Scripting and producing The Archers

Carole Solazzo is a scriptwriter and occasional producer on BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama serial The Archers. She tells us about a typical day, her proudest moment and what she's learnt from the production.

On a typical day...

Scriptwriters all attend the script meetings, held once every four weeks, to beat out the storylines. 

Four writers are each commissioned to write a week’s worth of episodes at a time – that’s 75 minutes of radio drama from each writer. Once our storylines are emailed to us, we have five or six days to structure and write up a scene by scene synopsis of our week.

Then, after we discuss the episodes with our script editor and get notes on the synopsis, we have just 11 days to write the scripts. The writers also submit long-term story ideas, which are discussed and accepted or rejected at the twice-yearly story conference.

As producer, I also put together the script pack ready for the script meeting. This involves attending the pick-ups meeting, writing up the story lines from that meeting and from the long-term story pack, and roughly setting them into weeks.

It also involves contacting experts and researching material for the storylines to help the scriptwriters. I collate other information for the pack, such as the agricultural notes from the agricultural advisor, archive notes from our archivist, and other information such as birthdays, anniversaries and the ultra-important actor availabilities for the four-week block from other members of the production team.

I’ve written over 350 episodes of the show and love every minute of it.

Who I work with
As a scriptwriter I work independently from home, or wherever there is free Wi-Fi! But we all need to keep in touch with the other writers working on the block of scripts, to ensure continuity.

Our archivist and agricultural advisor are absolutely key to accuracy and authenticity in the scripts. Often we find and cultivate our own specialist contacts for information on storylines which can be about anything from a specialist heart operation to horse racing and competition ploughing!

"The best writing comes when the writer is completely immersed in the characters and the world." – Carole Solazzo

What my typical day involves
The hardest thing every morning - and Ken Loach once said this about directing, too – is cranking yourself back up into the headspace.

The best writing comes when the writer is completely immersed in the characters and the world. In a kind of trance. To me, it feels like deep-sea diving, when everything else – people, sights, sounds – dims and fades into complete insignificance until all there is, is the characters.

So to get into that headspace, that bubble, I read over and amend what I wrote on the previous day and then crack on with the next scene in that storyline. I rarely write chronologically, i.e. an episode per day, like some writers. More often than not I write all the scenes in one storyline, then follow another storyline.

Sometimes the words fly out of my fingers, sometimes the words stick to them. I often start work very early in the morning, and almost always finish by 7pm.

A moment I’m particularly proud of
In 2001, as a new writer on the show, (and I had very little experience of writing anything at all before pulling off the almost impossible and getting this job), I had barely written my second set of episodes and started work on the third, when the foot and mouth outbreak began.

I found myself having to continue writing one set of scripts, whilst at the same time rewriting the previous set of scripts as they went into the recording studio, altering them and updating them all continually as I wrote, as the outbreak grew and spread, and conditions and circumstances changed hour by hour.

I’m very proud of how I coped with that.

Something I'll take on from this production to the next
Writing to big hooks/cliff-hangers every 12½ minutes and weaving multiple storylines together in the episodes and across the week.

Also, what an enormous help every single member of the production team is.

My biggest surprise
The depth and extent of some of the listeners’ love for, and knowledge of, the programme.

The programme I'd kill to work on
Easy - create, write and produce my own work.