Artist to keep fans of The Archers in the picture for court plotline

Fans of The Archers will be able to enjoy the Radio 4 soap opera in sound and vision for the first time from Sunday.

All of this week's episodes, which feature the trial of one of the programme's main characters, are being illustrated in a series of sketches by a professional court artist.

The first drawing shows the defendant, Helen Titchener (played by Louiza Patikas), listening to evidence from her husband Rob (Timothy Watson).

Helen is charged with attempted murder and wounding with intent, after she stabbed Rob with a knife earlier this year.

The trial marks the culmination of a long-running storyline that has seen Helen suffer mounting psychological abuse from Rob, and which has won the soap praise from charities for its portrayal of domestic violence.

Every episode of The Archers this week will cover the trial - and court sketches will capture some of the key moments.

The artist Julia Quenzler has produced the illustrations, which will be available to view on The Archers website.

Ms Quenzler has been a court artist for 30 years and currently produces sketches for the British press as well as the BBC. Among the real-life trials she has covered were those of Harold Shipman and the Soham murders.

On drawing for The Archers, she said: "It's been fascinating, I've thoroughly enjoyed it. But of course I haven't been able to tell anyone I was doing it so I've had to refer to it as a secret project. I didn't want anyone asking me any questions and my face giving anything away."

Ms Quenzler usually works from notes and memory, as sketching inside a courtroom is considered contempt of court.

For this project, she had to work almost entirely from imagination. "I was given a few photographs of the actors but I was reminded that obviously many listeners have conjured up their own image of how each character looks," she explained.

"I was also told that the trial would be held in a typical 19th century court building so I drew the sort of panelling they might have had."

On the subject of Rob's abusive behaviour towards Helen, she said: "I can't let that influence me at all. I was basing his appearance on the actor's photograph but also the script. I was reading the script and noting his reactions, the tone of his voice, imagining what he would be doing with his hands while he was in the witness box."

Listeners have been given no clue as to how this week's events will unfold, but Archers editor Sean O'Connor has described the trial as "both shocking and deeply moving".

The second of Ms Quenzler's sketches will be released after Monday night's episode.

:: The Archers is broadcast from Sunday-Friday at 7pm on Radio 4

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