The Prince of Wales yesterday praised the ''wonderful institution'' of Coronation Street as he laughed and joked his way round the set of the soap on the eve of its 40th anniversary.

Members of the cast broke off last-minute rehearsals for a special hour-long live episode of the soap, which was broadcast last night, as the Prince trod the Street's famous cobbles at Granada TV's Manchester studios.

And he even took a cameo role in the show - in television report of him opening Wetherfield Council's new offices.

During his visit to the set, he Prince sipped a whisky in the Rovers and toasted a ''Happy Birthday'' to the cast after landlady Natalie Barnes, played by Denise Welch, interrupted the rehearsal of a dramatic scene to offer him the large Scotch.

He laughingly told actors Bill Roache (Ken Barlow), Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre Rachid) and Maggiue Jones (Blanche Hunt) - who have to be served non-alcoholic drinks in the show: ''I am a bit embarrassed drinking this with you lot standing there.''

And he was reduced to laughter by actress Bev Callard (Liz McDonald) after he asked her how she managed to get time away from the soap.

She told him: ''The last time I ran away with a younger man.''

Then she grabbed his arms and told him: ''So you'd better watch out - there's always room for an older man.''

He also watched Liz Dawn, who plays Vera Duckworth, in scenes as she fights for life in hospital after donating a kidney to her ailing grandson Paul.

She said of the live show: ''I just lie here and let them get on with it.'' The Prince replied: ''All of the viewers would be horrified if you don't wake up.''

Charles was following in the footsteps of his mother, The Queen, who visited the Street in 1982.

Royal success - Page 2

Comment - Page