Charlotte Martin on Susan Carter at 50
Writer, The Archers
Charlotte Martin (Susan Carter)
The actor behind the wonderful creation that is Susan Carter looks back on her double career. She’s not only an actor but also a research psychologist...
What are your memories of joining The Archers?
I auditioned for two parts before I actually got the part of Susan. They were Lucy Perks and a girlfriend of Neil’s called Julie. I didn’t get them but William Smethurst [then editor] kept saying he wanted me in the programme and the third audition was for Susan, which I got.
I remember being completely overwhelmed, because I hadn’t done much radio before. I came into Pebble Mill and saw people like Bob Arnold [Tom Forrest] and Chriss Gittings [Walter Gabriel], who were well established and very experienced. But they were all really kind and friendly and helped me.
What was your situation at that time?
I’d trained at Birmingham Theatre School and I was trying to find my feet. I was primarily teaching dance but I’d done some theatre and little bits of television. I found out that The Archers was auditioning through Trevor Harrison [Eddie Grundy], who was an ex-student of the theatre school.
How would you describe Susan as a character?
No matter what people say about Susan, all the ideas she has about going up in the world are because she wants her family to come with her. She’s not doing it for any selfish reasons, although it can come over like that. I think she’s quite a driven woman. She’s had to develop quite a tough skin, having come from a really tough background surrounded by those bloody brothers!
What’s she like to play?
Great! As an actress I’ve been extremely lucky because she’s multi-dimensional and I think the writers get her. I’ve had to opportunity to play extremely dramatic scenes and lots of comedy – which I absolutely adore – and over the years we’ve managed to create a 3-D character.
I do enjoy playing the naughtier sides of her, when she’s on the edge of being offensive to someone. I’m always excited to see the scripts, because I get some great scenes to play.
What are the stories that really stick in your mind?
Anything to do with her family, because there we really get to know her. But the highlight for me was obviously the prison story [when Susan was sentenced for assisting fugitive Clive].
Susan is sent down (Dec 1993)
What was it like to become a national headline with that story?
It was a bit disturbing, because when the press got hold of it we had this Free the Ambridge One campaign and it was on the front pages of the newspapers. I had photographers doing lots of snaps of me. It was quite a shock at first.
It was great fun but I’m not sure whether I’d like that attention long term. I think that’s one of the beauties of being a radio actress. You can slide into normality and be a bit anonymous.
Any other highlights?
One of my favourite things is what’s happened over the past few years where we’ve been exploring the Horrobin family. You can find things that have been hidden up to now. But to be honest, even when I haven’t got a major storyline, the writers write me great scenes.
I love working with Brian [Hewlett, who plays Neil]. That’s just an absolute pleasure. Over the years we’ve got to know one another as people and as actors, and we work really well together.
Brian Hewlett and Charlotte Martin (Neil and Susan Carter)
What’s it like having that long term fictional relationship?
It’s interesting because when you go into studio and you’re standing by the sink, it is like a real relationship. We respond to each other in the same way, we listen to each other in the same way. It’s quite strange but it’s lovely.
You also have another life as an academic. How did that develop for you?
I’ve always been interested in psychology. I was having a quieter time in The Archers, so I did a GCSE at night school, and then an A level. And that was good, so I did a degree! It was just one thing after another, eventually culminating in doing a PhD and getting a job with a local health trust.
Now I’m a senior research fellow, working on projects relating to youth mental health. We’re trying to improve the pathways for young people and improve the resources for them. It has been focused specifically on psychosis but now we’re widening it to include eating disorders and other adolescent problems. We’ve just secured our next five years’ funding, which is great.
I’m very lucky to do two jobs which I absolutely love.
What would you like to see in Susan’s future?
Now’s her time really, because she’s given such a lot to her family. She was obviously a key figure looking after her brothers, then she got pregnant and got married really early, so she’s been a mother and she’s been a wife. I’d like to see Susan thinking about herself and developing some side of her which perhaps she hasn’t seen so far. It would be nice to see her thinking, okay Neil’s got his pigs, the kids are sorted. Who am I now?
Keri Davies is an Archers scriptwriter and web producer.