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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 May 2005, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Sir Ian heads for stellar Street
Acting luminary Sir Ian McKellen starts his 10-episode run in hit soap Coronation Street on Sunday.

Sir Ian McKellen in Coronation Street
Sir Ian McKellen said the role would fulfil a "long-held ambition"
The Lord of the Rings actor and Oscar nominee proves some of the UK's biggest stars cannot resist the lure of the Rovers Return and Rita's Kabin.

Playing dubious author Mel Hutchwright, Sir Ian said the role would fulfil a "long-held ambition".

He is the latest in a long line of stellar names who have coveted parts in Britain's most popular soap.

Legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier once asked for a part and a role was written for him - but he was too ill to appear.

The Prince of Wales visited Coronation Street in 2000
The Prince of Wales visited Coronation Street in 2000
Fellow thespians Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Anthony Hopkins have also asked their agents to put in a word - but have not yet had the chance to take part.

Sir Derek once said the characters "always make me cry".

"Considering they do it week after week, the standard is phenomenal," he said. "And they make it look so easy, that's their great gift."

And Sir Anthony said: "Life isn't worth living if I miss an episode".

Famous faces to have graced the Street include actors Sir Norman Wisdom, Honor Blackman and Maureen Lipman plus comic Peter Kay and singer Sir Cliff Richard and even the Prince of Wales.

Peter Kay
Peter Kay played Shelly's date
Kay cropped up as Shelly Unwin's mismatched date in 2004 sporting a ghastly ginger wig, seven years after his first appearance.

The Phoenix Nights creator said he had "always been a huge fan" and had "been brought up with it all my life".

Lipman made a sudden arrival behind the Rovers bar in 2002 while ex-Bond girl Blackman played a flirty pensioner who swept Norris off his feet.

Sir Cliff, actor Michael Crawford and former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel have also been spotted in the background.

And the Prince of Wales was seen in the 40th anniversary episode being shown around town by Mayoress Audrey Roberts.

Barbara Windsor in EastEnders
Barbara Windsor was already a star when she joined EastEnders
Inside Soap editor Steven Murphy said doing a cameo was "great fun" and gave those involved "a different kind of kudos".

"They don't do it to further their careers - but many of them have a deep fondness for Coronation Street, they were brought up on it," he says.

Celebrity casting can sometimes misfire, he adds, citing the plot last year featuring Sir Norman as an elderly fitness fanatic.

"The Norman Wisdom comedy storyline seemed tacked on and didn't work," Mr Murphy says.

"Soaps are supposed to be the closest thing we get to real life and a famous face can take away our belief in the programme."

Coronation Street producers are wary of being accused of "stunt" casting. The arrival of Sir Ian took more than a year to plan, they say.

Fertile ground

Coronation Street spokeswoman Alison Sinclair says: "It isn't something where we say 'Who's available? Who can we get in next?'

"The part of Mel Hutchwright was created before we knew Sir Ian McKellen was available - but when the part was created, it was clear Sir Ian would be ideal.

"You cannot create characters that will develop because well-known, established stars are very busy, that's the nature of the beast. This kind of role has to have a beginning, middle and end."

Coronation Street has attracted more star cameos in recent years than its rivals.

Emmerdale has made do with The Spice Girls' Mel B, Wet Wet Wet star Marti Pellow and Hunter from Gladiators.

Career move

Singer Robbie Williams has been spotted drinking in EastEnders, which was also the soap of choice for Little Britain comedian David Walliams.

The rule of celebrity cameos is the star does it for fun - not to revive their career.

But some stars take on a soap role as a career move.

Barbara Windsor, Shane Richie, Ian Lavender and Martin Kemp were all familiar names when they joined EastEnders.

And some big names owe part of their success to early soap exposure.

Sir Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Joanna Lumley and Prunella Scales all started out with minor parts in Coronation Street before becoming household names.

Sir Ian McKellen is doing it the other way around - he once turned down a role as Elsie Tanner's nephew because he was intimidated by the regular Coronation Street cast.

In pictures: Celebrity soap cameos
01 May 05 |  In Pictures
McKellen ready for Street debut
21 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Lipman brands Street 'ludicrous'
11 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Corrie wedding draws big audience
09 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Actor McKellen joins the Street
10 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Wisdom set for Coronation cameo
05 May 04 |  Entertainment


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