Ned Larkin (Bill Payne) and Tom Forrest (Bob Arnold) at The Bull being served by Jack (Denis Folwell) and Peggy Archer (Thelma Rogers)
It all started on the evening of Whit Monday 1950 when 50,000 BBC Midlands Home Service listeners tuned in to the strains of the now famous 'Barwick Green', which was to be the enduring signature tune of The Archers of Ambridge and the world's longest running radio drama serial was born - although to be strictly accurate, it wasn't The Archers of Ambridge, because the announcer at the time introduced the programme as 'The Archers of Wimberton Farm, on the fringe of the village of Ambridge'. Much of that first trial episode remains familiar including: "Well me old pal, me old beauties", as chortled by Walter Gabriel.
Somewhere between the first live pilot episodes, which were transmitted only in the Midlands region and the trial three-month run on the national network Light Programme in January 1951, Wimberton Farm became Brookfield Farm and the focus became not only the Archer Family, with Dan and Doris at the head, but the village of Ambridge itself.
Rehearsing in the Broad Street studios in November 1955. Tony Shryane gives notes. Front: Joy Davies (Mrs. Fairbrother), Anne Cullen (Carol Grey), Lesley Saweard (Christine Archer), Gwen Berryman (Doris), Leslie Dunn (Paul Johnson). Back: Leslie Bowmar (Mr. Fairbrother), Norman Painting (Phil), Harry Oakes (Dan), and Denis Folwell (Jack).
The idea for The Archers had come two years previously, at a meeting between farming representatives and the BBC in Birmingham's Council Chamber. They were talking about ways to make farming information programmes popular, and a well known Lincolnshire farmer, Henry Burtt, of Dowsby, stood up and said the immortal words: "What we need is a farming Dick Barton!".
A quick look through the storyline of the first few years shows just how dramatic and pacey it all was. Everything from Mrs. Perkins's nephew, Bill Slater, dying from head injuries after a fight outside The Bull to a plane crash in Dan's five-acre field; from rioting saboteurs plotting to wreck an ironstone drilling site to the revelation that newcomer to the village, Irish thriller writer, Mike Daly, is not, as rumour has it, a Major in the Pay Corps who has been cashiered for embezzling funds, but is a secret agent. There are kidnappings and fires and both Doris and Jack Woolley are left unconscious by robbers.
The Archers has never shied away from death, one of the most famous incidents being in 1955 when the programme killed off Grace Archer in an audience-catching ploy on the evening that ITV started. The trick worked and the next morning much publicity was stolen from ITV.
The creator of the programme was Godfrey Basely and the scripts were written by Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason who had previously written the Dick Barton serials for BBC radio. Tony Shryane joined the team early on and later produced the programme for 28 years.
The Theme Music is : Barwick Green 'A Maypole Dance' from My Native Heath (Arthur Wood) and is available here
BBC Radio 4 Archers website
Vintage Archers Volume 1 BBC Cassette - A compilation of highlights from the long-running radio soap opera, "The Archers". They include the early years of Phil Archer and Grace Fairbrother, the story of Walter Gabriel, the story of Jack and Peggy, and a collection of Christmas celebrations through the years.
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