The Archers’ boss plans return to normality after monologue experiment

The Archers has returned to the studio – signalling the end of its much-derided monologue experiment.

Writers decided to feature characters’ thoughts and musings after lockdown forced them to bin scripts of the world’s longest-running soap.

The change, described as a “thrilling proposition” by one producer, was deemed “tedious” by many Ambridge listeners.

Now, Radio 4 has released a snap of some of the cast returning to the recording studio.

The Archers' busybody Susan Carter became a local radio DJ during lockdown
The Archers' busybody Susan Carter became a local radio DJ during lockdown

The soap’s editor Jeremy Howe said The Archers will be returning to “as it was before the pandemic”, step-by-step.

He described some of the monologue scenes as “pure gold”, adding that “listeners wrote in” to say they identified with many of the moments.

But he said bosses “understand” why some listeners want the return of the old format.

“We know how important The Archers is to our listeners, and just as many people have enjoyed hearing characters’ inner thoughts we know others have longed for the programme they know and love,” he said.

“Of course, dealing with the impact of coronavirus has been an enormous challenge but listeners have now started to hear certain storylines resume as well as dialogue.

Buffy Davis and Alison Dowling
Buffy Davis and Alison Dowling

“As we start recording in the studio again, our aim is to get back to The Archers as it was before the pandemic, but it will be step by gradual step.”

In a blog, he defended the decision not to have featured recorded dialogue when some other productions have, “leading some to ask why not on The Archers?

“Those were mostly one-off drama projects, or completely different types of programmes like weekly panel shows, not faced with the task of reshaping and replanning months and months of work, let alone an unending number of episodes to deliver stretching out ahead of them,” he said.

“Those productions should, of course, be praised, but it is difficult to draw comparisons between them and The Archers.”

He said that “being asked to run The Archers is a bit like being asked to look after the Crown Jewels”.

The studio recordings, at The Mailbox, Birmingham, will follow safety guidelines and sessions will feature up to three actors – previous recordings had up to 25.

Measures include temperature checks upon arrival and “zones” marked around individual mics so actors can remain distanced.

The Archers' editor Jeremy Howe
The Archers' editor Jeremy Howe

Radio 4 said that “for the time being there will continue to be remote recording, alongside studio recording, so in the coming weeks episodes … will feature both scenes recorded in the studio and scenes recorded remotely with actors in their homes”.

Radio 4 Controller Mohit Bakaya recently said he was “proud” that the show had kept going.

“I accept totally that some people have not enjoyed the monologues and I’m sorry about that,” he told BBC Radio 4 programme Feedback.

“I’m sure if there are people who have drifted away, I hope they’re going to drift back.”

Before the reinvention aired, Charlotte Martin, the voice behind busybody Susan Carter, told the PA news agency they could take a “few episodes” to get used to.

“We very much wanted to continue to broadcast. We know that listeners are very committed and dedicated to The Archers and would hate it if we were unable to keep broadcasting,” she said.