Charlotte Martin aka Susan Carter on Susan, Shula's depression and Henry's future

She’s the ‘Queen of Kefir’, the chilli making love of Neil’s life, fierce and protective mum of Emma and Chris and the arch-gossip otherwise known as ‘Radio Ambridge’. Charlotte Martin aka Dr Charlotte Conor, Clinical Psychologist, who plays Susan spoke to a room of Archers fans at the Academic Archers conference and here’s what we learned…

Being a psychologist informs how she approaches the role of Susan

I try my hardest to flesh her out in my head as much as possible. When i get my scripts and I see what storyline’s coming up I’ll try to think - "what’s the back story here? What possible conversations might she have had with various people about the issues that are about to come up? How would she feel about it?" Being in psychology as well - that’s informed my thinking about who she is and why she thinks the way she does.

Susan’s hunger for gossip is a symptom of her loneliness

I don’t think she has very many friends - well I know she doesn’t. She has Neil and that’s lovely but I think outside of that relationship, the only real person she socialises with is Clarrie and Clarrie’s got her own stuff going on. I think Susan’s actually quite lonely. In a gossip situation, you’ve got the gossiper, the person who’s listening and the person who’s being talked about. By engaging the listener, she forms a network a little social group of her own - it forms bonds. I think she doesn’t know any other way to do that.

Susan gets a raw deal for her attempts to better her station...

She’s always described as a social climber and we all joke about it but actually if we look at our own lives, we’re all trying to do better. We’re all trying to rise - not necessarily from working class to middle class but we’re trying to do better for ourselves and those around us. It’s interesting that Susan is castigated for that somewhat. It’s become an issue the older she’s got, I think. When she was younger that wasn’t seen as part of her personality so it’s grown with her.

Susan is YOU, the audience

Susan is you [the audience]. She says all the things that you lot are thinking. About the stories and the characters. I think she’s verbalising them. Perhaps that’s why you don’t like her very much!

Shula is depressed

Shula’s depressed. She’s withdrawn from social life in the village and that’s a classic early sign of depression. I think if we unpicked all of the characters in Ambridge we could find some sort of mental health problem!

And when a listener asked: "how disturbed is Henry going to be?”

It depends on his social support network. In those kind of situations, if you’ve got a good support network around you, we can help a child overcome all sorts of difficulties. But in that environment [Bridge Farm]… I’m just hoping he might find a significant person in the village who can help him! He’s experienced a lot of trauma. He’s seen a lot of things that he shouldn’t have seen and heard a lot of things that he shouldn’t have heard, so it’s bound to have some kind of impact.

It’s women who have shaped The Archers that we hear today

There were no female writers before 1975! The programme was started in the beginning to disseminate farming information post-war. That was written by men. The introduction of female writers into the programme in 1975, I think, changed the dynamic of the programme. Suddenly we were tackling issues like drug addiction, rape, alcoholism, genetically modified crops, badger culling, family break-up, civil partnerships, imprisonment and armed robbery and I think that has a direct relationship with bringing women into the writing team.

And when one listener declared: “Emma is going to become Prime Minister!”

Oh my goodness - I’ll be dining in The Shard before you know it! I think that as well… A lot of the episodes I’ve been doing recently have been about trying to improve yourself and manipulating things to work out. I’m hoping that the job of Queen of Kefir is profitable...

You can listen to Charlotte's talk and Q&A at the Academic Archers conference here