A new but recognisable face will soon be popping up on the famous Coronation Street cobbles, as Les Dennis joins the cast as burglar, Michael.
“He’s an opportunist, rather than a career burglar, so he doesn’t intend to scare anybody,” says Dennis, 60, explaining his character’s actions. “He hopes to be burgling an empty house and worries about people being insured. He’s a burglar with a conscience!”
Due to prior commitments (he’s currently on a nationwide theatre tour of The Perfect Murder), Dennis only appears in two episodes initially, although he’s set to return to screens in June. As brief as his introduction is, the scenes set a strong foundation for the character.
“He’s disturbed burgling Gail’s house and tries to make out he’s fixing the gas meter,” Dennis reveals. “He gets chased by Kylie and you later find he’s been caught.”
As a victim of crime, Gail winds up visiting him in prison. “She’s thankful for his apology,” says Dennis, referring to the ‘restorative justice’ storyline that will play out over the summer months - and lead to an unexpected understanding between the pair.
While Michael might not mean any physical harm to his victims, he doesn’t understand the effect his actions have. “And the violation you feel,” says Dennis, whose home in London was burgled three years ago.
His wife, Claire, was about to give birth to their son, Tom, and the car, also stolen, had been packed with baby clothes and a camera.
“That was the least of our troubles, it was the idea of them being in the house,” says Dennis, whose daughter Eleanor, then two (he also has a grown-up son, Philip, from his first marriage to Lynne Webster) had been asleep at the time. He’d called London home since 1987 but, last year, Dennis and his wife decided to move their family to Cheshire, a decision he acknowledges might “subconsciously” have had something to do with the burglary.
“But we also wanted to give the kids more space,” he adds. The move also means that Dennis, who hails from Liverpool, is nearer to relatives and now has a very easy commute, being just 20-minutes from the Corrie set.
A lifelong fan of the show, he became associated with the soap back in the Eighties, after doing a Mavis impersonation to fellow impressionist Dustin Gee’s Vera. He and Gee had a comedy double-act and their own show, The Laughter Show, from 1984 until 1986, the year Gee died.
Dennis was working on The Perfect Murder when he received the call asking to see him for a screen test for Corrie.
“It was a fantastically exciting whirlwind,” he says, admitting that he didn’t even suffer first-day nerves as “I only had to run down the cobbles”.
Although known for his skits, Dennis actually started out as an actor, landing theatre jobs in Liverpool. “But then I went down the working men’s club route and made a career out of comedy,” he notes.
He won the TV talent show New Faces in 1974 and later teamed up with Russ Abbot. He began hosting the game show Family Fortunes in 1987, a role he continued until 2002.
“The luxury that show gave me was we’d film for three weeks, and the rest of the year I could go and work for £250 at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury and do a David Hare play,” says Dennis.
It hasn’t all been highs. There was the tabloid frenzy in 2000 surrounding his second wife Amanda Holden’s affair with Neil Morrissey.
The same year, Dennis appeared in the Celebrity Big Brother house and suffered something of a meltdown, talking to the chickens and vacantly staring into space for hours.
“When I came out, I thought maybe that wasn’t my greatest decision and the phone didn’t ring for a while.”
The phone did eventually ring though; Ricky Gervais called and offered him a cameo in his TV series, Extras. He’d written “a twisted, demented version of Les Dennis”.
“If I hadn’t done Extras then I wouldn’t have been offered the roles I’ve been offered on stage, and I wouldn’t eventually have got here.”
Coronation Street, ITV1, Monday 7.30pm and 8.30pm, Wednesday 7.30pm, Friday 7.30pm