A week on from marking our 60th anniversary, and it's clear it's not just the residents of Ambridge who are talking about recent events in Borsetshire.

I have a two inch high pile of press cuttings before me. Many celebrate the amazing achievement of a drama having reached its diamond jubilee, making it currently the longest running soap in the world. Others look back at the storylines that have gripped Archers fans over the last 60 years. Beside that, a report showing hundreds of listener comments about the anniversary episode. And then one of the team pops in to tell me that during the anniversary episode on 2 January, The Archers and 'SATTC' was the most discussed subject on Twitter in the world.

Who would have thought that SATTC - Shaking Ambridge to the Core - a line coined as part of an obscure BBC policy document in May - would capture the imagination of so many.

I was editor for the 50th anniversary too, but it was nothing like the 60th. Yes, as with the 50th, I took part in a handful of interviews but unlike ten years ago, this time many more Archers fans got to join in the conversation through Twitter, forums and message boards. And so it was after the SATTC line was picked up by an Archers fan, on-line conversations began, building over months to what some called a frenzy reported widely in the press in the lead-up to the anniversary. Speculation was rife and grew exponentially, perhaps fuelled by the fact that despite being constantly asked, I wasn't about to reveal what happened before 2 Jan.

I read comments from some listeners who said they didn't feel 'shaken' by the anniversary episode and others who definitely did. But in the drama we can already see, I believe, how it is shaking Ambridge and the Archer family particularly to the core. It will continue to do so as time goes on. I also believe the anniversary episode was well balanced; relief that Helen and the baby survived their ordeal, a hugely emotional reunion between Tony and Helen set against the high drama of Nigel's fall. For each episode we strive to get the balance right in keeping with the 'everyday story of country folk' where our roots began all those years ago. Importantly though we have a modern outlook in recognition of how the rural community and the wider Archers audience has changed since 1951.

Reading the listener comments, I sense almost a mourning, an outpouring of grief for Nigel. For some it was highly emotional - 'I was moved to tears' said one listener. And dramatic - 'I felt exhausted afterwards' said another. What followed in the episodes this week has provided the chance for Archers listeners to empathise and share with Lizzie's loss, as they did with Peggy as Jack succumbed to Alzheimer's. But each comment, be it complimentary or critical, strikes me with the heartfelt passion with which it is written. A passion for Ambridge and its characters. A passion I share.

I've been Archers editor for twenty years and worked as a producer and director on the show before that. Throughout, for me and the Archers scriptwriting team, characters come first. They drive the story; what they do has to be truthful and believable. 'David would never have gone on the roof, he's too sensible', I read in one listener comment. I argue he would! A busy farmer wouldn't want to take time out the next day to come back to Lower Loxley to do that. And David's a bear of a man, used to physical exertion. I suggest he wouldn't feel fearful of a climb on to what was essentially a steady roof. But the wind gets up suddenly and of course poor Nigel gets caught up in the banner and is blown over the edge.

Was it sensationalist to kill off Nigel? I don't believe it was. People in real life - and so our characters - are killed in surprising and shocking circumstances. Granted, in Ambridge that is not very often and anybody who knows the Archers well would not expect anything melodramatic or sensationalist. Instead sometimes startling singular events, like a sharp pebble thrown into a pond, send ripples reverberating through storylines well into the future.

Remember when Mark was killed? Caroline was fearful that her friendship with Shula would be shattered because it had been her horse that bolted and helped to make Mark crash. Then a week after his death, Shula discovered she was pregnant with Mark's child, the child he would never see. We saw Shula grieve, taking comfort slowly from the birth of her son Daniel and gradually recovering to meet and then marry Alistair, opening up further stories as Alistair struggled to forge his relationship with Daniel.

Or young John's death under the tractor? Hugely upsetting at the time of course. But recall the impact this had on his parents. The father who found him there at the scene. The mother who succumbed to but overcame depression. A sister who has struggled with anorexia and control freakery since, perhaps at least in part to the trauma of losing her brother in such a traumatic way.

And so many months before the anniversary, I sat down with the Archers script team to discuss what we might do for our 60th year. It is such a significant milestone to have reached, we felt compelled to mark it with a storyline that would have impact. When I say impact what do I mean? We wanted an event. Not a cataclysmic one - no tram crashes - but one where the ramifications would be felt far and wide throughout Ambridge for the decade that followed. We felt that the event had to be deeply traumatic. And so we arrived at a death. But who? Again after much debate and thinking how each one would impact on Ambridge life. We arrived at Nigel.

Nigel - liked by all in Ambridge, loved by Lizzie and the twins - of course his death would be painful for them. But not just that. How will Lizzie cope running Lower Loxley. She's got a good business head on her shoulders but she's physically weak with a congenital heart defect. David, as we saw in the episode after the anniversary, is completely distraught and guilty that he didn't prevent it somehow. The scenes so movingly acted by Tim Bentinck lit up the message board again, with listeners saying how emotional they had found it. We heard how David rushed to Lizzie's aid at Lower Loxley, leaving Ruth to run the farm. Their marriage has hit rough patches in the past, could this pressure unpick a scab? Well the list goes on and on as to what may happen, and the Archers discussion forums will pulsate as ever as fans enjoy trying to second guess which way it will turn.

And I couldn't write this without paying tribute to Graham Seed, the actor whom I cast as Nigel in 1983; who left for a short period in 1986 but whom I thankfully managed to persuade to come back into the show and after working together for many years, directed in his last scene. A talented actor, Graham made Nigel his own with a subtle and spirited performance that will go down in soap opera history. And befittingly we have given Nigel a grand exit that listeners will talk about for years to come.

Some have suggested that I told Graham that his part was being written out in a quick and careless phone call just before the studio. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I spoke to Graham on the phone several weeks before the studio and we had a long and as Graham put it on breakfast television this week, 'courteous' conversation. I do not mean to suggest by this that Graham was happy about the news, nor that I enjoyed having to tell him. Such conversations are never easy but they come, occasionally, with the territory of being the Editor. I spoke on the phone because Graham does not live in Birmingham and, like all our freelance actors, was only ever in the studio for a day or so each month and sometimes not even that . Graham is a working actor living in London. I saw him in studio after that call and it was a privilege to direct him in his last studio.

We have started the chain of events that will shake Ambridge to the core as only The Archers can and should shake Ambridge, which is profoundly and deeply. There will be very hard times as a result of what happened on that roof and very touching and supportive times too. And the repercussions will burn slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes brightly, like the torch young Freddie, our aristocrat in the making, carries for his father.

Vanessa Whitburn is editor of The Archers.


This entry is now closed for comments.

  • Comment number 1114. Posted by wynkyn de worde

    on 2 Oct 2011 12:35


    Just found this.

    And the conclusion is?

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1114: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1114: 0
  • Comment number 1113. Posted by johnrh

    on 15 May 2011 08:39

    RAJAR "Radio 4 reaches record audience" it says on a beeb webpage, it also says "The station's long-running soap The Archers, which, during its 60th anniversary in January, killed off Nigel Pargetter, (actor Graham Seed) who tumbled from the roof of Lower Loxley, also got its biggest-ever weekday audience, with a total weekly reach of more than 5 million." What it doesn't say is how the audience has dropped off since. Any fool knows that there was bound to be a large number of listeners for the 60th anniversary episode.....who wrote this, VW?
    Sadly I have to agree with other comments...I haven't heard one episode since the event and do not miss the Archers at all. It was becoming tedious and I used to turn off at 7.15pm annoyed and wound up by the story lines. Now I don't, I have rediscovered my music collection and a certain classic radio programme (not 3!) and it's a sheer delight.
    The question has also crossed my mind why members of the cast haven't stood up for the show and voiced their opinions, perhaps they too fear falling off haystacks and the like.
    I read other comments (above) about having Graham Seed stay on as a supposed disabled character and will admit that I thought that this is exactly what was going to happen. Then I see that the politically correct script writers feel that they could have only done this with an actor who was actually disabled.....so tell me are Adam Macy and his partner Ian actually gay in real life? Does Elizabeth run a hotel in real life. Give me strength!!!!!If this is the way the scriptwriters think I truly despair for the future of the BBC.
    As for it being unlikely that Nigel would have survived the fall from a tall stately home, perhaps Nigel could have fallen from the main roof onto a lower one or had his fall arrested by a wisteria? Obviously the scriptwriters are incapable of dreaming up such a scenario but can create a situation where characters act totally out of character.
    Yes after all these months I am still annoyed. I grew up with my parents listening to the Archers. It has recently become poor entertainment but there was hope for a recovery, now sadly for me it is beyond hope and nothing will ever make me return. And as I have said before, nobody gives a jot!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1113: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1113: 0
  • Comment number 1112. Posted by Prospero

    on 12 May 2011 12:29

    OK guys - RAJAR figures are out, so how are they? Has the 60th anniversary been the roaring success we were told it would be? Come on now, don't be shy. . . .

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1112: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1112: 0
  • Comment number 1111. Posted by Highlybemused

    on 8 May 2011 10:18

    I agree with many of the opinions voiced here. In my opinion something precious was destroyed in January. All we are offered in return is that travesty of writing which is Ambridge Extra and a succession of ridiculuous articles on the Blog site (the latest being about puppies). I can honestly say that if the Archers ended today I would not shed a tear. Thank you VB!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1111: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1111: 0
  • Comment number 1110. Posted by nickwilcock

    on 7 May 2011 20:37

    Well, sorry if my comment broke the 'House Rules' - but I was utterly incensed by the non-apology from Whitburn as stated at post 1086.

    Whitburn has clearly destroyed a national treasure and simply hasn't realised the hurt she has caused.

    For that I cannot forgive her.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1110: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1110: 0
  • Comment number 1109. Posted by nickwilcock

    on 7 May 2011 17:10

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 1108. Posted by Westsussexbird or Birdy aka Westie

    on 6 May 2011 16:30

    To hire a disabled actor to play a character in The Archers would mean introducing a new, already disabled character to us all. I think this would be boring (dramatically) as we wouldn't feel involved in the disability in the way we would if a long established character became disabled for some reason. The period of adjustment to the new disability could have been interesting, and I would have wanted to listen to that.

    I am another one who has hardly listened at all ... I get emails updating me on the storylines and keep an eye on Discuss the Archers and just occasionally listen on iplayer if I think a particular episode is about a storyline that I might find interesting. I imagine I've listened to about ten episodes, usually to check out whether I agree with comments in Discuss The Archers.

    I never look at the new website as I don't want to see photos of some actors. I've come to this thread simply to read what Ms Whiburn wrote.

    Thanks for posting the reply Rebecca.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1108: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1108: 0
  • Comment number 1107. Posted by chrsyc

    on 5 May 2011 13:47

    I decided not to listen after the ridiculous episode of Nigel's death. Since that time I have twice 'tried again' - what rubbish! For a while I read the synopsis - don't bother now. Since January I have still occasionally posted on Message Board (which I used to loved reading daily) but now can't be bothered with that either. Couldn't even bring mysrlf to listen to the spin-off programme. Have just unsubscribed for the newsletter & deleted the Archers Homepage from my 'Favourites'.
    I am sad about this. The Archers has been a close friend all my life. Don't care what VW, Mr Kerri & other SWs say about listerners being 'wrong sort' or not understanding or 'difficult'. I used to love this programme, was a loyal listener & now I'm gone - because they just don't care...

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1107: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1107: 0
  • Comment number 1106. Posted by Kaiho

    on 5 May 2011 09:27

    “We could have chosen to make Nigel disabled and we did consider this. The team decided not to do so, after some discussion, for two reasons. Firstly, we felt that he was unlikely to survive a fall from the roof of a stately home which would be a high building. Secondly, we have had stories of physical disablement from time to time in the programme and we felt that if we were going to do a story about a disability now we would like to address the possibility of casting a disabled actor.”

    Well you can add me to the list of all those who say this is PC gone mad!

    In real life people become disabled as a result of accidents, it would be ludicrous to expect an actor to similarly injure himself in order to continue in a role. A disabled actor would neither expect him to, nor to give up the role!!!

    Just what were those physical disablement stories we've supposed to have had from time to time? I certainly don't remember them. When can we expect to see the up and coming story about physical disablement, complete with disabled actor, that seems to have prevented the disabled Nigel SL? And if it doesn't materialise?

    Still not listening...

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1106: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1106: 0
  • Comment number 1105. Posted by Rose Sal Volatile Parade

    on 4 May 2011 21:18

    VW's response is something you have to read for yourself to believe. It is a monument to the kind of peculiarly self-defeating illogicality that a slavish adherence to a set of tick-box signs of liberalism can lead you, which is another way of saying it is PC nonsense. Whether a disabled SL would have been a good one or not, it is utterly incomprehensible that the SL would have been rejected on the grounds that Grahame Seed himself is not in a wheelchair and they would prefer to have started a disabled SL with a disabled actor in mind. It is quite simply shocking.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 1105: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 1105: 0
More comments

More Posts