WILLIAM ROACHE, a longtime star of the British soap opera "Coronation Street," has been charged with two counts of rape involving a 15-year-old girl, prosecutors and police said Wednesday.

In a plot twist right out of a soap, the rapes allegedly took place between April and July of 1967.

Roache, now 81, was arrested at his home earlier yesterday for the alleged offenses. He has played Ken Barlow on the popular British series - satirized in the Queen video for "I Want to Break Free" - since its first episode in 1960.

He may be the world's longest-serving soap star, but he'll be appearing in court on May 14.

In March, Roache suggested in an interview with New Zealand TV that victims of child-sex crimes had behaved badly in a previous life. He, of course, later apologized. He also said that the public should not be judgmental about people accused of child-sex offenses.

And Roache isn't the only suspected perv on the "Street."

According to London's Daily Mail, star Michael Le Vell, has also been suspended from the show after being charged with 19 sexual offenses against a child, including rape, indecent assault and sexual activity.

Best-selling author at Free Library  

Maria Semple had a terrific career as a writer/producer in television ("Arrested Development," "Ellen," "Mad About You"), but there was one problem.

She didn't watch television.

She read books.

After some encouragement from TV writer-turned-novelist Sarah Dunn, Semple published her first novel, This One Is Mine, in 2008 and no one seemed to notice.

Her second novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, came out last year and everyone noticed.

Critical and commercial acclaim followed.

Semple, who's on a book tour and spoke to us by phone from Nashville (where she says she saw "Friends" for the first time on her hotel TV), said that she didn't see herself ever writing a novel, "but it came naturally to me. It engaged my mind in a way TV never did. There were no constraints."

Semple said that she's "really humbled and surprised" by the success of Bernadette and is thrilled that it will give her the opportunity to write another book. But even though the novel has been widely accepted, she said that she "wasn't trying to write anything but my own personal truth. It was . . . very personal. It felt very dangerous to write."

With Bernadette now optioned for a movie, we asked Semple if she wanted to write the screenplay.

She didn't.

"I'd rather be treated as a novelist," she said. "If I wrote the screenplay, I would just be fired from it and I wouldn't like that."

Maria Semple will be at the Free Library (1901 Vine St.) at 7:30 tonight. The reading/Q&A is free.

Kickin' it old school

Martial artist Christine Bannon-Rodrigues, who also had high-profile gigs as an actress ("Sci-Fighter") and stuntwoman ("The Next Karate Kid," "Batman and Robin"), recently was in town for the Amerikick Internationals, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

"I always enjoy attending this event, seeing friends and top-level competition," she told Tattle martial-arts/comics/sci-fi correspondent Jerome Maida, "and it's a fun city to enjoy once the event is over!

"The tournament is special to me because a few years ago I was inducted into the Amerikick Hall of Fame," she added. Promoters Bob Leiker and Mark Russo "put on a first-class event."

Bannon-Rodrigues is the winner of more than 100 major national and international karate tournaments, and her accomplishments at the WAKO (World Association of Karate and Kickboxing Organizations) Games has earned her several world records, including being the only person to win three world titles in consecutive WAKO Games.

This trip, she stayed at Loews Hotel but didn't get to Geno's or the "Rocky" steps. "I wanted to, but didn't have the time," she said.

* Wizard World Philly recently announced that two of the few men to play Superman will be making the trip to the Convention Center May 30-June 2.

Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") and Dean Cain (TV's "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") will be appearing at this year's annual pop-culture fest. So will Kevin Sorbo ("Hercules: The Legendary Journeys"), '80s heartthrob Andrew McCarthy ("Pretty in Pink"), Henry "Fonzie" Winkler ("Happy Days"), Shawn "Iceman" Ashmore ("X-Men: The Last Stand"), Ray "Darth Maul" Park ("Star Wars: Episode I"), Steve Guttenberg ("Police Academy") and "Buffy" alums James Marsters, Juliet Landau and Charisma Carpenter.


* Allentown native and Tattle fave Amanda Seyfried (next to be heard in "Epic" and seen in "Lovelace") will be smelled in Givenchy.

She's the new face of their fragrance.

Keith Richards says he doesn't own an iPod.

"I still use CDs or records actually. Sometimes cassettes. It has much better sound; a much better sound than digital," he said in a recent interview.

*  HBO is backing a new four-hour documentary on Frank Sinatra being touted as "the definitive portrait of our era's greatest performer." The miniseries will be directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney.

No premiere date has been set.

* In New Orleans, William "Billy" Bretherton, star of the A&E reality-TV show "Billy the Exterminator," has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of possessing synthetic marijuana.

And here we thought he killed roaches.

- Daily News wire services

contributed to this report.

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