In Whit Week 1950, the BBC's Midlands Home Service broadcast five pilot episodes of a new, experimental drama series: The Archers. The producer Godfrey Baseley had previously worked mainly on agricultural programmes. He hoped that farmers would listen for the stories, but along the way pick up messages that would help them feed a Britain still subject to food rationing.
Not any more. The Archers lost its original, educational, purpose in 1972, but it still prides itself on the quality of its research and its reflection of real rural life.
It’s a ‘maypole dance’ called Barwick Green from the suite My Native Heath, written in 1924 by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood.
At last count, it's now over 18740.
The editor, Jeremy Howe, leads a production team and group of writers as they plot the twists and turns of the families in Ambridge, looking ahead months or sometimes years in biannual long-term meetings.
The detailed planning is done at monthly script meetings about two months ahead of transmission, after which five of the writers have to produce a week's worth of scripts each in just 14 days.
Actors receive their scripts a few days before recording, which takes place every four weeks in a state-of-the-art radio drama studio at the BBC’s premises in The Mailbox, Birmingham. Twenty-four episodes are recorded in six intensive days, using only two hours of studio time per thirteen minute episode.
Not for the actors, no, even for our major characters. Many also have careers in film, theatre, television or other radio drama.
The episodes are transmitted three to six weeks after recording.
Listeners are occasionally intrigued to hear topical events reflected in that evening's broadcast. This feat is achieved through a flurry of rewriting, re-recording and editing on the day of transmission.
In the UK:The Archers goes out on BBC Radio 4 (92-95 FM and 198 LW). Transmission times: 19.02 GMT/BST Sunday to Friday, repeated at 14.02 the next day (excluding Saturdays). Omnibus edition of the whole week's episodes every Sunday at 10.00.
On the Internet: Like most BBC Radio 4 programmes, The Archers is broadcast simultaneously online, and you can listen to any episode from the last seven days via BBC Sounds.
Podcast: The programme can be sent, free of charge, to your computer. You can then keep it for ever and listen to it when you like, either directly from your computer or by downloading it to a portable audio device such as a mobile phone or mp3 player. It's available daily or as an omnibus edition.
In Continental Europe: Radio 4 Long Wave on 198Khz can be received in many parts of north-west Europe. Also see "Rest of the World".
In the Rest of the World: The Archers is broadcast by British Forces Broadcasting stations in various countries around the world, including Germany, Cyprus, Belize, and the Falkland Islands. If you live close enough to a British army, navy or air force base you may be able to "eavesdrop" on the transmissions.
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