Popular Ken cooking up a real storm in his latest role

Ken Morley on Celebrity MasterChef
Ken Morley on Celebrity MasterChef

Actor Ken Morley is perhaps best known for the trademark glasses and wacky jackets he wore as Coronation Street’s Reg Holdsworth.

But he has left the bright colours behind and pulled on a simply white apron for his latest role – that of a contestant in the BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef.

The 71-year-old, who lives in Whittle-le-Woods, is one of 20 celebrities to put their culinary skills to the test in the new series.

Among those also taking part are actors Christopher Biggins, Amanda Burton and Todd Carter, singer Kiki Dee, broadcaster Russell Grant, travel writer Charley Boorman and model Jodie Kidd.

Taking on the challenge proved to be an interesting experience for Ken.

He said: “I quite enjoy, like everyone else, stuffing my face with as much food as possible.

“I cooked at home. There is a big difference, as I came to realise very quickly, between being a cook at home and being a professional cook.”

He continued: “This was a treat.

“It was a bit nerve-racking to be honest.

“I’m competitive and wanted the opportunity to work in restaurants for the programme.”

The first four weeks of the Celebrity MasterChef series will be heats, which see the stars put to the test and only the best eight going through to the semi-finals.

The first challenge for the five hopefuls is the mystery box test, where they have to use ingredients to create their interpretation of a burger in just 50 minutes.

Next, the celebrities are faced with their first challenge within a real restaurant setting, preparing dishes for paying customers during lunchtime service.

Ken, along with actors Amanda Burton and Emma Barton, were sent to Spanish restaurant Iberica in London.

In the final test, it’s back to MasterChef headquarters where the contestants were asked to prepare a two-course menu in just one hour and 15 minutes.

Ken said: “The restaurant I went to was a very high-class restaurant in the city of London.

“People were paying what we would consider large amounts of money to go there, so I had to be quite good.

“It’s not a case of just slapping something on the plate.

“I was a bit apprehensive when I was told where I was going.”

Working in a restaurant kitchen was a new experience for Ken, who was more used to eating the meals cooked as a customer.

He said: “I know how it works, because I go into restaurants, but you are not in the kitchen.

“When you go into a professional kitchen, there are a lot of people working there.

“The modern machinery in a professional restaurant is quite advanced stuff. I didn’t realise.

“You think your own domestic equipment is relatively complicated, but it’s nothing like that.”

Ken had the added pressure, of course, of preparing meals in front of the television cameras.

He said: “You struggle to familiarise yourself with everything and there are people with cameras stood around recording you and your endeavours.

“It can all be quite nerve-racking because you are under pressure to get it right.

“If it’s not right, you are under pressure to make another one.

“The chef examines it and it’s sent to the dining area. Someone is going to eat and pay for it – that’s quite weird.”

Ken recorded the series a few months ago and admits it had an impact on his own dining experiences.

He said: “It’s made me even more apprehensive.”

He continued: “On average, three out of five restaurants are dreadful.

“I listen to what everyone else says and then go myself. There’s an element of uncertainty for a lot of places.

“Everyone seems to know where the good ones are.

“I went to one locally and took my mother-in-law on the recommendation of a friend and the food was exceptionally bad.

“I was in such a temper. I told them my meal was hideous.”

Ken was born at Chorley Hospital but moved around a lot as a child.

It was only when he started working on Coronation Street in 1989 that he decided to return to the borough.

He said: “I came up to Manchester for what was only supposed to be six months and was travelling back to London.

“They said they liked this character and wanted me to do more and it just went on.

“I moved here and bought a house and have been here ever since.”

And he has plenty of choices for eating out in the surrounding area.

Ken said: “The beauty of living here is its accessibility to a huge choice. Within say 20 miles, you have got at least 15 different towns.

“Where I live, in Whittle, we have got everything.

“We have got restaurants within a quarter of a mile, we have chemists, doctors, schools, petrol stations, supermarkets, people who repair washing machines, wonderful scenery and views.

“You can get to Blackpool in half an hour, you can go to Manchester and Liverpool.

“It really is quite remarkable.

“That includes food. If you think of all the places you can go in this area – there are Chinese restaurants, Indian, Italian, Thai, you name it.”

Ken still has a house in London, but spends much of his time in Chorley.

He said: “If you are going to live somewhere, you have to live somewhere that’s got it and this place has got it.”

Ken is best known for his role as supermarket boss Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, which he played from 1989 to 1995.

But he has had a long career which also included roles on ’Allo ’Allo, Red Dwarf and Benidorm, where he appeared alongside his Coronation Street wife Sherrie Hewson.

He has also become a familiar face in pantomimes around the country and will perform in Sleeping Beauty in Southport this year.

Ken said: “I enjoy doing pantos, they’re wonderful.

“They are a very old tradition, but also an unusual combination of very young children believing in the fairy tale in front of them and also unashamedly glee parents who enjoy the look on their children’s faces. There are double entendres and ridiculous situations which mirror their own lives.

“They are such an important facet of theatre that every town has one.

“If somewhere said they weren’t going to have a panto, there would be uproar. They are such a part of life.”

Ken has also been asked to do a musical tour by Cole Porter next year, but refused to reveal more.

And despite his age, he says he has no plans to retire.

He said; “I’m still in good nick.

“Lots of people have retired who I went to college with.

“Rik Mayall was in the year below me at university along with Ben Elton.

“This year alone, three people who I knew have died.

“I have always believed in mixing and matching. I do the stuff I want to do and if I don’t want to do it, I don’t. That’s what I always do and it seems to work.”

Ken will appear in Celebrity MasterChef at 9pm on Thursday on BBC1.