June Spencer, who played the matriarch Peggy Woolley in The Archers for more than seven decades, is retiring from the BBC Radio 4 soap at the age of 103, prompting curiosity over which of the show’s original cast members are still alive.
Born November 13, 1924, Peggy Woolley is actually just over five years younger than the woman who played her so dutifully and for so many years. Spencer was born in 1919.
The Archers is the world’s longest-running drama by number of episodes. It started life in 1951 following a five-episode pilot in May 1950. June Spencer is the final original cast member to retire from the radio show – but which of the others are still alive?
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Who were the original cast of The Archers?
Partly this depends on where you choose to draw your boundaries.
Are the “original” cast members of The Archers only those who were in the first episode, which aired on January 1, 1951? Or everyone who appeared on the show in its first year? Or just its five-episode pilot that aired in the summer of 1950?
If you include only the cast from the first episode (via IMDB), the original cast of The Archers were Gwen Berryman (as Doris Archer), Monica Grey (Grace Fairbrother), Pamela Mant (Christine Archer), Robert Mawdesley (Walter Gabriel), Norman Painting (Philip Archer) and June Spencer (Peggy Archer).
As of August 1, 2022, there have been 19,753 episodes of the radio series.
Which of the original The Archers cast members are still alive?
Gwen Berryman passed away in 1983, Monica Grey in 2002, Robert Mawdesley in 1953 – just two years after The Archers got into its stride – and Norman Painting died in 2009.
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That leaves June Spencer, who is currently 103 years old and one of about 15,000 centenarians in the UK.
Her husband of 59 years, Roger Brocksom, died in 2001 following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her character’s husband also suffered from the disease.
Pamela Mant is also still alive. Her most recent on-screen credit, per IMDB, was playing Queen in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday in 2016, meaning she’s been active in the industry relatively recently.
Which means there are currently two surviving members of the original cast of The Archers: June Spencer and Pamela Mant.
How many characters have there been in the series?
Besides the original cast members, there are undoubtedly numerous actors and actresses who have lent their voices to The Archers who have sadly passed away.
Each episode often includes between 20 and 30 speaking characters, and unlike those acting in television soaps, The Archers actors are not held on retainers. This means they often only work for a few days per month, allowing for the inclusion of huge numbers of characters in each month’s broadcasts.
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Calculating the exact number of characters that have ever appeared in the long-running radio series is no mean feat. So, suffice it to say the number is very high.
There are the Archers (as in, the Archer family), the Grundys, the Aldridges, the Pargetters, the Tuckers and the Carters. And each family has a family tree with several names.
Then there are numerous other Ambridge residents; a handful of recurring characters that don’t fit into a particular family tree; former principal characters, other major characters; friends, lovers and villagers; villains and rogues; a host of silent characters; and numerous animals that may or may not qualify in your view as “characters.”
Find a selection of major characters on the BBC website here, and an almost exhaustive list on Wikipedia here.
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