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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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The Archers – June Spencer plays Peggy Woolley

June Spencer plays Peggy Woolley

June Spencer is now 90 and the only remaining member of the original cast of The Archers. She has played matriarch Peggy Woolley since the pilot episode of the radio soap was broadcast in 1950, with the first national episode on the airwaves the following year.

But June admits she has little in common with her character, except for a love of cats and gardening, and describes Peggy as a "nice old thing" who "doesn't always see the funny side of things."

June says: "Peggy's quite narrow-minded in some things. When Ambridge had a female vicar, she disapproved to such an extent she wouldn't go to church.

"I wouldn't say no to a woman vicar – a good woman vicar is better than a bad male one - but she's got her head screwed on in the right way. I'm very fond of her."

Born in Nottingham, June was an only child and made her stage debut at the age of four. By the age of 12 she was writing plays and producing them in her back garden to raise money for charity.

In 1950, June had been a busy radio actress for seven years when one day, whilst queueing in the BBC Birmingham canteen, a voice said: "You're going to be in The Archers, aren't you?" June's response was: "Am I? What are The Archers?"

She admits she was rather put out at being told by a stranger that she had apparently been cast – before she had been asked if she would like the part!

When The Archers started, Peggy was a young woman with two little girls. Now she's a great-grandmother. She has featured in many important storylines in the BBC Radio 4 programme, including the harrowing account of her husband, Jack Woolley, succumbing to dementia. It was particularly personal for her, as her own husband, Roger, suffered from the disease until his death.

The storyline began a year after her husband passed away. She says: "To start so soon after Roger's death was hard. It gave me wonderful opportunities as an actress, of course, but it was difficult. The scriptwriters said that if anything didn't feel right I could change it, but I haven't wanted to. They've written it beautifully."

Away from Ambridge, June's gardening has won her awards at village horticultural shows for her roses and she enjoys the peace and quiet of her second home in Menorca, photographing the scenery and the feral cats.

In 1991, she was made an OBE and in June 2010 she received the Freedom of the City of London.

June says she has no plans to retire, describing acting as "the breath of life to me."

"I love acting so much," she says. "I'm lucky to have a job I can still do!"

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