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Ambridge Extra returns

Keri Davies Keri Davies | 17:41 PM, Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Archers spin-off Ambridge Extra returns for another series, starting Tuesday 4 October. Sara Conkey and Rosie Boulton share the production duties (they are not the young actors pictured above, by the way). They write about their steep learning curve.

When asked to join Ambridge Extra to produce the second series, we were excited and terrified in equal measure. We come from a documentary background, making factual programmes in our base in Birmingham. The world of The Archers, while just a few metres down the corridor, might as well have been in another universe.

We often see the actors chatting in the green room, but never thought that one day we would be part of Ambridge. We have both had experience making drama-documentaries over the years, but 26 episodes of a twice-weekly series was another thing altogether.

Having said that, we were excited to think of what we could bring to Ambridge, as well as daunted by all we would have to learn.

The first script meeting we attended was a revelation. Eight episodes are story-lined in one intense day. The depth of knowledge of characters and inventive versatility of the writers and the editor, Vanessa Whitburn, are impressive. We were busy swotting up on our Who's Who in The Archers.

Although the main Archers programme has storylines planned for sometimes years in advance, Ambridge Extra is much more on the hoof. It makes for dynamic and very vocal script meetings, where ideas are thrashed out, wrestled with and sometimes thrown out in a short space of time.

Another surprise was the sheer speed of how the drama is recorded. In the case of Ambridge Extra, we have two hours to record 13 and a half minutes of drama. With a drama-documentary, we could take two days to record 20 minutes of drama. So an Ambridge Extra studio feels like it goes at the speed of light.

Sizzling stories

Having said that, the Ambridge family is hugely welcoming and supportive; the writers are talented and the storylines for the second series are sizzling. We hope that listeners can enjoy hearing some silent characters for the first time, and also see favourite characters being tested in ways they never have been before.

The well-oiled machine of the production process is so smooth we can just fit right in. The only problem is carrying the heavy responsibility of keeping such great storylines secret. Friends and family are suddenly far more interested in what we do!

Rosie Boulton and Sara Conkey are distinguished radio producers, mainly for BBC Radio 4.

Among numerous awards, Sara received Sony Golds for Between Ourselves and Stuck In the Middle; a Silver for Between Ourselves; and a Bronze for the Radio 3 drama-documentary A Love Song To The Buses.

Rosie won a Sony Gold for The Club that Scott Built; and a Gold and a Silver Prix Marulic (with Peter Wild) for drama documentaries In Form and The Language of Flowers. Her production of Soul Music (on Tallis's Spem in Allium) won a Jerusalem Award.

They were jointly nominated for the Prix Italia for a drama documentary Signs of Life.

  • The new series of Ambridge Extra is on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2.15pm, with an omnibus edition on Sundays at at 11.15am.
  • It will also be available as a podcast (free download)
  • Picture shows Louis Hamblett (Daniel Hebden Lloyd) and Gemma Lawrence (new charcter Erin Hayes), who feature in the series.


  • Comment number 1.

    God forbid that there will be more of this twaddle which has become known as AmExLax! Just when you think it can't get much worse…

    …it does!!! CLICK!

    - sa

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear Script Writers,

    Can you please get The Archers right? Your fond belief that you can refresh the audiance by appealing to da yoof is rediculous. Da yoof do not do radio

    This AX nonesence is just an irritant and a distraction. You are just peeing-off your loyal and ageing listeners.

  • Comment number 3.

    There is still a lot of work to do in mending the broken proper Archers without foisting this utter rubbish upon us.

  • Comment number 4.

    I know it's a bit unfair to be raining on the enthusiastic parade of the new producers but I couldn't help laughing at this:

    "The depth of knowledge of characters and inventive versatility of the writers and the editor, Vanessa Whitburn, are impressive."

    The unbelievable continuity errors thread on DTA maybe gives a flavour.


    But I am interested that this 2nd series is being produced differently from the first, a possible sign of problems with that 1st series which will never be publicly admitted.

  • Comment number 5.

    Gawd, Ambridge Extra had some good things in it: the Jamie stuff was great, I thought and I liked the Alice stuff (although I do agree that it wasn't true that it had no crossover with the main series. You did need to know this stuff to understand the motives in the main show).

    Just felt I should put some balance in the comments! I liked some of the stuff in it, didn't like other bits. Just like every other radio show. Although I do have a bias against Bellowhead, but there we are.

    PS That Soul Music on Spem in Alium produced by Ms Boulton was an AMAZING piece of radio.

  • Comment number 6.

    This loyal and ageing listener enjoyed the first series on AmEx; liked the Alice and Jamie storylines, but not the Rhys stuff. Thought it was well written and pacy and, after the initial shock, got to like the theme tune.....

  • Comment number 7.

    Agreed about "Spem In Alium" (and the others viz. Striggio), but I think it's a matter of Garbage In = Garbage Out, and Silk Purse from Sow's Ear Syndrome, especially if you're a producer.

    - sa

  • Comment number 8.

    >But I am interested that this 2nd series is being produced differently from the first, a possible sign of problems with that 1st series which will never be publicly admitted.

    Actually, the first series was very successful, helping BBC Radio 4 Extra put on half a million listeners compared to Radio 7, making it the most popular digital-only radio network.

    We have no idea if further series of Ambridge Extra will be commissioned. The imminent announcement of where the cuts will fall through the Delivering Quality First strategy may well make it financially impossible. But if there are future series, the idea is that each one will be distinctive in a different way.

  • Comment number 9.

    I just wanted to say that youth do listen to the radio! I'm 16 and I have listened to The Archers for quite a number of years, and both my sister and I listen to (and enjoy) AmEx. The other day I was also talking to a number of other people my age who are regular listeners to Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra. Please don't stereotype us!

    I also think that possibly we need to be a bit more grateful instead of constantly putting the writers and producers and editors of TA down. They're doing their best, and we need to appreciate that. If you don't enjoy AmEx, then don't listen to it, and leave it to us who do enjoy it. All this bad commenting does give TA fans a very bad reputation!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Two things: I loved the first series of Ambridge Extra. I loved hearing about the lives of some of the characters that there usually just isn't time to cover in The Archers. I loved the storylines which were dramatic and gripping. I loved the theme music too!
    If some Archers fans don't like Ambridge Extra, then I suggest they don't listen to it and stop complaining about it. Ambridge Extra only adds to the Archers experience in my opinion. You don't *have* to listen to it! May I also suggest the those who feel that The Archers needs *fixing* in some way, share their thoughts and suggestions as to why and how they think this could be achieved with the programme's producers. They could share their *brilliant ideas* on this blog too, if they have any that is.

  • Comment number 11.

    Totally agree with you Reflective! Well said.

  • Comment number 12.

    Well reflective you obviously haven't been following the blogs [esp Jan and Feb this year] or the message board because there have been plenty of interesting, serious suggestions to the producers on how TA could be improved. There is a wide agreement that the programme has fallen in quality over the last year or so and a lot of long term listeners have given up on the programme or don't care if they miss episodes or not. More is not necessarily what is needed.


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