Corrie star William Roache talks about life and hearing loss


Elixir was at the Sound Barrier Awards last week to see Corrie favourite William Roache OBE speak about hearing loss and pay tribute to the worthy winner of the title of Specsavers ‘Sound Barrier Star’.

The event, also sponsored by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, celebrates people with some form of hearing loss who have not let their condition stand in their way.

Before introducing each of the nominees William, better known for his role as Corrie favourite Ken Barlow, said a few words about his partial hearing loss and the surprising fact that only 10% of people will ever have a hearing test, in comparison with the 80% who get their eyes tested.

The ‘Sound Barrier Star’, Roger Hewitt, from Bromley, accepted his prize with a very humorous and humbling speech. He has been deaf since the age of 6 as a result of contracting meningitis and now is an ambassador, volunteer and consultant for the cause. It certainly seems like he has never let his deafness affect his life and is an example for us all.

We caught up with William for a quick chat afterwards. He told us that he suffered some ear damage from a mortar bomb as a 21 year old in the army; his hearing came back after 3 weeks but he never realised the extent of the damage until recently. After having a hearing test he was told that he had 50% hearing loss. William confided that he has hearing aids but he doesn’t use them very often at all. He doesn’t feel like his hearing loss is a barrier in any way to his life.

William is lucky to have enjoyed enviable longevity onscreen as Ken Barlow; only Don Hastings, who plays Bob Hughes on US show ‘As The World Turns’, has dedicated a longer service to Soap-dom. William confirmed that he loves playing Ken and is very proud to still be in Corrie after all these years. It’s a long day on set – 8am to 7pm – but he hasn’t got fed up of it yet!

The evolution of Corrie into the nation’s longest running soap is something which would have surprised the creators of the programme 50 years ago: William remarked that the name of ‘soap’ was something which Coronation Street had tried to avoid for many years – having marketed themselves as a cutting-edge drama series to begin with.

We concluded that one of the refreshing things about soaps, or cutting edge drama series (!), is that they do resemble ordinary people’s lives in some way – you are allowed to get older on screen and the more senior characters become something of an institution rather than fading into the background.  

To learn more about Specsavers hearing centres, or to book a hearing test, please visit


Gene therapy may offer cure for deafness

London: Research published this week in the journal Nature gives millions of deaf and hard of hearing people new hope of new gene or drug treatments for deafness and has been welcomed as a significant breakthrough by the country’s only medical research charity for deaf people, Deafness Research UK.

Deafness Research UK Research Advisory Panel member, Professor Guy Richardson, praised the work as “a technical tour de force, and very convincing proof of the principle that gene therapy could, at least in certain cases, be used to cure deafness”.

There are nine million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and in most cases deafness results from loss of sensory cells in the inner ear known as “hair” cells. The cells can be damaged and lost through ageing, noise, genetic defects and certain drugs and, because the cells don’t regenerate, the result is progressive – and irreversible – hearing loss. Damage to these cells can also lead to tinnitus which affects around 5 million people in the UK.

The latest research, by a team at the Oregon Health & Science University, shows that a key gene known as Atoh1 (also known as Math1) can not only cause cells to develop into hair cells but that these cells function like normal hair cells.

Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK said: “This is an important and exciting step along the road towards an effective medical treatment for deafness. Deafness Research UK has a long history of supporting research into the repair and regeneration of the sensory cells in the inner ear, including work on the Atoh1 gene and on the use of stem cells to restore hearing. We will continue to work towards getting a cure for unwanted deafness into the clinic.”

John Brigande, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at the Oregon Hearing Research Center in the OHSU School of Medicine said “Our work shows that it is possible to produce functional auditory hair cells in the mammalian cochlea.”

Brigande and colleagues were able to produce hair cells by transferring a key gene called Atoh1 (also known as Math-1) into ‘progenitor’ cells in the inner ear of developing mice. This type of cell becomes specialised to perform different functions during development, according to the instructions they receive from genes. The gene Atoh1 is known to turn progenitor cells into hair cells, but it was not previously known whether the hair cells would work normally if Atoh1 was introduced artificially.

To find out, the team inserted Atoh1 into progenitor cells along with a fluorescent protein molecule that is often used in research as a marker, to make cells easily visible. They were then able to see that the gene transfer technique resulted in mice being born with more hair cells in the cochlea than are normally found.

Crucially, Dr. Anthony Ricci, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, demonstrated that the gene-treated hair cells function like ordinary hair cells.

Stem cells are a type of progenitor and so can be instructed by genes to become a specific cell-type. One obstacle in the way of stem cell research has been ethical objection to the use of embryonic stem cells. However, researchers at Sheffield University supported by Deafness Research UK are currently working on extracting stem cells from the bone marrow and blood that are found in the umbilical cord, with the aim of turning them into hair cells that could be inserted into the cochlea. The umbilical cells are in rich supply and avoid the ethical issues surrounding the embryonic cells.

About Deafness Research UK

” Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
” The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
” The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
” For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at

” One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people – suffer hearing loss.
” Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
” In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with

Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under Section 96 (6) of the Charities Act 1993.