Young love in Ambridge
Back in the 1980s I got the chance to write a week's trial episodes for the radio soap that had enthralled me since student days. I didn't think there was much chance it would lead to a permanent job but I was determined to give it a go.
My storyline for the week included the first appearance of a young teenage girl who was destined to become one of the show's leading characters. Somehow I had to engineer a chance meeting with another of the younger characters out of which a fun-filled romance was to blossom.
I didn't have any idea how to write this new character. It had been a long time since my own teenage years. Then I remembered Paula, the girl I fell in love with in the Thames-side village where we lived when I was 16. She'd been warm, fun-loving and heart-stoppingly honest. In the short time I knew her there was joy, laughter and not a little anguish. And looking back I wouldn't have changed any of it.
I decided I'd make the new character like Paula. So I wrote my week's episodes and sent them in to The Archers editor. Though I remained hopeful, I didn't honestly expect a job offer. He was looking for proper writers and all I'd done were a few features in Farmers Weekly. When the editor called me a few days later and told me the scripts were pretty bad, I can't say I was surprised.
'It took me two days of rewriting to bring them up to broadcast standard,' he told me. Great, I thought, thanks for sharing that. Well at least I'd had a go. But he had a surprise up his sleeve.
'There was one good scene, though' he went on, 'the one where you brought in the new character, Elizabeth Archer. I liked the way you wrote her. In fact I've told the other writers this is the way I want her written from now on. So if you want to give it another try, you'd better come along to the next script meeting.'
That was it, I'd made it to Ambridge. And I'd be there for the next 34 years, thanks to Elizabeth Archer, her chance meeting with Nigel Pargetter, and a girl called Paula I'd known all those years before.
There weren't many other opportunities to create completely new personalities during my time on the show. Mostly it was a case of getting better acquainted with characters I already knew well. Discovering in them new traits and foibles, hopefully making them more interesting and intriguing. Sometimes it was a case of giving likeable characters a darker story, as with Joe and Eddie Grundy at the time of their eviction from Grange Farm.
It was a two-way process. I learned a good deal from the characters, too. In the hands of the other skilled writers, they revealed sides to their personalities that I'd never imagined. As generations of fans have discovered over the decades, spending time in Ambridge is a bit like having a second home in a village full of colourful characters where there always seems to be a lot going on.
If you want to read more about my journey to Ambridge – and the adventures I had while I was there – please support my project 'Underneath The Archers'. With your help the book can become a reality. Many thanks.