The Archers spin-off Ambridge Extra returns for another series, starting Tuesday 4 October. Sara Conkey and Rosie Boulton share the production duties (they are not the young actors pictured above, by the way). They write about their steep learning curve.
When asked to join Ambridge Extra to produce the second series, we were excited and terrified in equal measure. We come from a documentary background, making factual programmes in our base in Birmingham. The world of The Archers, while just a few metres down the corridor, might as well have been in another universe.
We often see the actors chatting in the green room, but never thought that one day we would be part of Ambridge. We have both had experience making drama-documentaries over the years, but 26 episodes of a twice-weekly series was another thing altogether.
Having said that, we were excited to think of what we could bring to Ambridge, as well as daunted by all we would have to learn.
The first script meeting we attended was a revelation. Eight episodes are story-lined in one intense day. The depth of knowledge of characters and inventive versatility of the writers and the editor, Vanessa Whitburn, are impressive. We were busy swotting up on our Who's Who in The Archers.
Although the main Archers programme has storylines planned for sometimes years in advance, Ambridge Extra is much more on the hoof. It makes for dynamic and very vocal script meetings, where ideas are thrashed out, wrestled with and sometimes thrown out in a short space of time.
Another surprise was the sheer speed of how the drama is recorded. In the case of Ambridge Extra, we have two hours to record 13 and a half minutes of drama. With a drama-documentary, we could take two days to record 20 minutes of drama. So an Ambridge Extra studio feels like it goes at the speed of light.
Having said that, the Ambridge family is hugely welcoming and supportive; the writers are talented and the storylines for the second series are sizzling. We hope that listeners can enjoy hearing some silent characters for the first time, and also see favourite characters being tested in ways they never have been before.
The well-oiled machine of the production process is so smooth we can just fit right in. The only problem is carrying the heavy responsibility of keeping such great storylines secret. Friends and family are suddenly far more interested in what we do!
Rosie Boulton and Sara Conkey are distinguished radio producers, mainly for BBC Radio 4.
Among numerous awards, Sara received Sony Golds for Between Ourselves and Stuck In the Middle; a Silver for Between Ourselves; and a Bronze for the Radio 3 drama-documentary A Love Song To The Buses.
Rosie won a Sony Gold for The Club that Scott Built; and a Gold and a Silver Prix Marulic (with Peter Wild) for drama documentaries In Form and The Language of Flowers. Her production of Soul Music (on Tallis's Spem in Allium) won a Jerusalem Award.
They were jointly nominated for the Prix Italia for a drama documentary Signs of Life.
- The new series of Ambridge Extra is on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2.15pm, with an omnibus edition on Sundays at at 11.15am.
- It will also be available as a podcast (free download)
- Picture shows Louis Hamblett (Daniel Hebden Lloyd) and Gemma Lawrence (new charcter Erin Hayes), who feature in the series.