BBC Radio 4

    When do they start playing Christmas music in the shops?

    Just been into studio where Producer Rosemary Watts is directing with the usual tight schedule - she's making an episode for mid-December so it's full of Christmas cheer. When I went in she had the whole cast plus some of the team (and Blog Supremo Steve) all doing some 'wild track' sound effects. That means they were recording background effects for later in the episode, so they were all playing different people from their normal characters. It was set at Lower Loxley out in the wood, and it involved cheerful chat and some laughter and some exclamations of wonder.

    Christmas episodes always have twice as much music as the rest of the year, chosen by writers and producers, and then found and cleared for copyright by our Technical BAs (Sarah and Sonja at the moment). We try to go for a full range, reflecting what might be heard and when! This year I had to phone a department store in Birmingham to find out when they were planning to play Christmas music in the shop for the first time this year - we were working on the scripts in early November and it just felt very early.

    But we were right - their dates and ours matched up perfectly. Same goes for the switching on of the Christmas Lights in Borchester - we have to research when such things are happening in the real world and match up. Our aim is that when it happens in someone's home town, it happens in Ambridge too. It's up to archivist Camilla to tell us when we normally do the lights round the village green though.

    It's nice going into studio without having a job to do - just being an observer. You don't get to do it very often. Proper team work, with everyone having a role to play. So you've got someone mixing the whole sound picture at the desk, two people supplying the effects, one in studio with the actors, and one in the cubicle with the director playing in the recorded ones. You've got the director, who is working with the actors and also listening to the whole episode as it's recorded, making sure it all feels right and matches what she wants.

    Then you've got Broadcast Assistants who time everything we do, with a running timing against the readthrough time so that we know we're not too long or too short. They're also looking after any actors who need special help. Everyone's attention in the cubicle is focussed on the script or the speakers as we record - you only really look at the actors when you're speaking to them before and after takes. 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.

    Julie Beckett is a Senior Producer on The Archers


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