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Steve Frame
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The Archers (British radio)

Running Time: 15 minutes, then later reduced to 12 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Home Station: BBC Light Programme, BBC Home Service, BBC Radio 4
Creator: Godfrey Basely
First Broadcast: 1 January 1951
Last Broadcast: Still running
No. of Episodes: 15,232 (as of August 3, 2007)
Opening Theme: Barwick Green

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2006 Cast

The Archers is a British radio soap opera broadcast on the BBC's main spoken-word channel, Radio 4. It is the world's longest running radio soap with more than 15,000 episodes having been broadcast, and was originally billed as an "everyday story of country folk". Despite its rural flavour, it is in fact recorded in the heart of Birmingham, the UK's second largest city. The Archers is the most listened to Radio 4 programme, and holds the BBC Radio programme record for the number of times listened to over the internet, with over 750,000 listeners .

The Archers is set in the fictional village of Ambridge in the fictional county of Borsetshire, in the real Midlands of England. Ambridge and Borsetshire have both been mapped. Borsetshire is situated between the (in reality, contiguous) real counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, south of Birmingham in the West Midlands. Ambridge itself is sometimes said to be based upon the village of Inkberrow in Worcestershire, where the village pub, The Old Bull, was the model for The Bull in Ambridge (and is shown as such on the BBC Archers web site).

Other fictional local villages include Penny Hassett, Loxley Barrett, Darrington, Hollerton, Edgeley, Waterley Cross and Lakey Green. The county town of Borsetshire is Borchester, and the nearest really big city is the cathedral city of Felpersham. Anywhere further away from Ambridge may be referred to humorously with comments such as 'but that's on the other side of Felpersham!', but characters do occasionally venture further: a number attended the Countryside Alliance march in London, there have recently been knowledgeable references to the gay scene in Manchester's Canal Street, and a number of scenes have taken place abroad. Birmingham is a favourite destination for a shopping trip.

Many of the story lines concern the title characters, the middle-class Archer family who own and manage Brookfield Farm. The farm has been passed down the generations from original owner Dan (now deceased) to his son Phil, currently the oldest surviving Archer, and is now co-owned by three of Phil's children: David (who manages it with his wife Ruth), Elizabeth and Kenton. As well as some other farming and retired Archers families and offspring (Pat & Tony, Phil & Jill, Tom), the other main families include (a summary to give the flavour, see below for more detail)

The prosperous Aldridges, portrayed as money-driven practitioners of agribusiness. Brian, the head of the family, is a serial adulterer. The rich and elderly, Woolleys. Jack is now badly affected by Alzheimer's disease. The Grundys, formerly struggling tenant farmer who were previously portrayed comically and disapprovingly, but are now seen as doggedly battling adversity. The urban, nouveau riche "incomers": pretentious and domineering, Lynda Snell is the butt of many jokes, although her sheer energy makes her a stalwart of village life. She is partnered by the long-suffering Robert. The perpetually struggling (and complaining) Carters. The widower milkman and casual farm labourer Mike Tucker who battles, sometimes successfully, with depression.

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Adam

Many plots involve the teen and twenties offspring of these families, so new nuclear families come into existence over time. Other distant relatives also reappear from time to time. Some characters are very well known, but never heard on air. Over the years, some non-speaking characters become "real", or vice-versa (for example, Mrs. Antrobus, "the Dog Woman").

Sometimes mocked as a comfortable middle-class series with stereotypical comic yokels, the programme has nonetheless tackled many serious social issues. There have been, for instance: rural drug addiction; inter-racial relationships; direct action against GM crops; family break-ups; and civil partnerships. Thus, given the (allegedly) middle-class nature of the Archers audience (and the generally unsympathetic treatment of characters such as Sid Perks, the adulterous pub landlord, who nevertheless has forcibly expressed views on the superiority of those aspects of "traditional morality" which suit him), the Archers may be seen as a counterpoise to the uniformly differently inclined lower-middle-class British newspapers. For instance, it seems likely that the intense discussion both in Ambridge and the "real world" about whether the term "wedding" is appropriate for a Civil Partnership will make the use of the term much more frequent, and perhaps even more acceptable, in Middle England.

There are six episodes a week running from Sunday to Friday. All except the Friday evening episode are re-broadcast the following day, and all of the week's episodes are re-run as a Sunday morning omnibus.

Unlike television soaps, Archers actors are not held on retainers, so most do other acting work and can disappear for periods if they are working on long term projects such as films or television series. One example is the actress Tamsin Greig who plays Debbie Aldridge. Greig, who is now arguably, currently, the most famous actor in The Archers, has become well known for her appearances on television comedy shows such as Green Wing and Black Books. As a result, Debbie often looks after a farm in Hungary in which her family has an interest whilst she is filming these shows, and then returns again to Ambridge when her commitments allow. Because of this, and by the nature of the storylines focussing on particular groups of characters, in any given week the series comprises 20–30 speaking characters out of a regular cast of about 60. Greig now has competition from young actress Felicity Jones who plays Emma Carter in the series; Jones, after a period studying at Wadham College Oxford has moved into large TV parts such as the new ITV series Northanger Abbey in which she starred.

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Adam & Ian

History

Starting on Whit Monday 1950, and continuing through that week, a pilot series of five episodes was broadcast to the English Midlands, created by Godfrey Baseley, as 'a farming Dick Barton'; it was decided to commission the series for a longer national run. (In the pilot series the Archers' farm was not called Brookfield but 'Wimberton Farm'.)

Since 1 January 1951, a fifteen-minute episode (since 1998, twelve minutes) has been transmitted across the UK each weekday, at first on the BBC Light Programme and subsequently on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4). The original scriptwriters were Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason who were also working on the series Dick Barton - Special Agent whose popularity partly inspired The Archers and whose slot in the schedules it eventually took over. Originally produced with collaborative input from the Ministry of Agriculture, The Archers was conceived as a means of disseminating information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-war years of rationing and food shortages. The programme was hugely successful; at the height of its popularity it was estimated that 60% of adult Britons were regular listeners. It was used as a propaganda vehicle to reinforce notions of Englishness, and to foster and inculcate notions of rebuilding in post-war Britain. The programme's educational remit, and the involvement of the government, ended in 1972 but some long-term listeners still refer to "the Min. of Ag. bit" and it is true that the dialogue often contains more references to European farming subsidies, the buying habits of large supermarkets and the difficulties of marketing organic meat, than is usual in everyday conversation.

The actor Norman Painting has played the character of Phil Archer continuously ever since the first trial series in 1950. As a script writer, his first episode was the one in which Phil's first wife, Grace, was killed in a fire on the launch day of ITV. Painting was allowed to make a change to the initial script of the episode, and subsequently went on to write around 1,200 complete episodes, credited as "Bruno Milna", culminating in the 10,000th episode.

Killing off Grace Archer was widely seen as a "spoiler" by the BBC; the cast had realised something was going on when the decision was made to record the episodes in London rather than Birmingham, and the episode was broadcast on the night of ITV's debut. The emotional response of listeners to news of Grace's death overshadowed the debut of the new competitive television network, and also inspired an episode of the television comedy programme Hancock (1961) that featured a fictional soap, The Bowmans, parodying the series. On the 50th anniversary of ITV's launch, Ysanne Churchman, the actress who played Grace, sent a congratulatory card to ITV, signed "Grace Archer".

Vanessa Whitburn has been the programme's editor since 1992.

According to Who's Who in The Archers 2007, episode 15,047 was to be broadcast on 1 January 2007. Episode 15,000 was broadcast on 7 November 2006.

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Caroline & Oliver

Themes

A recurring theme over the years has been the resentment of the working-class Grundy family towards the middle-class Archers. Labour politician Neil Kinnock in the 1980s jokingly referred to The Archers as "The Grundys and their Oppressors". The series, however, now deals with a wide range of contemporary issues including illicit affairs, drug abuse, rape, and gay marriage - inviting criticism from conservative commentators such as Peter Hitchens that the series has become a vehicle for liberal and left-wing values and agendas, with characters behaving out of character to achieve those goals. However, one of the show's enduring charms is its ability to make absorbing stories out of everyday, small scale concerns, such as the possible closure of the village shop, the loss and subsequent rediscovery of a pair of spectacles, competitive marmalade-making, or utter nonsense such as a 'spiletroshing' competition, rather than the large-scale and rather improbable events that form the plots of many soap operas.

Main characters

A list of all Archers characters, and the actors who played them, can be found here, although the list ends in 1997. The credits which follow are not necessarily complete; actors who played the characters as children have not always been included.

The Archer family: senior citizens

Phil Archer (Norman Painting) is the current patriarch of the Archer family and a leading resident of the village. His first wife Grace died as a result of injuries sustained in a stable fire and, five decades later, he has never entirely recovered from the trauma. His second wife Jill was trapped in a burning house in 2004 and this brought back many feelings. Phil handed responsibility for the family farm to his second son David, but still remains involved in Brookfield. Phil has had a number of health scares in recent years but is still a keen pianist and plays the organ for church services and the music for the village Christmas play. He has a living sister, Christine, widow of former gamekeeper George Barford, and a deceased brother, Jack, an alcoholic who ran one of the two pubs in the Ambridge, The Bull. Phil and Jill have retired to Glebe Cottage, which was previously home to their daughter Shula, and before that to Phil's parents Dan and Doris.

Jill Archer (Patricia Greene) is the second wife of Phil Archer and matriarch of the family. Together they have four children - twins Shula and Kenton, and David and Elizabeth. Some ten years younger than her husband, she is more active in village life and supports her children by taking on child-minding duties. Jill is an active member of the Women's Institute, opened up a holiday cottage business, and is teaching her grand-daughter Pip how to keep bees. Unlike Phil, a former Justice of the Peace, Jill has a less traditional outlook on life, reflected in her opposition to hunting and private education.

Christine Barford (Lesley Seweard), younger sister of Phil. Married a gamekeeper, which was seen as a class transgression.

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Cast Rehearsing

The Archer family: middle aged Archers

Shula Hebden Lloyd, née Archer, for a while Hebden (Judy Bennett) is the elder daughter of Phil and Jill and twin sister of Kenton. Her first husband, Mark Hebden, a solicitor, was killed in a road accident in 1994 that also involved her best friend Caroline Bone (now Sterling). Shula and Mark's son Daniel was born after the death of his father as a result of IVF treatment after a long struggle with infertility. Some years after Mark's death, Shula had an affair with the village doctor (who was himself living with Shula's good friend Usha Gupta), thus two-timing her boyfriend Alistair (the local vet) whom she subsequently married. This was in the context of Shula's devout Christianity and membership of the local Parish Council. She owns and runs the riding stables which formerly belonged to Christine Barford, her aunt. She used to have great fun with her best friend, Caroline, but recently Caroline has become engrossed in her husband Oliver Sterling and their business activities. Since her marriage to Alistair, Shula has lost her lightheartedness and become rather dour, self-centred and even, at times, sanctimonious. Coping with the childhood arthritis of her son, Daniel, has not helped, and nor has her husband's gambling addiction, which nearly destroyed their marriage before he finally admitted to owing huge sums to Matt Crawford and others. The couple resolved to stay together; they remortgaged the business to pay off the debts and Alistair started attending Gamblers' Anonymous meetings.

Kenton Archer (Richard Attlee, formerly played by Graeme Kirk) is portrayed as the wastrel of the Archer family. Having turned his back on the family farm to join the Merchant Navy, Kenton tried his hand at a number of ventures, including selling antiques and running a wine bar. He disappeared to Australia and New Zealand for several years and was married (originally to gain a visa, though they subsequently fell in love), had a daughter (Meriel), and divorced before returning home. Kenton now manages Jaxx cafe in Borchester, but his staff often cover for him whilst he pursues various other interests. His fiancée, Kathy Perks, is the ex-wife of Sid Perks, the landlord of The Bull.

David Archer (Timothy Bentinck, formerly played by Nigel Carrivick) is the second son of Phil and Jill and, as the only child of the four to show any interest in, or aptitude for, farming, has assumed responsibility for Brookfield Farm. Over recent years he has become increasingly caring, for example driving up to Northumberland to bring his widowed mother-in-law to stay, and renting a piece of land to Joe Grundy to allow him to keep the barn he had erected without planning permission. Brookfield has suffered in recent years from bovine TB, but David is enthusiastic about his herd of Herefords . His cowman's heavy-handed advice (which he and Ruth reluctantly accepted) that they should dispense with the services of Shula's husband as vet for their dairy herd in favour of a specialist caused a serious family rift, and was followed by his near-affair with Sophie Barlow. Recently, he bought an old tractor, dubbed Rufus, which he has restored.

Ruth Archer, née Pritchard (Felicity Finch) is the wife of David Archer. Unusually the character comes from a real rather than fictional place, Prudhoe in Northumberland. She came to Ambridge as a Harper Adams student looking for agricultural work experience and promptly met David, who was keen to settle down: the couple married within two years. They have three children: Philippa (Pip), Josh and Ben. Ruth survived breast cancer which struck in 2000, undergoing a mastectomy operation. Ruth's utterance "Oh noooooo", spoken in her broad Northumberland accent, is frequently parodied on the BBC Radio Four comedy programme Dead Ringers. Ruth teetered on the brink of an affair with their employee Sam in the autumn of 2006, which will no doubt have shock waves for years to come.

Lilian Bellamy, née Archer (Sunny Ormonde, formerly played by Elizabeth Marlowe) is the twice-widowed, gin-soaked, chain-smoking second daughter of Jack and Peggy Archer. She spent time as a tax exile in the Channel Islands after the death of second husband Ralph Bellamy. On her return to Ambridge in 2003, she took up with Matt Crawford (then a married man); her exploits cause much gnashing of teeth from her respectable sister Jennifer Aldridge. Lilian was elected to the parish council in January 2006. More recently she has been taking dancing lessons from Mike Tucker after she discovered that Crawford's ex-wife was a much better dancer than herself.

Tony Archer (Colin Skipp) is the youngest child and only son of Jack and Peggy Archer. In his younger days he romanced a string of girlfriends and led a laddish life before settling down to marry Pat, with whom he now runs a fully organic establishment at Bridge Farm. Despite owning an MG sports car, bought with a windfall from his mother, he is generally considered to be a rather dull man. His brother-in-law Brian Aldridge enjoys winding him up over farming matters, and dinner parties involving the two couples usually end in tears. Pat and Tony had three children, John, Helen and Tom. John was tragically killed in a tractor accident, but Helen and Tom are still living in with their parents.

The Archer family: the younger generation

Helen Archer (Louiza Patikas, formerly played by Frances Graham and Bonnie Engstrom), Tony and Pat Archer's daughter, makes a cheese called "Borchester Blue" in the farm dairy and runs the organic farm shop, Ambridge Organics, in Borchester. After the suicide of her gamekeeper partner Greg Turner in 2004, she suffered from anorexia nervosa, but recovered after a time at a specialist clinic. She recently dated a journalist who quickly rejected her; this subsequently threatened a return to her earlier problems. On New Year's Day 2007, she ran over Mike Tucker whilst she was drunk, but Tom took the blame for her. Since then she has developed a new type of cheese with Oliver Sterling.

Tom Archer (Tom Graham) is the younger son of Tony and Pat. He took over his elder brother's pig herd after John was killed in a tractor accident, going on to produce organic sausages. Tom and his then girlfriend Kirsty faced criminal charges in 1999 for the destruction of a field of genetically modified crops on Brian Aldridge's land, but neither was convicted. Tom is highly ambitious for his sausage-making business, but his contract with a supermarket chain nearly bankrupted him, despite his disastrous affair with their buyer, Tamsin. Tom was forced to throw in his lot (and become a junior partner of) his aunt Jennifer's husband Brian Aldridge. In the process, the sausage business lost its organic status, which created further tension between the families. In February 2006 he started dating Brenda Tucker, having provided support to her when her mother died suddenly two months earlier. Later the same year, Tom expanded his business and set up a new independent business, Gourmet Grills, essentially a burger van albeit specialising in high-quality meat products. When Helen ran over Mike Tucker, Tom took the blame and this resulted in Mike turning against him and opposing his relationship with Brenda. Mike has since found out the truth, Helen paid for the driving course that Tom was sentenced to attend, and Tom and Brenda have moved into one of the holiday cottages at Home Farm.

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David & Ruth Archer with Sam Batton

The Grundy family

Joe Grundy (Edward Kelsey, formerly played by Reg Johnstone and Haydn Jones) is the oldest of the well-established local family, and often provides comic relief. Joe maintained for many years that the Archer dynasty had robbed them of their estate. After years attempting to keep the family farm afloat, they were made bankrupt in 2000 and were forced to move to a sink estate in Borchester. Joe took this especially hard and in one of the most harrowing episodes ever broadcast, bludgeoned his beloved ferrets to death with a hammer. The family moved back to Ambridge shortly thereafter. Lately he has begun to assist Oliver Sterling in the management of a new dairy herd at Grange Farm.

Eddie Grundy (Trevor Harrison) is Joe's son and Clarrie's husband. During their marriage he was unrequitedly enamoured of Jolene Rogers, now Perks, his partner in a country and western double act. Eddie's hopes of a career in music appear to have been permanently dashed. He has a history of involving himself in numerous dubious money-making schemes and at one point stood trial for unwittingly selling condemned meat. He mainly makes his living by laying patios and selling novelty garden gnomes. Joe has participated in some of Eddie's money-making schemes; at other times he scolds his son: legality never dictates his response.

Clarrie Grundy née Larkin (Rosalind Adams, formerly played by Heather Bell and Fiona Mathieson) is Eddie Grundy's long-suffering wife. She became involved with him after her late father Jethro employed him to remove the range in their home. Clarrie spends much of her time sorting out problems created by her husband, sons and father-in-law. She works at the dairy at Bridge Farm, where Pat Archer is a good friend, and behind the bar at the Bull.

William Grundy (Philip Molloy) is the elder son of Eddie and Clarrie. He is gamekeeper for Borchester Land; his bosses are Brian Aldridge and the loathsome Matt. In August 2004, he married Emma Carter and they had a son, George, but she harboured a dark secret. Whilst Will was engaged to Emma, she enjoyed two one-night stands with his brother Ed, including one on her hen night, leading her to believe that Ed was George's father. Eventually she left Will for Ed, taking George with her. Will's existing rivalry with Ed became even more intense: to Clarrie's despair, the brothers engaged in physical tussles and bitter arguments over Emma and George.

Ed Grundy (Barry Farrimond) is the younger son of Eddie and Clarrie. A farm labourer, Ed secured a job in France and planned to move there secretly with Emma and George, but they were thwarted in November 2005 by Will. In May 2006, Ed mysteriously vanished after Emma left the caravan and moved into her parents' home, saying it was for the sake of her baby's health. He remained missing, despite a police investigation into his disappearance, until July 2006 when he was admitted to hospital after being beaten up while sleeping rough in Borchester. Whilst living as a vagrant, he had become addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine. On returning to the village, Ed at first sought refuge with mentor and past employer, Oliver Sterling, who did his best to help Ed face his demons and abandon his vices. With the additional help of family support and counselling Ed has made major steps towards recovery, demonstrated by his increased dedication to Oliver Sterling's dairy farm.

The Woolley family

Jack Woolley (Arnold Peters, formerly played by Philip Garston-Jones) is a self-made man originally from Stirchley in Birmingham who owns the village shop. Until recently he also owned local country-house hotel Grey Gables (now owned by its long-time manager Caroline Sterling and her husband Oliver), the cafe (managed by Kenton Archer) and the Borchester Echo (a local newspaper). Jack has started to suffer from what is probably Alzheimer's disease and is receiving treatment for it, leading Peggy to take more responsibility for the day-to-day operations of his businesses. In 2005 Peggy tried to persuade her husband to agree to his affairs being governed by power of attorney. At the same time, Jack Woolley's adopted daughter Hazel (various actresses, on this occasion Annette Badland) came over from the United States, after some years of absence. Using the cover of an Internet business and an imaginary stepfamily, she failed in an attempt to con Jack and Peggy and gain control of the Grey Gables hotel and leisure complex.

Peggy Woolley, née Perkins, formerly Archer (June Spencer, briefly played by Thelma Rogers) is the widow of Jack Archer, Phil's elder brother. They managed (and later owned) the Bull. After many years of close friendship, Peggy married Jack Woolley. Peggy has two daughters, Jennifer and Lillian, and a son, Tony, by her first husband. She is indulgent of her grandchildren and has provided several of them with significant financial support. After Hazel's attempt to take over Grey Gables, she finally persuaded Jack to relinquish many of his business interests. She is a natural conservative and her views about her grandson's gay marriage could not be predicted.

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Tamsin Greig as Debbie

The Aldridge family

Brian Aldridge (Charles Collingwood) is considered by some the villain of the serial and by others as one of the most interesting and subtle characters in the programme. Married to Jack and Peggy Archer's daughter Jennifer, he is primarily a farmer, but has interests in a number of businesses, including a partnership in Tom Archer's sausage business. Brian has had several extra-marital affairs during his marriage to Jennifer, including (the then) Caroline Bone in 1985 and more recently with the Irish-born translator Siobhan Hathaway, which produced his only son, Ruairí. He has an uncomfortable relationship with his gay stepson, Adam, which has been the source of some friction with his wife. He is exceptionally close to his stepdaughter, Debbie.

Jennifer Aldridge, née Archer (Ysanne Churchman, Angela Piper) is the elder daughter of Peggy Woolley by her first husband, also confusingly named Jack. In early years her character was the hippy of the Archer family, her first child, Adam, being — sensationally at the time — the illegitimate result of a fling with a cowman, Paddy Redmond. She married a travelling businessman, Roger Travers-Macy, in the late 1960s and had a daughter, Debbie. She then divorced and married Brian Aldridge. With Brian she had two daughters, Kate and Alice. Jennifer has endured Brian's series of affairs over the years, partly by having one affair with her ex-husband, though Brian has long suspected John Tregorran as having rivalled him for Jennifer's affections at one time. Jennifer's current main source of worry is the behaviour of her gin-soaked, chain-smoking sister Lillian, who has moved back into the village. This concern has been shared with her brother Tony, whom Jennifer is usually keen to put down.

Adam Macy (Andrew Wincott) is the first child of Jennifer Aldridge, his presumed father being former Brookfield farmhand Paddy Redmond. Adam was adopted by Roger Travers-Macy, Jennifer's first husband. Adam lived abroad for many years, mainly in Kenya, helping breed goats, but came back to the family farm when a major relationship broke up. After a year or so, he fell in love with Ian Craig, the chef at Grey Gables. Ian and Adam's liaison has elicited little moral outrage or criticism in the village, with the exception of Sid Perks, who briefly barred Adam from the Bull, the village's only pub, and Adam's grandmother Peggy Woolley, who was distinctly uncomfortable with the relationship. Adam and Ian considered embarking on parenthood; Ian had plans to artificially inseminate his old friend, Madds, and share responsibility for the child they hoped to produce, but Madds then fell in love with another man and changed her mind. The producers of The Archers maintain this was a very popular plot nationwide, although posts on the BBC's Archers message boards were mainly negative. Ian has proposed to Adam, who has accepted. The pair entered a civil partnership on 14 December 2006.

Debbie Aldridge, formerly Gerrard, née Travers-Macy (Tamsin Greig) is the daughter of Jennifer and Roger Travers-Macy, but chooses to use the surname of her stepfather Brian. After a spell at the University of Exeter she returned home to get away from a relationship with Canadian lecturer Simon Gerrard (Garrick Hagon). Simon followed her to Ambridge and was turned away by Brian. Many years later, after a series of failed relationships, Debbie got involved with Simon again and in spite of Brian's forebodings they were married. However, Debbie subsequently discovered that Simon was being unfaithful, and they divorced. Debbie was devastated when, shortly after her split from Simon, she learned of Brian's affair with Siobhan and the birth of Ruairí. She left the village to work for a firm in France, but eventually returned. Over the last few years, Brian has come to rely on Debbie to help run Home Farm. When Adam returned from Africa, a bout of sibling rivalry erupted which is still ongoing. Debbie is currently based in Hungary, where she runs the estate owned by a consortium to which Brian belongs. She often visits home; however Brian often secretly visits Siobhan and their son Ruairí (who live in Germany), using a visit to Debbie as cover. The installation of a new webcam has now allowed Debbie to talk and appear to everyone via computer.

Kate Madikane, née Aldridge (Kellie Bright), is the eldest daughter of Brian and Jennifer. Kate inherited her mother's hippy tendency, giving birth to a daughter, Phoebe, at the Glastonbury Festival, by Roy Tucker, (with whom Phoebe lives in Ambridge), before disappearing to Johannesburg, South Africa where she has married Lucas Madikane (Connie M'Gadzah) and has another daughter, Noluthando ("Nolly") and, born July 2007, a son, Sipho (Xhosa for 'gift'[4] ).

Alice Aldridge (Hollie Chapman), the youngest daughter of Brian and Jennifer, was studying at an exclusive private school, but left it to study A-Levels in psychology, maths, design technology and physics at Borchester College after getting excellent GCSEs. Her best friend is the vicar's daughter, Amy Franks. She likes horses, having progressed from a pony called Chandler (who had to be put down) to a horse, Spearmint. She is friends with both Adam and Debbie. After discovering her father's infidelity, she sought and gained sanctuary at the vicarage, but in considering joining the RAF, she came into conflict with Amy.

The Pargetter family

Nigel Pargetter (played by Graham Seed, formerly by Nigel Caliburn, now Carrington) is the eccentric aristocratic owner of Lower Loxley Hall, a mansion on the outskirts of Ambridge. He used to be considered to be something of the "idiot son" of the family, once going to a hunt ball dressed in a gorilla suit, but his success in saving the hall has somewhat stopped this view. Married to Elizabeth and father of twins Lily and Freddie, he was convicted of drink-driving in 2003. His beloved mother Julia died suddenly in December 2005. Recently, Nigel has been concerned about the environment, and is trying to become "green". He has also taken an interest in his family history, particularly in his late Uncle Rupert.

Elizabeth Pargetter, née Archer (Alison Dowling) is Phil and Jill's youngest daughter and, along with Kenton, at first rejected village life, attempting a career in publicity in London. She returned to Ambridge but endured a disastrous relationship with local businessman Cameron Fraser (which resulted in Elizabeth undergoing a secret abortion) before snaring Nigel Pargetter, the owner of a local manor house, Lower Loxley. Elizabeth and Nigel have developed the stately home as a conference venue. Elizabeth was born with a heart defect. She became pregnant and had twins, Lily and Freddie, but the strain of the pregnancy on her heart meant that she soon afterwards had to undergo a heart valve replacement operation. Elizabeth is highly critical of the way David manages the Brookfield estate, and Elizabeth's mother-in-law Julia, who lived in the family pile until her recent demise, was highly critical of Elizabeth.

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Felicity Jones as Emma Grundy

The Tucker family

Mike Tucker (Terry Molloy) lost an eye in a farming accident, for which Brian Aldridge was found responsible. He was regarded as one of the most humourless characters in the village, even before the death of his beloved wife Betty in December 2005. Mike was unsuccessful as a farmer, having gone bankrupt in the 1980s, and now runs a milk round in Ambridge. He also undertakes occasional forestry work. On New Year's Day 2007, he was run over by Helen Archer, but rescued by Robert Snell. When Tom took the blame, Tucker forbade him from continuing a relationship with Brenda, his daughter. However, after finding out that Helen was driving he became more sympathetic and apologised to Tom.

Roy Tucker (Ian Pepperell) was formerly part of a teenage gang which perpetrated a series of racist attacks on Usha Gupta. Realising the error of his ways, he went on to gain a degree in business studies at Felpersham University and now works at Grey Gables, recently being promoted to deputy manager. He had an on/off relationship with Kate Aldridge, which resulted in their daughter Phoebe, born in 1998, but is now married to Hayley. He, Hayley and Phoebe live with Mike Tucker in Willow Farm.

Hayley Tucker, née Jordan (Lorraine Coady, formerly played by Lucy Davis) comes from Birmingham and first appeared as John Archer's girlfriend. Initially her urban background led to her being unprepared for rural life. Hayley and John split up shortly before his death in a tractor accident in 1998. In 2001 she married Roy Tucker and became stepmother to Phoebe; she continues to find Kate Aldridge's visits from South Africa to Ambridge uncomfortable. Hayley works at Lower Loxley as nanny to Freddie and Lily Pargetter. Despite Betty's sudden death, Hayley remains unhappy at living with her father-in-law and wishes that she and Roy had a home of their own.

Brenda Tucker (Amy Shindler) has had some controversial short-term relationships, with Debbie's husband, with Lilian's then (much younger) lover and with Lilian's son. For several years she worked at Radio Borsetshire, until leaving home in 2005 to pursue a media studies degree. She returned home when her mother died suddenly in December 2005. Feeling unable to return to university, leaving her father so soon after Betty's death, she decided to transfer to Felpersham University, planning to return to her studies in September 2006. She started dating Tom Archer following a Valentine kiss after they grew closer in the weeks after her mother's death. Despite her often-quoted intelligence and ambition, Brenda appears content to continue working for Tom's burger venture. She has now moved in with Tom.

The Carter family

Neil Carter (Brian Hewlett), is another business failure. Susan wanted him to be a white collar worker but he decided that he was a pigman at heart. He used to be Tom's partner in a piggery. The family lived in a caravan, after selling their house, until he finished a self-build house on his own land. He dislikes all Grundys but especially Ed, who, until his disappearance, lived in the caravan with Emma and George.

Susan Carter, née Horrobin (Charlotte Martin) briefly became the most notorious Archers character ever when her imprisonment at Christmas 1993 for assisting her armed-robber brother Clive Horrobin led to the launch of the "Free the Ambridge One" campaign. Questions were asked in the House of Commons of then Home Secretary Michael Howard. Her aspirational tendencies took a hammering when daughter Emma married into the Grundy family in 2004, but in 2006 she was approved by the Royal Mail for the position of sub-postmistress despite her criminal record. She had previously worked for several years at the village shop and post office, and as Tom Archer's assistant in his sausage-making business.

Emma Grundy, née Carter (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of Susan and Neil Carter, who were horrified when their daughter announced she was marrying into the Grundy family. When Will discovered her infidelity with his brother, she moved with Ed and baby George to a caravan outside her parents' home. A DNA test showed that despite Emma's certainty to the contrary, George was Will's son. She returned to living with her parents.

Christopher Carter (Will Sanderson-Thwaite) is the younger offspring of the Carter family. His mother had some difficulty bonding with him when he was born with a hare lip. Now a blacksmith by occupation, he recently had a brief relationship with Venetia, the daughter of a prominent Borsetshire family. His mother rather desperately encouraged this, to Neil's disapproval, but the couple soon found themselves incompatible, and Chris finished the liasion.

Other Ambridge residents

Matt Crawford (Kim Durham) of Nightingale Farm is the chairman of Borchester Land, a property development company, one of whose directors is Brian Aldridge. An outsider by birth, Matt often appears to work himself into positions of power, such as the parish council, and many of the villagers are often suspicious of his motives. For example, when local vet Alistair owed him a gambling debt, Matt said that he would reduce the amount he owed in exchange for the administration of performance enhancing drugs to one of his racehorses. Alistair refused, and Crawford increased the pressure, forcing Alistair and Shula to take out a mortgage on the stables, which they already owned. Matt's estate manager Graham Ryder (Malcolm McKee) is often seen as his puppet and many suspected that Matt directed his unsuccessful parish council election campaign in 2003. In 2005, Matt divorced his wife Yvette and has since moved in with his new partner Lilian Bellamy.

Rev Alan Franks (John Telfer) was appointed vicar of Ambridge and neighbouring parishes in 2003, moving from Nottingham where he had previously worked as an accountant and a non-stipendiary minister. He was widowed before moving to Ambridge and is father to Amy, currently studying at the local college. In late 2005, his blossoming relationship with Usha Gupta, a Hindu, caused some unease to some of his parishioners, including Shula Hebden Lloyd.

Amy Franks (Vinette Robinson formerly played by Natalia Cappuccini) is the vicar's spirited daughter who is a friend to Alice Aldridge.

Bert Fry, (Eric Allan) husband of Freda Fry, was employed for many years as a farmhand by David and Ruth until his recent retirement although he still does some casual work. The couple continue to live in a farm cottage. He is portrayal is close to a stereotypical "yokel", like Jethro Larkin before him. He composes poetry and has won several ploughing contests.

Usha Gupta (Souad Faress, formerly played by Sudha Bhuchar) works as a solicitor in Felpersham and is one of very few ethnic minority characters in the series. On moving into the village, Usha was the subject of a harassment campaign by a racist gang which included Roy Tucker. To offer support and protection the local GP, Richard Locke (William Gaminara), then her lover, moved into her house, Blossom Hill Cottage, shortly afterwards. When she discovered that he had had an affair with Shula Hebden she ended the relationship and threw him out. More recently, some local parishioners made complaints to the bishop when Alan, the vicar, began a relationship with Usha (who is Hindu). Usha is also regularly on the receiving end of helpful advice about her unmarried status by her Aunty Satya (Jamila Massey), an occasional visitor to Ambridge from Usha's home town of Wolverhampton who has attempted to match-make for her on numerous occasions.

Sid Perks (Alan Devereux) is landlord of the village pub, The Bull, although he first came to Ambridge from Birmingham where he had been sent to borstal for breaking and entering. He has previously been widowed and divorced but his third marriage to country singer Jolene is happier. He displayed vitriolic homophobia towards Sean Myerson when the latter captained the village cricket team, and again when Adam Macy began a relationship with Ian, the Grey Gables chef. In early 2006, Sid and Jolene worried that Caroline Pemberton's decision to sell her controlling interest in The Bull would threaten the pub's future, but were relieved when Lilian bought her share.

Kathy Perks (Hedli Niklaus), formerly married to Sid, now lives at April Cottage with her son Jamie. She manages the café and shop at Lower Loxley and organises occasional film nights at the village hall. Kenton Archer started going out with her but they quarrelled when he brought back his three year old daughter, Meriel, to Ambridge and expected Kathy to look after her. Miserable and alone, Kathy befriended Lower Loxley chef, Owen King, but he raped her just before Christmas 2004. It has taken Kathy a long time to trust a man again and Kenton has shown uncharacteristic patience in helping her to rebuild her confidence.

Lynda Snell (Carole Boyd) lives at Ambridge Hall with her husband Robert Snell. They moved to Ambridge from Sunningdale in 1986 and is resented as an outsider. She is a keen gardener, and is often involved in disputes with her neighbour Joe Grundy. In 2003 she acquired two llamas, Wolfgang and Constanza (named after Mozart and his wife) who have been known to roam around the village. In May 2007 Constanza gave birth to a cria which Lynda named Salieri, reassuring one acquaintance that the legend of Salieri murdering Mozart is a myth. She attempts to produce a play every Christmas, and often drives villagers to distraction in her attempts to fill parts. In 2004-05 Lynda ran a campaign to renovate the former Cat & Fiddle pub. Despite recruiting the help of Griff Rhys Jones, the scheme failed and the building will instead become flats. January 2006 saw Lynda elected to the parish council alongside Lilian Bellamy. According to a BBC survey she is the most annoying character on the show.

Robert Snell (Graham Blockey) was employed as a computer expert. He has found work in this area hard to obtain recently and has capitalised on his DIY skills to set up a small business doing general building work.

Caroline Sterling, née Bone, formerly Pemberton (Sara Coward) moved to the village in the 1977, aged 22, when she was hired by Sid as barmaid in the Bull. Her career took off when in 1979 Jack Woolley offered her a job at Grey Gables and she progressed up to become manager. Upon Jack's retirement, she and partner Oliver Sterling managed to raise funds to buy the hotel and she is now proprietor. On her arrival she soon attracted the attention of many of the male villagers - she once had an affair with Brian Aldridge, and was romantically linked with former village Doctor Matthew Thorogood, and businessman and one-time estate owner Cameron Fraser (who disappeared with £60,000 of her savings), and she was engaged to non-stipendiary minister and vet Robin Stokes. In 1995 she married the new owner of the estate, Guy Pemberton, but after only seven months of marriage he suffered a heart attack and died leaving her the Dower House and a majority share in the Bull (which she sold to Lilian Bellamy, in order to raise funds to buy Grey Gables). When Oliver Sterling moved to the village she began an affair with him and they eventually moved into Grange Farm together. They were married in June 2006.

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Jigsaw Puzzle

Visitors and visitations

Heather Pritchard (Joyce Gibbs) Ruth Archer's widowed mother who lives in Prudhoe, Northumberland. She is now a rare guest in Ambridge.

Satya Khanna (Auntie Satya; Jamila Massey) An occasional visitation upon long-suffering niece Usha Gupta. Forever trying to give Usha unwanted relationship advice or a welcome shoulder to cry on, and architect of numerous failed matchmaking ruses. Thanks to Usha's parents' disapproval toward their daughter's lifestyle, Satya provides the main link with her family. No mean cook, Sayta often arrives bearing food parcels for her culinarily inept niece.

Former principal characters

Dan Archer (Harry Oakes, Monte Crick, Edgar Harrison and Frank Middlemass) was the first owner of Brookfield and the patriarch of the Archer family. The character survived the deaths of the first three actors before finally being killed off in 1986. Elizabeth witnessed his fatal attempt to rescue a sheep in difficulty, despite her pleading with him not to.

Doris Archer (Gwen Berryman), Dan's wife and mother of Phil Archer and his siblings. Her death was discovered by Shula in 1980.

Grace Archer (Monica Gray and Ysanne Churchman) was Phil Archer's first wife and the first major character to be killed off. The episode featuring her death was first broadcast on 22 September 1955. The previous night, which happened to be the night that ITV (now ITV1), the UK's first commercial television channel was launched, she received fatal injuries, trying to rescue her horse, Midnight, from a fire. This was seen as a ploy to keep loyal viewers and listeners away from the new station.

Aunt Laura (Gwenda Wilson and Betty McDowall), New Zealander in-law of the Archer clan who fulfilled a similar dramatic role to Lynda Snell who now lives in Aunt Laura's former home, Ambridge Hall. In 1985, Aunt Laura fell in a ditch and listeners were treated to her forlorn cries while owls hooted overhead. She was found alive and spent a week in hospital being treated for pneumonia, but died of heart failure soon after being discharged on St Valentine's Day, while her friend Freddy Danby read to her from Moby-Dick.

Tom Forrest (George Hart and Bob Arnold) was Doris Archer's brother and a gamekeeper. He was a major character for many years and used to introduce the omnibus edition on Sunday mornings. In 1957, he was charged with manslaughter after shooting poacher Bob Larkin. He was cleared after being on trial.

Marjorie Antrobus (Margot Boyd), breeder of Afghan hounds. Used to fulfil a similar role to Linda Snell, as a bossy but well-meaning do-gooder. Now resident in The Laurels retirement home and a silent character.

Sophie Barlow (Moir Leslie) a fashion designer who was once engaged to David and once involved much of Ambridge in her fashion shows. She reappeared in the serial in August 2006. She flirted with David and made a play to have an affair with him. When the reality of her flirting dawned on the naïve David he backed away and she returned to London. David's wife Ruth had meanwhile in exasperation at David's seeming affair fallen in love with the farm's contractor Sam.

Tim Beecham (Tim Brierley and David Parfitt), an old friend of Nigel Pargetter. Once well known for persistently failing his law exams. Nigel and Shula found themselves in court in 1984 for taking a car they erroneously believed to be Beecham's. Now a silent character.

Colonel Freddy Danby (Norman Shelley and Ballard Berkeley) lodged with Laura Archer at Ambridge Hall.A widower he always wanted to marry her, but it was not to be. Affairs became difficult as when she died, her property was left to a New Zeland relative and the colonel was cut out.

Siobhan Donovan (formerly Hathaway, Caroline Lennon) moved in to Honeysuckle Cottage in 1999 with her husband, new local doctor Tim Hathaway. Their marriage came under strain when Siobhan miscarried a much-wanted baby and Tim became close to Ambridge's vicar Janet Fisher. It collapsed completely after Tim discovered Siobhan's affair with Brian Aldridge. In November 2003, Siobhan gave birth to Brian's child Ruairi, but she moved to Germany after Brian refused to leave Jennifer. Siobhan has made occasional appearances in The Archers when Brian made clandestine visits to Germany to see his son, while supposedly on business trips to Hungary. Siobhan's revelation in 2007 that she had terminal cancer, and her request to Brian to care for Ruairi after her death, brought another crisis to the relationship of Brian and Jennifer, who eventually agreed to Brian's request for them to raise Ruairi together. The village is in the process of being engulfed by gossip and, for some, by scandal. Died from cancer on 1 June 2007. Ruari has now come to Ambridge to live with his father.

Janet Fisher (Moir Leslie), the former vicar of Ambridge and surrounding villages, was a close friend of Shula's. Ambridge was one of the first parishes to have a female incumbent.

Cameron Fraser (Delaval Astley) came to Ambridge in the late 1980s when he bought the Berrow Estate from Lilian Bellamy. Became quite the local villain during his relatively brief tenure which saw Mike Tucker lose an eye in an accident, Marjorie Antrobus swindled out of a sizeable portion of her savings, and a pregnant Elizabeth Archer abandoned at a motor service station as he fled overseas to escape arrest. He had also attempted to rape Shula Archer.

Walter Gabriel (Robert Mawdesley and Chriss Gittins), originally a smallholder, was a friend of the Archers' and provided comic relief in the years before the Grundy family were introduced. Walter continually tried to romance Mrs. Perkins, Peggy's mother, who he referred to as "Mrs. P". Walter Gabriel's phrase "My old pal, my old beauty" remains one of the most enduringly-remembered phrases associated with The Archers, even among non-listeners.

Nelson Gabriel (Jack May), Walter's son, was for many years the most disreputable character in the village. He had a shady history. He was charged with the Borchester mail-van robbery in 1967, but was eventually acquitted. After spells in London and Spain, he ran a wine bar and later an antque shop (with Kenton Archer). Finally he suddenly disappeared to South America, where he died in strange circumstances.

Jethro Larkin (George Hart), Stereotypical yokel. His tenure came to end in 1987 when helping David fell a tree using a chainsaw. So two Larkin family members, Jethro and Bob, have met their end at the hands of members of the Archer family. Father of Clarrie.

Julia Pargetter-Carmichael, mother of Nigel Pargetter and sometime entertainer, died from a stroke in 2005, shortly after the actress who played her, Mary Wimbush, died, also from a stroke, aged 81.

Simon Pemberton (Peter Wingfield), Guy Pemberton's caddish son, inherited the estate after his father's death. Pemberton unsuccessfully attempted to end the Grundy's tenancy of Grange Farm following their farm fire in 1996. He had a brief relationship with Shula after Mark's death, but hit her after she confronted him with evidence that he was involved with another woman. Subsequently, he came close to having a relationship with Debbie Aldridge, but Pemberton grievously assaulted her after she confessed that she could not love him. Pemberton then quickly left Ambridge after denying responsibility for his actions to Brian.

John Tregorran (Roger Hume, Basil Jones, Simon Lack, Philip Morant and Basil Jones) originally arrived in Ambridge in a gypsy caravan. Thoughtful and provocative, Tregorran was such a popular and charismatic character that listeners at Archers public events still ask about him - and about Carol Grey, whom he eventually married.

Betty Tucker (Pamela Craig) wife of Mike, mother of Roy and Brenda. Betty was a popular villager who supported the family even when Mike was violent and depressed. Betty managed the village shop and kept hens and gossiped. She died suddenly before Christmas 2005. She was written out of the series when the actress who played her retired and emigrated to New Zealand.

Silent characters

The Archers is famous for its silent characters, who often play important roles in the narrative despite not being played by actors. They are numerous, and most only "appear" once or twice. Some of the better known are:

Baggy, and Fat Paul - disreputable friends of Eddie Grundy. Snatch Foster was formerly also a friend of Eddie Grundy, but ended up in prison for selling condemned meat to him.

Mandy Beesborough - Brian missed his daughter Alice's birth because he was at the races with her. She has daughters including India, whom Oliver and Caroline's foster child Carly described as having "an arse the size of a continent".

Neville Booth (bellringer) and his nephew Nathan (clear skies enthusiast and parish council candidate).

Derek Fletcher - "incomer" (only been in Ambridge since 1979) who lives on the Glebelands housing development. He is currently chair of the parish council. Known for his 'NIMBY' views and collection of garden gnomes. In a standing joke, he is often described as excessively talkative.

Pru Forrest - Tom Forrest's wife. Famously spoke once to Terry Wogan and was revealed to be Judi Dench

Freda Fry - wife of Bert Fry. Her cooking at The Bull is widely admired. Until she gave her notice in January 2007, she worked as cleaner at Brookfield.

(John) Higgs - Jack Woolley's chauffeur and handyman at Grey Gables. Often thought by Grey Gables staff to be rather sinister.

Jessica - buxom falconer at Lower Loxley. Has been known to attract Nigel's eye.

Trudy Porter - silent for 34 years, until 4 April 2006, when listener Christine Hunt played her in a charity special, after her husband paid £17,000 to Children in Need.

Mrs. (Eileen) Titcombe (née Pugsley) - housekeeper at Lower Loxley.

(Edgar) Titcombe - head gardener at Lower Loxley, who is married to the widowed Mrs. Pugsley. Noted for always wearing a battered hat.

Bob Pullen - nonagenarian resident of Manorfield Close. His weak bladder is a regular source of amusement to speaking characters.

Theme tune

The Archers' widely recognised theme tune is called Barwick Green. It is a "maypole dance" from the suite My Native Heath, written in 1924 by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood.

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The Archers: Looking For Love

Books and audiobooks

There are several books about The Archers. The most recent are Who's Who in The Archers by Keri Davies, published by the BBC and annually updated for the Christmas gift-giving season since 2003. Davies has been a producer and scriptwriter for The Archers since 1992. His youngest son, Dominic Davies plays Daniel Hebden Lloyd.

There are also several books written by Joanna Toye, including The Archers Encyclopaedia (co-written with Adrian Flynn) which was published to coincide with The Archers' 50th anniversary, and several novelisations. Three of these are 1951-1967 Family Ties, 1968-86 Looking for Love and 1987-2000 Back to the Land. These were all abridged for BBC audiobooks.

There are also audiobooks of actual episodes, titled Vintage Archers. The third volume contained several "Lost episodes" which were digitally restored.

A new audiobook, Ambridge Affairs: Love Triangles is to be released on 3 September 2007.

Cameo appearances

Many famous people have made cameo appearances on the programme.

In 1984 Princess Margaret and the Duke of Westminster, in connection with a fashion show to commemorate the centenary of the NSPCC.

In 1989, for the 10,000th episode, Dame Judi Dench made an appearance as Pru Forrest. Terry Wogan was also featured and Esther Rantzen was responsible for the spot effects.

In 1991 DJ John Peel appeared as himself

In June 2004 DJ Chris Moyles appeared as a random customer - and suspected Pub of the Year judge - in The Bull

On 22 September 2006 Zandra Rhodes played herself in an episode, also connected to a fashion show.

Others who have made appearances include Britt Ekland, Humphrey Lyttelton (1956), Griff Rhys Jones, Anneka Rice, Dame Edna Everage, Stephen Fry, and Alan Titchmarsh.

Robert Winston appeared as a fertility specialist consulted by Hayley and Roy Tucker on January 2, 2007 and February 7, 2007.

Trivia

Current stock holdings of the main farms are available at the following links: Brookfield, Home Farm, and Bridge Farm

Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter's famous fictional detective, was a fan of The Archers.

In 1961, Galton and Simpson parodied The Archers in an episode of Hancock's Half Hour entitled "The Bowmans".

A sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie entitled, Hard Man's Record which saw the first appearance of the character Alan, mentions that Alan had "a short spell as Nigel Pargetter in The Archers", claiming that, "Someone had to do it."

In the radio panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, Barry Cryer once sang Love Me Tender" to the theme tune from The Archers, during the One Song To The Tune Of Another round.

Jeremy Clarkson in his anthology of articles, Clarkson on Cars, lambasts The Archers by describing them as "...living in a farm-subsidised world and thinking postage stamps are amazing...."

A special episode of Arena broadcast on BBC Four, on 1 January 2007 focused on The Archers and included interviews with current actors and scriptwriters.

The Archers, whilst being the longest running soap opera on radio, is not the longest in the world. The American soap opera Guiding Light has had 10 more episodes, and started on radio in January 25, 1937, before moving to television in June 30, 1952.

Researched by Steve Frame, 13 Aug 2007

Sources: Wikipedia
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