The 55th anniversary of the world’s longest-running radio drama is celebrated on 1 January 2006.
Having started to help the then-Government spread agricultural news and advice (such as urging farmers to grow more food) The Archers remains BBC Radio 4’s most popular non-news programme, with its average weekly listening figure reaching record levels at just under five million, according to RAJAR (October 2005).
Possibly the programme’s longevity is due to the fact that The Archers has never shied away from difficult storylines. These have included abortion, death, imprisonment, rural racism and GM crops at Home Farm.
The most provocative storyline of 2005, which is still ongoing, involves a tug-of-love between the Grundy brothers, Will and Ed, and Will’s estranged wife Emma, who currently resides with Ed in a caravan with her and Will’s son, George.
2005 was also one of the saddest years for the radio drama, when it was forced to deal with the death of Mary Wimbush (Julia Pargetter), and the sad demise of Betty Tucker (played by Pamela Craig).
Mary Wimbush sadly died soon after she collapsed after recording an episode of the programme, prompting fellow actor Graham Seed (who plays her son, Nigel) to say: “She was the ultimate professional ? her performances were always so vibrant. She’ll be sorely missed.”
Betty Tucker (played by Pamela Craig) died on 16 December following a second heart attack. It was a bittersweet decision for actress Pamela Craig, who was very sorry to leave after 31 years; but her retirement from the programme was prompted by her decision to move to New Zealand to be closer to her family.
Closer to home, a Gloucestershire man successfully bid ?17,000 during BBC Radio 2’s Terry Wogan Show for his wife to have a speaking part in The Archers.
The recipient will not only meet some of the cast and production team when she visits BBC Birmingham to record her part, but also Terry Wogan himself, a self-confessed Archers addict who hosted the auction to raise money for BBC Children in Need.
Speaking of reaching yet another milestone, Julie Beckett, senior producer on The Archers, says: “It’s always good when The Archers passes another landmark ? we’re proud to be 55! With our creative writers, talented actors and a great production team, we’re all set for the anniversaries to come.”