World's longest-running soap turns 60 with tragic twist
"The Archers", the world's longest-running soap opera, marked its 60th birthday over the New Year weekend with a plot twist that saw one of the BBC radio show's best known characters fall to his death.
Feted by some as the essence of Englishness, "The Archers" features everyday tales of rural life in the fictional village of Ambridge, where typical activities include cowshed births, post office chats and broken tractor dramas.
It has five million listeners in Britain and its six, 15-minute episodes per week are also broadcast on the Internet and from British military bases worldwide.
The show was first broadcast nationwide on January 1, 1951. The soap marked its anniversary over the three-day New Year long weekend with its 16,300th episode and the death of one its longest-serving characters.
Listeners learned on Monday that Nigel Pargetter had died when he fell from the roof of his stately home after losing his footing attempting to remove a New Year banner.
The fatal fall, which happened in Sunday's special double bill, brings to an end a run of nearly 30 years playing the character for Graham Seed, 60, a seasoned theatre, film and television actor.
"We thought long and hard about a storyline that would befit a landmark anniversary like the 60th and one that would reverberate through Ambridge well into the year," said series editor Vanessa Whitburn.
Many famous faces have made cameos over the years, including Queen Elizabeth II's sister princess Margaret, actresses Britt Ekland and Judi Dench, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, Australian comedy star Dame Edna Everage and former England cricket captain Mike Gatting.
To make the sound of a lamb being born, the sound effects man squelches his hand in a pot of yoghurt and then throws a wet tea towel on to some straw.
In recent years the show has shocked some traditional listeners with storylines involving homosexuality, racist attacks and illegitimate children.
© 2011 AFP