70th anniversary episode of The Archers features 'life-changing crisis' in Ambridge
Instalment number 19,343, in which “one resident makes a special announcement”, airs on BBC Radio 4 on New Year’s Day. It marks the end of a year in which storylines featured modern-day slave labour and an explosion at a country house hotel.
The year also saw bosses experiment with a different type of broadcast – monologues featuring characters’ thoughts and musings. But the new format, devised because of recording restrictions caused by lockdown, was not deemed a success by listeners.
Ambridge fans welcomed the soap’s return to the studio, with a socially distanced set-up of fewer cast members.
Pilot episodes of The Archers first aired in May 1950 on the BBC Midlands Home Service. The first national episode was broadcast on January 1, 1951.
Actress June Spencer, who continues to play Peggy Woolley today, featured in the first episode.
Now 101, she has no plans to retire.
“I just love it. I think it’s what keeps me going,” the veteran actress has previously said.
The Archers’ editor Jeremy Howe recently said that plotting future episodes had been challenging amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“During the pandemic it has been really difficult to predict what we will be doing and when,” he said. “How will we be able to live our lives in 10 weeks’ time? Will (local pub) The Bull be open or shut? What tier is Ambridge in?”
The Archers was created by Godfrey Baseley, originally as a way to help educate farmers in modern production methods when Britain was still in the grip of food rationing.
Today it draws around five million listeners every week. The anniversary episode airs at 7pm on BBC Radio 4 and is on BBC Sounds.