Ladies and Gentlemen of Ambridge, it is a huge pleasure to welcome you here today to celebrate The Archers’ 70th birthday (just a few years after mine!). MBEs, of course, are particularly welcome – ferrets rather less so… For as long as I can remember, I have loved this programme. It has been my faithful companion for a large part of my life. Like many other Archers addicts, I have been known to become quite ratty if disturbed between 7:00pm and 7:15pm – and, like thousands of others, had severe withdrawal symptoms when you all-but-disappeared during lockdown! But I’m very glad you’re back, let’s keep it that way. I was thrilled to be asked to appear in an episode ten years ago – although, not being a noted thespian, I was only entrusted to play myself, with the help of Ian, who is here, and the late, lamented Caroline.
The broadcasting legend that is “The Archers” was born on 1st January 1951. It was Dan who uttered the immortal opening line, “And a happy new year to you all”. The first Archers baby arrived the following month, on 16th February, when Peggy gave birth to Tony. We must, therefore, also wish Tony a belated happy 70th birthday – unsurprisingly, he found something to be grumpy about even on his special day… I know we are all sorry that David is unable to be here and send our warmest good wishes to him and his wife.
The Archers has gone on to become the world’s longest-running drama. It is famous, of course, for its gentle wit, accurate description of rural life and wonderful characterisation. But you have never shied away from more challenging topics. Over the decades, you have tackled homophobia, racism, discrimination, modern slavery, alcohol addiction, domestic violence and coercive control. Thanks to the light that you have shone on these, and other painful subjects, millions of people now have a better understanding of them – and have been equipped with the tools to respond effectively when they encounter such issues in their own lives. For 70 years of raising awareness of others’ hidden struggles, we are deeply grateful.
Now let us look forward to the next 70 years in Ambridge. Please don’t let anything to hinder your broadcasts. Remember that, in 1962, which some of us remember quite well, Harold Macmillan was forced to sack members of his Cabinet. As he did so, he was heard to remark, “Interfering with the Cabinet is as serious as interfering with The Archers”.
So thank you all very much for coming today, it’s a real pleasure to meet you and to put the names to the faces! Some I would recognise; others don’t quite link up as I imagined. Before anything else, I would like to ask Peggy, the wonderful Peggy, to come and cut a very special Archers cake that we have had made for the occasion.