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Archers Gold

Tuesday 1 December 2009, 12:34

Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick Head of Interactive, Radio 3

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Archers Week is over. During the week we published 19 posts about every aspect of making the world's longest-running radio serial.

This is good stuff by any measure. Anyone interested in radio drama or the creative process should bookmark this page, which lists all the posts. Here's a round-up of all the Archers Week posts, with quotes from some of them, in chronological order:

Julie Beckett, Senior Producer, started the week with a melancholy post about listening to Norman Painting's final episode in her car. She didn't want to get out until it had finished:

Coming into the office this morning, I've just learned that Vanessa, our Editor, was also driving home last night and sat in the car outside her house until the programme ended. Both of us were very moved.

Charles Collingwood (Brian Aldridge) stayed more-or-less in character for his post and actually dictated it to me in the Archers production office, pacing around as I typed (and wearing a cravat):

My episode this morning, without giving too much away, is with my gamekeeper, William. And grumpy William needs taking down a peg or two which I'm more than able to do.

Felicity Finch, one of four cast members to blog for us, was also thinking about Norman and had played opposite him in his final episode:

He had played Phil from the beginning. I feel very lucky and privileged to have shared these moments with him as he died two days later.

Tim Bentinck (David Archer) has been in Educating Rita at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. For a radio drama actor, the daily repetition was a shock to the system:

However the result is that I feel more alive and brighter than I have for years - a nightly dose of adrenaline is a wonderful boost to the system and feels like having one's batteries recharged. I recommend it.

Archers supremo Vanessa Whitburn provides a snapshot of the well-oiled machine that is The Archers, humming and whirring away in Birmingham, churning out perfectly weighted storylines and episodes like clockwork:

Today, in their homes, eight writers are writing an episode of the Archers each, after a busy storyline meeting the week before last. Julie Beckett, my Senior Producer, and I edited eight weeks-worth of synopsis last week and so we broadly know where the writers are going and what they are writing.

Julie Beckett doesn't usually get a chance to watch the actors at work. She's usually much too busy directing:

So today and yesterday, while dropping in, I've watched the actors working. Fascinating to see the absolute concentration, the working together, the application of timing and emotion to the script - and all while turning the pages without a sound.

Sonja Cooper travels the country recording sounds for use in the studio. She sent me a collection of half a dozen precious sounds, including 'a pint being pulled', 'an anxious Hereford cow' and my favourite:

I watched producer Rosemary Watts directing a couple of episodes from 'the cubicle' on the other side of the glass from the radio drama studio. An intense and quite complicated process. Working on storylines outside the studio is just as complicated, though:

...as it includes a combination of research lines, longterm storylines, programme anniversaries, events that are happening in the real world, and most importantly, liaising with our Agricultural Story Editor Graham Harvey - a mine of information and all of it good!

Sarah Morrison is a Broadcast Assistant. She loves the weeks when episodes are being recorded:

I love the feel of this period in our working cycle each month - it's what all the casting, writing, story-lining and paperwork culminate in and there's such a feel of family between the cast and production team.

Becky Wright plays Nic Hanson, a newcomer to the village, so she remembers her first day vividly:

When it came to start the readthrough, my nerves really kicked in: the people that you've been chatting to a few seconds earlier suddenly morph into those familiar characters heard on radios around the world... it was a surreal moment and for a few seconds I sort of stared into space, not quite comprehending that this situation actually involved me... then reality hit, my first line was coming up and Nic was about to have a voice of her own.

Tim Stimpson ('the youngest Archers scriptwriter in the history of the programme'), shares his technique for pacing the tension across a week of episodes - and it involves felt pens:

Michael Harrison, Studio Manager, is glad Christmas is over. Keri Davies, multitasker, describes his many roles: scriptwriter, message board host and web producer, to name but three. Archivist Mel Ward loves her card index. Producer Kate Oates shares the stress of recording Christmas in November and Spot sound guru Liza Wallis creates the many sounds of Ambridge in the studio.

And to finish the whole thing off, Controller Mark Damazer shares something of what must be a truly gripping annual storylines meeting (to which I was not invited) and Editor Vanessa Whitburn gets back to normal with the weekly pick-ups meeting.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blog

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Back to normal in Ambridge

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