Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall: ‘I had severe Archers withdrawal symptoms’

·4 min read
The Duchess of Cornwall and June Spencer cut an Archers-themed cake during a reception to celebrate the show's 70th anniversary - Kate Green/PA
The Duchess of Cornwall and June Spencer cut an Archers-themed cake during a reception to celebrate the show's 70th anniversary - Kate Green/PA

The Duchess of Cornwall has admitted she had "severe withdrawal symptoms" after The Archers "all but disappeared" in the Covid lockdowns, telling programme-makers: "Please don't let anything hinder your broadcasts."

The Duchess, an avid listener to the BBC Radio 4 drama, said it had been her "faithful companion for a large part of my life", leaving her "very glad" that it is back in full swing.

Hosting a party to celebrate the programme's 70th anniversary, she hailed writers and actors for their portrayal of "painful subjects", from the current modern slavery storyline to alcoholism, coercive control and racism.

Wearing an Archers badge, the Duchess met around 70 members of the team and watched a life scene written specially for the occasion and featuring characters Lynda, Lilian and Ben. She ended the occasion by cutting a cake in the shape of a tractor, assisted by June Spencer, the 102-year-old actress who plays Peggy Woolley.

The Duchess, whose effort to coax spoilers out of the cast were rebuffed, welcomed The Archers team to Clarence House for an hour-long event with sparkling wine and a Christmas tree.

Meeting Hollie Chapman, who plays Alice Carter, the Duchess asked about a recent storyline about alcoholism. "I'm not a method actor, I promise," Chapman joked, smiling as the Duchess asked: "I hope it's getting better...?" "We will see!" she replied, declining to give a clue as to future plots and adding: "Nice try!"

The Duchess of Cornwall met members of the cast, production and writing teams at Clarence House - Kate Green/WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Duchess of Cornwall met members of the cast, production and writing teams at Clarence House - Kate Green/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Greeting Spencer, who has played Peggy Woolley since 1950 and is the only surviving character from the original cast, the Duchess remarked that she looked "so young" Spencer, holding a glass of champagne, replied: "It's an incredibly healthy place, Ambridge."

Saying it was a "huge pleasure" to celebrate the programme's birthday, the Duchess added: "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 7pm and 7.15pm – and, like thousands of others, had severe withdrawal symptoms when you all but disappeared during lockdown."

The programme was forced off air when actors were not allowed to record together. It went on to broadcast four episodes a week comprised mainly of monologues, with casts slimmed down due to the "sheer logistical complexity" of recording.

In a warm speech, the Duchess told its stars: "Now let us look forward to the next 70 years in Ambridge.

"Please don't let anything 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.'"

The Duchess praised the show's writers, saying they had "never shied away from more challenging topics" and adding: "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."

Carole Boyd, Sunny Ormonde and Ben Norris perform a skit for the Duchess of Cornwall - Kate Green/PA Pool/Getty Images
Carole Boyd, Sunny Ormonde and Ben Norris perform a skit for the Duchess of Cornwall - Kate Green/PA Pool/Getty Images

The Duchess and dozens of actors watched and applauded a short comic scene between Carole Boyd, who plays Lynda Snell, Sunny Ormonde, who plays Lilian Bellamy, and Ben Norris, in the role of Ben Archer.

It saw Lynda, who has recently been awarded an MBE, plotting to rummage upstairs at Clarence House for keepsakes while an exasperated Lilian warns her that she will be "felled by a Beefeater". The skit was intended as a standalone piece of entertainment and will not be heard on air.

The Duchess made a cameo appearance on The Archers during a visit to BBC Birmingham in honour of its 60th anniversary.