious array of shocked and perturbed reactions. “Fancy seeing you at the doctor’s, is it the old…?” said Dawson, mouthing and gesticulating in comically unsubtle code for ‘women’s troubles’. “You know, last year when you said you might have to have a hysterical rectomy?”

For all of Dawson’s overwhelming comic abilities, Barraclough more than held his own, and was integral to the comedy working. Cissie and Ada: A Hysterical Rectomy was the title of a 2013 play about the characters from Terry Ravenscroft, key scriptwriter on Sez Les and its follow-up The Les Dawson Show. The handbag-clutching, bosom-heaving Cissie and Ada endured throughout, and there were plans to give them their own show before Dawson died suddenly in 1993.

From the mid-1960s onwards Barraclough was a regular on television, although he was most often a guest performer in single episodes, in later years occupying the niche of older gentleman with unexpected emotional depths that Alec Gilroy had marked out and proven for him. His jobbing actor credits counted among them Z-Cars, Play For Today, Rising Damp, Casualty, Peak Practice and – almost inevitably – Last of the Summer Wine, yet there were unexpected gems in there too. A Different Way Home (1994) was a gorgeous short monologue for Granada Television about a widower at Christmas, and he was also well cast as the corrupt mayor of Blackpool in BBC Three’s odd drama-comedy Funland, created by Jeremy Dyson of The League of Gentlemen.

Roy Barraclough was born in Preston, Lancashire, in 1935, and discovered his love for the theatre from visits with his parents Phil and Florence to the town’s Royal Hippodrome; after his first visit there as a young boy, he went home and built a model theatre.

He did not train formally for the stage, instead studying to be a draughtsman, and all of his experience came instead from a life in the theatre. His first professional stage role came when he was a teenager, yet he had to wait another decade for the next. In the meantime he threw himself into all aspects of local amateur theatre – working on and off stage, and playing the piano – and worked as a stand-up comedian and for a time as an entertainer at an Isle of Wight holiday camp.

His big break came at the age of 27, when, after a campaign of letter-writing which targeted all of the repertory companies in his area, he was accepted by Huddersfield Repertory Company. Again he played roles on and off stage, honing his skills through experience and playing piano in the pit for the veteran music hall performer Hylda Baker. Through the 1960s he then moved to repertory companies in Stoke (where Ben Kingsley was a company member) and Oldham, where he met fellow future Coronation Street stars such as Barbara Knox and Anne Kirkbride.

For all of these actors the job at Oldham was the making of their television careers, due to the town’s close proximity to Manchester and the regular visits paid by Granada television casting directors to the theatre. Before he first appeared as Alec Gilroy in 1972, Barraclough had played four other characters on the show over the previous decade, including a tour guide and a bed salesman. His first major role came in the 1969 Granada soap opera Castle Haven, where he performed opposite his long-time friend and future Last of the Summer Wine regular Kathy Staff.

In later life, Roy Barraclough enjoyed a comfortable semi-retirement taking jobs which he found interesting, including pantomime appearances as Santa Claus – he remained in the theatre for most of his life – and performing onscreen right up to the series Last Tango in Halifax in 2012 and the television movie reboot of Are You Being Served? in 2016.

Awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to drama and his charity work, he died after a short illness at Willow Wood Hospice in Greater Manchester, where he had been patron for 20 years.