• Graham Harvey

A love remembered

The year 1984 was a big one for George Orwell and me. George imagined Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth. I imagined Elizabeth Archer and Nigel.

Up until then I’d been mostly writing about pigs and muck-spreaders for Farmers Weekly. Somehow I’d managed to bluff my way into writing a trial week’s episodes for The Archers. To be honest I didn’t expect to be there very long. A few days after I sent in the scripts, the editor, William Smethurst, called to tell me they were pretty dire. He said it had taken him two days of editing to make them fit to broadcast.

Then for good measure he added: ‘I’m afraid we’re going to have to face the fact you’re not going to make a writer!’

That was it then. At least I’d had a go. I consoled myself with the thought I could add it to my cv. ‘Has written episodes of The Archers. Well, five anyway. Most of them.’

As I was about to hang up, his tone changed. ‘There was one scene I liked though. Your last scene with the Friday hook. The one where you introduce the teenage Elizabeth. I’ve copied it to the other writers and told them this is how I want the character written from now on.’

Though she’d already appeared as a child in the series, the character Elizabeth had now been recast as a 17-year-old. In my storyline I was supposed to set up a chance meeting between what was in effect a new character and the popular Nigel Pargetter who’d been going out with Elizabeth’s older sister Shula. Now she’d dumped him.

I had the encounter take place in Brookfield orchard. Nigel sits under a tree deeply hurt by Shula’s rejection. But when the fun-loving Elizabeth hears the news, she convinces him that really it’s his lucky day. It means he’s now free to go out with her.

I remember nothing about the dialogue I used in the scene, but it was effective enough for editor William to offer me another week’s episodes. In the event I remained as a writer on the show for more than 30 years. So I’d have to say I owe my career in Ambridge to Elizabeth, who eventually married her beloved Nigel. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I owe my career to a girl called Paula.

When I was 16 I had a Saturday job delivering boxes of fruit and veg around the Berkshire village where we lived. Paula was the daughter of one of our regular customers. She had a cheeky smile, twinkling blue eyes and the kind of humour that makes you feel good about yourself even when you’re the butt of the joke. She was that smart. I instantly fell in love with her.

Sadly it wasn’t reciprocated, though it was clear she liked me. At the time she was going out with one of the hardest guys in the village, a rocker called Ade. Even so she and I drifted into a clandestine and mildly flirtatious relationship that blew hot and cold for several months. I started to think she might actually chuck him for me, a fantasy that was both thrilling and fearful.

It never happened though. A few months afterwards we moved from the village to a house in Reading and I didn’t see her again. But I never forgot her and 24 years later I put something of her warm and fun-loving spirit into the new Archers character. Help me get my crowd-funded new book – Underneath The Archers – across the line and read the full story.


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