Who are Britain’s longest-serving soap stars?

<span>Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

June Spencer, the last original cast member of the Archers, has retired from the BBC Radio 4 drama at the age of 103. Spencer, who played the matriarch Peggy Woolley since 1951, made her final appearance on 31 July, when she discussed getting a stained glass window commissioned of her two great-grandchildren.

Spencer was a young woman with little girls when the Archers first started – now she’s a great-grandmother. Though her time on the Archers is unrivalled, there are numerous stars who have spent decades on Britain’s most-loved soap operas – becoming a familiar face for generations of fans.

Coronation Street

William Roache (as Ken Barlow)
Bill Roache holds the Guinness world record for the longest-serving actor in a television soap opera, having playing Ken Barlow since Coronation Street was first broadcast in December 1960. Earlier this year, the actor – now 90 years old – said: “Whilst I can do it, and whilst they will have me, I have no intention of retiring.”

Roache was made an OBE in the Queen’s new year honours list in December 2021 for his services to drama and charity. His character, Barlow, was introduced as the educated son of a working-class family, and developed a reputation as a ladies man who married four times to three woman and fathering four children with three women. Despite having a reputation for being a bore, Barlow has been involved in a number of explosive storylines.

Barbara Knox (as Rita Tanner)
Though she is not the longest serving actor on Corrie, Knox, 88, holds the record for the longest-serving soap actress.

She first appeared on the show in an episode in December 1964, but returned formally to reprise her role long term in 1974 and has been with the soap ever since. Tanner has been married three times and her turbulent relationship with the psychotic character Alan Bradley is regarded as one of the show’s most famous storylines.


Adam Woodyatt (as Ian Beale)
Until taking a break from the show last year, Woodyatt was the longest-serving EastEnders actor, appearing on it since it first aired in 1985.

Viewers have watched Ian Beale’s journey from a young boy to a successful – albeit troubled – businessman. The “entrepreneur of Walford” had five marriages, lost his daughter and even went through a period of homelessness. Though there have been rumours that Beale will return to Albert Square, Woodyatt recently hinted that the rumours could be premature. “The speculation has been hysterical … but there are no plans at the moment,” he said in an interview.

Jane Slaughter (as Tracey)
EastEnders superfans will know that Tracey the barmaid is technically the longest running EastEnders character ever, having also appeared in the first ever episode of the show in 1985 and continues to be a resident of Albert Square.

Though she has been at the centre of many of the soap’s iconic moments, Slaughter’s character does not even have a surname.


Chris Chittell (as Eric Pollard)
Chittell’s character has been on Emmerdale since September 1986 – joining the show 14 years after it first aired as Emmerdale Farm.

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As a seasoned conman, Pollard originally served as the show’s villain, but this has been toned down in recent years, particularly since his marriage to Val Lambert (Charlie Hardwick) and later grief over her death in a helicopter crash. Chittell was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2019 Queen’s birthday honours list for services to drama and charity.


Nicholas Pickard (as Tony Hutchinson)
Nick Pickard has played Hutchinson on Hollyoaks since its first episode in 1995, when the show had a cast of just 15 characters.

Viewers have followed Hutchinson’s journey from a floppy-haired teenager into a husband, father and entrepreneur. In 2017, Pickard won the British Soap Award for Outstanding Achievement in honour of his achievement of playing the role for more than two decades. Asked why he’d never left the show in an interview in 2020, Pickard said: “If they get rid of you that’s one thing, but if you leave and look back and ask, ‘Why did I do that when I was so happy there?’ you’d kick yourself.”