I was in the studio yesterday recording two episodes for December. The first episode was at 0915 and the second at 1445, leaving me with a chunk of time in the middle to catch up with cast members I haven't seen in ages. It was great to see Ros Adams (Clarrie) as we haven't been in an epidode together for months. I spent most of lunchtime chatting to Ryan Kelly (Jazzer) whilst eating soup from the canteen and making a fuss of his guide dog Hadley (even though I know I'm not supposed to!) I also worked with Alex Lilley (Coriander) for the first time and found out that she lives within walking distance of my parents (small world!).
Alex and I had to record a scene that involved eating and drinking. I always have to remind myself to leave a hand free to turn the pages of my script and to make sure that when it's my line I'm not mid-munch! It's trickier than it sounds. There was also another first today, Mia (Nic's daughter) speaks, so it seems quite serendipitous that I have been asked by Steve Bowbrick to describe what it was like to be a newcomer to The Archers.
As long as I live I will always remember my first day in Ambridge. A few weeks after auditoning to play a new character called Nic (at the time I didn't even know what Nic was short for!) I found myself sat in the green room waiting to do my first readthrough. I can only describe the feeling as a mixture of intense excitement and extreme terror. I hadn't told many of my friends what I was doing that day - I'd just mumbled something about doing a radio job, but I knew that this wasn't any radio job. I was acutely aware of how iconic 'The Archers' is, how much it means to people and that it is ingrained in British culture... so no pressure then!
The scene to be recorded that day was the one that I had read at the audition: Nic is struggling to get onto the bus and Will Grundy comes to her rescue. I'd met Phil Molloy (Will Grundy) at the casting and was relieved to see a familiar face. He was very kind to me and made me endless cups of coffee. 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.
That was just over two years ago, and since then I've learnt a tremendous amount as an actor, become friends with many of the Archers team and developed an unhealthy obsession with the doorbell board (yes, I was that annoying child in B&Q in the late 80s who had to press every single one). Nic has matured, made mistakes, laughed, cried, grilled sausages and been the victim of a cow stampede! The wonderful thing about being a character in the Archers is that things in Ambridge happen in 'real time'. Every script I open gives me clues to who Nic is. It's great to learn what clothes she likes to wear, when her birthday might be, what happened to her before she met Will and how other characters describe her. All of this helps to breathe life into Nic with all her innate qualities and foibles. For an actor, having the chance to develop a character over a long period of time is a rare and wonderful opportunity.
The Archers has become an integral part of both my professional and personal life, It really is more than just a job.
- Becky Wright plays Nic Hanson in The Archers
- Nic Hanson's page in the Archers dramatis personae and Becky's profile.
- Archers Week ran on the Radio 4 blog from 23-30 November 2009. 19 blog posts were published in all, from 17 authors. They're listed here.
- Radio 4's Archers web site is full of good stuff, like a map of Ambridge, family trees for all the big clans and a detailed who's who. There's also a 'two-minute guide' for Archers newbies.
- The Archers messageboards are among the busiest at the BBC - nicknamed Mustardland because of the distinctive yellow page backgrounds. They're a bit sceptical about Archers Week, though.
- There are two Archers podcasts: one for the daily episodes and one for the Sunday omnibus.
- Hedli Niklaus, who plays Kathy Perks in the serial, also runs the Archers fan club, Archers Addicts.
- Norman Painting, who played Archers patriarch Phil for nearly sixty years, died on 29 October 2009. The last episode he recorded aired on 22 November. Archers Editor Vanessa Whitburn paid tribute to him here on the blog and the Archers Addicts have collected listener tributes.
- The picture shows the old oak cupboard that serves, for sound purposes, as the bar in The Bull and lots of other hard, wooden surfaces. During our visit to the Archers' home in Birmingham dozens of photographs were taken, many of which feature pictures of cast members (and an ironing board).
- Twitter was put to use during Archers Week. #archersweek was the hashtag and we learnt that Tim Bentinck, who plays David Archer (@timbentinck) and Keri Davies, who writes scripts (@keridavies) are both Twitterers. Follow the Radio 4 blog on Twitter.