The Archers Go On The Air 

6 March 2023

TV MIRROR’S Special Correspondent takes you into the Birmingham studio where sincere acting, a skilful script and careful production combine to create that popular radio family, the Archers of Brookfield Farm



Cover of the TV Mirror

From TV Mirror for 21 November 1953

I WALKED along Broad Street, Birmingham, wondering if at the last moment it would not be better to change my mind and not meet the Archers…

In common with 8,000,000 other people I regularly follow the daily round at Brookfield Farm; and Dan Archer and the other well-loved characters of his family are as real as radio can ever succeed in conjuring up a picture “in the mind’s eye.”

And when you have had your date with the radio at 6.45 on a weekday evening for so long, you can’t help wondering if it will be an anticlimax to meet the flesh-and-blood actors and actresses who by their voices are as real as our own friends, and who make the Archer family just an extension of our own family circle.

No illusions lost

Would I find Harry Oakes as real a person as Farmer Dan? Would Mrs. Archer (Gwen Berryman) be as motherly in real life as at home at Brookfield Farm? Would Peggy (Thelma Rogers), Christine (Pamela Mant) and the rest prove to be real country folk or — anyway — youngsters who really love the country?

It was Tony Shryane, who has produced The Archers for nearly three years who persuaded me that I should not be disillusioned.

“Of course, this is a Birmingham studio production,” he explained, “as the aural picture we have to create with each broadcast of The Archers could never be obtained if we went out of doors, or to a real farmstead. But our effects are recorded out of doors, and we go to a great deal of trouble to make them authentic. Recordings are made at agricultural colleges, churches, village halls, at railway stations. Women’s Institutes and other country centres.

“Care has to be taken with dialogue relating to the countryside, also. Occasionally we do make slips, as on the occasion when Tom Forrest, the gamekeeper, made a reference to a ‘pair’ of pheasants, when I suppose it would be true to say most countrymen would speak of a ‘brace’. Listeners were quick to notice this, and one wrote in and suggested the programme should be called ‘Educating Archer!’”

The complete cast of The Archers is lengthy, and before we meet them individually, here are their names:

Daniel Archer (Harry Oakes), Doris (Gwen Berryman), Jack (Denis Folwell), Peggy (Thelma Rogers), Philip (Norman Painting), Christine (Pamela Mant), Mr. Fairbrother (Leslie Bowmar), Mrs. Fairbrother (Joy Davies), Grace Fairbrother (Ysanne Churchman), Simon (Eddie Robinson), Walter Gabriel (Chris Gittins), Mrs. Perkins (Pauline Seville), The Squire (Ronald Baddiley), Tom Forrest (Bob Arnold), The Vicar (Harry Stubbs), Ben White (Will Kings), Admiral Bellamy (Fred Yule), Clive Lawson-Hope (Leslie Parker), Len Thomas (Arnold Peters), Mary Jones (Noreen Baddiley).

Who takes these characters and makes them live as residents of the Brookfield locality?

“Once a month a script conference is held,” I was told. “This is attended by the two authors, Edward J. Mason and Geoffrey Webb, the editor (Godfrey Baseley) and the producer (Tony Shryane). Suggestions for programme material are put forward, and the general story line is then discussed.”

Because of their other work on the air, Mason, Geoffrey Webb and Godfrey Baseley will be known to a large number of listeners; but Tony Shryane — who in so many ways is really “The Man Behind the Archers” — may not have such fame in the vast radio audience.

Keeping in touch

This is not surprising, for B.B.C. producers do not seek the limelight. Tony Shryane, aged 34, is very interested in “family” programmes such as The Archers, and is a family-man himself, with a youngster just turned five. Before he took on The Archers he was a studio manager (that is, more or less assistant to the producer) working chiefly for drama and features. As studio manager he was in Birmingham and London, although both his two preceding top-line programmes happened to be produced in the Birmingham studios—the first Paul Temple series, produced by Martyn C. Webster, and Dick Barton, produced by Neil Tulson.

“I make a point of going out to as many activities as possible which bring me in touch with the country public,” Mr. Shryane told me. “It is of great value for me to meet as many as possible of the people connected in some way with the main aim of the programme — which, of course, is to bring a better understanding between town and country dwellers.

“Am I an expert on the countryside? Well, I am an enthusiastic learner… I am always visiting such things as ploughing matches, sugar-beet competitions, agricultural colleges and Young Farmers’ clubs, and so on.”

Does this apply to the Archers themselves, or are they just a group of case-hardened city folk who put on a Brookfield Farm accent each time they go to Broad Street to record a programme?

Dan Archer — in real life Harry Oakes — lives in a suburban villa in Birmingham, though “To tell you the truth I have always been bitten by the country bug,” he told me, “and my wife and I are still searching for a suitable cottage in the Cotswolds.” But to Harry Oakes the fields are always green, even in the heart of Birmingham, for he is a true artist — once a professional pottery artist — and an amateur portrait painter of note.

Mrs. Archer (Gwen Berryman) lives in a Wolverhampton suburb, Goldthom Hill. But between recording sessions of The Archers she and her widower father are often to be found in the country, and Gwen is a frequent visitor to friends who really do run a farm in Staffordshire, which spiritually helps to complete the countryside aspect of her busy life. Though no farmer, she has a big garden in Wolverhampton — nearly two acres of it — and like Harry Oakes she is a keen rose-grower.

A member of the cast who really does look out on to Brookfield-like scenery is Norman Painting (Philip), yet he is so much a wholetime broadcaster that he has never had opportunity to develop as a farmer, even though he does live on a Warwickshire farm. Few of the millions who regularly listen to The Archers know that “Philip” is really that same Norman Painting who does the Children’s Hour series Stories of the Saints, and has given many BBC commentaries.

The real countryside

Although Jack Archer (in private life Denis Folwell), Mr. Fairbrother (Leslie Bowmar) and Mrs. Perkins (Pauline Seville) all come from Leicester, that doesn’t mean you must necessarily type them as townsfolk. Leslie Bowmar, for instance, is a tractor expert, was once a professional tractor demonstrator, and has won prizes at ploughing contests. Tom Forrest, in private life Bob Arnold, comes in from Burford for each recording of The Archers, where he lives in a Cotswold cottage built in the middle sixteen-hundreds.

Christine Archer (Pamela Mant) lives in glorious country, in a caravan at Tewkesbury, and she always brings the colour and excitement of outdoor life to Broad Street studios. She would be a perfect Christine Archer even without a script. In the script Christine has a black mare named Midnight. In real life Pamela has a black mare named Jet!


Brookfield album


We present our idea of a leaf from Mrs. Archer’s own album, with pictures of the family and friends so well-known to listeners



You Say

1 response to this article

Claire Speake 6 August 2023 at 10:05 pm

I am Eddie Robinsons Granddaughter and as such I am looking for any info on my Grandfather as he died well before I was born. I did hear the first episode and his voice back around 2006 ish when it was played on an anniversary but have not been able to get a copy. It was wonderful to see you include him in the article and his photo if you have any more info I would love to see it


Claire Speake

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