I have listened to The Archers all my life- first because my Mum did, then as a student [my landlady was an Ambridge Addict too] and ever since – with a few breaks when the plotlines got stupid, and I took a break for a few weeks. But I usually drift back and pick up the story again.
I am too young to remember the death of Grace Archer in the stable fire – broadcast on 22nd September 1955. It caused national uproar. Yes, honestly!
The night it happened, people were openly weeping in the streets! Within a couple of days, the BBC had to ask people to stop sending wreaths, someone sent a brass plate engraved for her coffin, it was headlines in the Malaya newspapers…and of course, it happened the same night the ITV was launched. The Guardian published a wonderful Wordsworth parody
She dwelt unseen, amid the Light,
Among the Archer clan,
And breathed her last the very night
The ITV began . . .
She was well-loved, and millions know
That Grace has ceased to be.
Now she is in her grave, but oh,
She's scooped the ITV!
And so there was a violent death on the night of ITV's launch, and Grace was the victim. But one question remained. Why Grace? Or - more to the point - why the actress Ysanne Churchman? There were rumours that Churchman had been involved in a pay dispute with the corporation, to get the same pay as the men, and had brought in actors' union Equity. She also tried to get other actors to join the union. No-one involved would confirm the story. But last Saturday, the afternoon drama was an excellent play called “Dead Girls Tell No Tales” – which did confirm the rumours which have been around for 60 years. Ysanne was a troublemaker who simply had to go!
The play ended with a comment from Ysanne herself, who is 90 years old She has kept quiet all these years, but now has spoken out and said she knew it was just to get rid of her. She also said that it wasn’t too hard to find work afterwards- the ITV wanted people to do voiceovers for adverts.
Can you imagine this in a soap nowadays? People would sue for wrongful dismissal – and I doubt they would maintain silence for 60 years. Sometimes the true stories of the actors are more interesting than those of the characters they play!