Friday 07 Mar 2014
1. Just five years after its national launch, in September 1955, 20 million listeners tuned into The Archers when Grace Archer tragically died in her husband's arms after she selflessly tried to rescue a horse from a barn fire.
2. As well as the millions of public fans of the show, famous fans of the series include HRH The Prince of Wales, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Cilla Black, Martin Clunes, Stephen Fry, Phil Jupitus, Sir John and Dame Norma Major, Ewan MacGregor, Liza Tarbuck, Ruth Jones, Ian Rankin, Fiona Bruce and Sir Ian McKellen.
3. The editor, Vanessa Whitburn, leads a 10-strong production team and 11 writers as they plot the twists and turns of the families in Ambridge. They work months and even years ahead and have bi-annual, long-term meetings where they discuss ideas for The Archers that won't be broadcast for well over a year.
The detailed planning for the drama is done at monthly script meetings roughly two months ahead of transmission, after which four of the writers have to produce a weeks worth of scripts each in just 14 days.
4. The Archers has its own official fan club – Archers Addicts, which is based in a building in Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-upon-Avon.
5. Guest stars over the years on The Archers, appearing as themselves, have included Richard Todd, Humphrey Lyttelton, John Peel, Sir Terry Wogan, Britt Ekland, Dame Edna Everage, Princess Margaret, The Duke Of Westminster, Alan Titchmarsh, Griff Rhys Jones, Morse creator Colin Dexter and artist Antony Gormley. Actors who have appeared in character include Dame Judi Dench and Richard Griffiths.
6. June Spencer, who plays Peggy, is the longest-serving cast member and even appeared in the first ever pilot episode of The Archers, along with the legendary Norman Painting, broadcast on 29 May 1950.
7. The theme tune to The Archers has been played over 70,000 times in Britain since the first episode.
8. There have been over 16,000 episodes of The Archers broadcast since it started.
9. To recreate the sound of a lamb being born at home Archers-style, all you need is a pot of yoghurt, a wet tea towel and some old audio tape. The sound effects person squelches their hand in the yoghurt and then throws the damp tea towel onto the audio tape to create the right sound.
10. Another sound recording trick is to recreate the sound of a farm gate closing through swiftly collapsing an ironing board.
11. The series was originally recorded on discs which could not be edited. If an actor made a mistake, they had to start recording from the start. Thankfully, The Archers is now made digitally and all editing is done on the computer.
12. Sadly, none of the recordings of the early episodes of The Archers survived but BBC Information and Archives still have the original scripts.
13. Past scriptwriters for The Archers include novelist Susan Hill, historian and author Christopher Lee and chicklit author Veronica Henry.
14. There are around 50 speaking characters in The Archers but only five to seven of these appear in each episode.
15. The theme tune to The Archers was not, in fact, specially written for the show. Composed by Arthur Wood, the piece is called Barwick Green from his suite My Native Heath.
16. Topical events that have been featured in The Archers include the outbreak and ending of the Gulf War, the death of HRH Princess Diana, Post Office closures, UK floods, football results and, in 2010, voters being unable to cast their votes due to polling booths closing.
Various farming concerns have also been reflected in topical inserts over the years, too – everything from the BSE crisis to the closure of the Royal Show, delays in single payments for farmers and the foot and mouth epidemic.
In order to reflect topical events in that evening's broadcast, a flurry of rewriting, re-recording and editing happens on the day of transmission.
17. Mary Cutler is the longest-serving writer on The Archers, having first written for the show in 1979.
18. Although The Archers is usually recorded in studio at the BBC Mailbox building in Birmingham, occasionally it goes on location and scenes have been recorded in Germany, France, the Netherlands and many other parts of the UK.
Scenes have even been recorded at the Glastonbury Festival and the Queen Mother's 100th birthday parade.
19. In order to keep continuity in The Archers, a careful note of all sound effects, including doorbells and telephone ringtones, is kept by the production team.
20. The Archers is the longest-running broadcast drama in the world, beating Coronation Street (at 50, a whole decade younger), EastEnders (a youthful 25) and the USA's Guiding Light, which started on television in 1952 but ended in 2009.