1 9 5 1 – Current (UK)
20,000+ x 15 minute/12 minute episodes
Set in the fictional village of Ambridge in the fictional county of Borsetshire in England (based on Inkberrow in Worcestershire), the long-running BBC radio serial The Archers debuted on 1 January 1951 following the successful trial of a five-episode pilot series – broadcast in the Midlands only – in May 1950.
Since then, episodes have been transmitted nationally each weekday – initially on the BBC Light Programme, then on the BBC Home Service, and – from October 1967 – on Radio 4.
Since 1998, there have been six weekly episodes (Sunday to Friday), broadcast at around 7.00 pm and repeated the following day at 2.00 pm. A Sunday morning omnibus airs all six episodes back to back.
Broadcast from the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham and originally produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, The Archers was conceived as a means of disseminating educational information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-war era of rationing and food shortages.
The series originally centred on the lives of three farmers; Dan Archer, farming efficiently with little cash; Walter Gabriel, farming inefficiently with little cash; and George Fairbrother, a wealthy businessman farming at a loss for tax purposes.
The Archer family farm, Brookfield, combines a mix of arable, dairy, beef, and sheep. Brookfield has been passed down the generations from Dan to his son Phil and eventually to Phil and Jill’s four children.
Central character Grace Archer (played by Ysanne Churchman) was controversially killed off in a fire in 1955 – while trying to rescue animals from a blazing stable – to widespread public anger and dismay. The event conveniently coincided with the launch of the BBCs first rival, ITV.
Walter Gabriel provided comic relief in the years before the Grundy family were given greater prominence. His phrase “Me old pal, me old beauty” remains one of the most enduringly remembered phrases associated with the show.
As the series developed, many storylines continued to feature the Archer family but also introduced the Grundys, the Aldridges, the Pargetters, the Tuckers and the Carters. There were a multitude of other Ambridge residents – from a handful of recurring characters to friends, lovers, villagers, villains and rogues, many of them “just passing through”.
Much of the activity in Ambridge took place in the village pub, The Bull, over a pint of the local ale, which is called “Shires”.
The Bull was originally owned by Sam Saunders until Jack and Peggy Archer took over the licence in 1952. After Jack died in 1972, Peggy decided that running the pub alone was too much for her and employed Sid and Polly Perks to manage it. After Polly’s death in February 1982, Sid ran it alone, later with the help of Kathy Holland, who he married in April 1987.
Peggy sold The Bull to Sid and Kathy Perks in 1993 (with Guy Pemberton as a sleeping partner). Sid was tempted away from Kathy by the seductive Jolene Rogers (Buffy Davis), who became his new wife and landlady.
Caroline Pemberton inherited Guy’s share in The Bull in 2000, selling her share in 2006 to Lilian Bellamy to pay for the purchase of the luxury hotel Grey Gables from Jack Woolley. Sid Perks died in June 2010 and left his shares in the pub to Jolene and Jamie Perks (his son from Kathy).
Over its 70+ year run, the series has tackled many serious issues, such as drug addiction, rape, domestic abuse, interracial relationships, homosexuality, genetically modified crops, and badger culling.
However, one of the show’s charms is to build storylines around small everyday concerns – the possible closure of the village shop, the loss of a pair of spectacles, competitive marmalade-making – or nonsense such as a “spile troshing” competition.
The longest-running radio drama series in the world has also weathered all kinds of assaults, including notable parodies by Tony Hancock and The Goons.
Many famous people have made cameo appearances on The Archers, including Princess Margaret, Judi Dench, DJ John Peel, Britt Ekland, Toyah Willcox and Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries).
The theme tune – Barwick Green – is a maypole dance from the suite My Native Heath, written in 1924 by Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood.
Harry Oakes (1)
Monte Crick (2)
Edgar Harrison (2)
Frank Middlemass (4)
Doris Archer (née Forrest)
Monica Grey (1)
Ysanne Churchman (2)
Pamela Mant (1)
Lesley Saweard (2)
Robert Mawdesley (1)
Chris Gittins (2)
John “Jack” Archer
Polly Perkins (“Mrs P”)
Peggy Archer/Woolley (née Perkins)
Jill Archer (née Patterson)
Elizabeth Marlowe (1)
Sunny Ormonde (2)
Colin Skipp (1)
David Troughton (2)
Graeme Kirk (1)
Richard Attlee (2)
Shula Archer/Hebden Llloyd
George Hart (1)
Bob Arnold (2)
Nigel Carrivick (1)
Timothy Bentinck (2)
Haydn Jones (1)
Reg Johnston (2)
Edward Kelsey (3)