The Archers actress Sara Coward dies aged 69

The woman known to millions as the Radio 4 drama's Caroline Sterling has passed away after being diagnosed with terminal cancer

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Actress Sara Coward, long-serving star of The Archers, has died age 69.

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Coward was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September last year and had been receiving palliative care at a hospice in Warwickshire.

She joined the cast of the long-running Radio 4 drama in 1977, playing Caroline Sterling – owner of Ambridge’s country house hotel Grey Gables and landlady to the Grundys – until her departure last September.

“Everyone in The Archers family is very sad today,” Archers editor Huw Kennair-Jones told the BBC. “Sara was a gifted actress with a unique voice.

“Even when she was navigating the tribulations of Caroline Sterling’s love life, Sara’s deft wit and clever characterisation meant Caroline was never solely defined by her relationships but always as a fully rounded, intriguing woman of substance.

“We will all miss her both professionally and personally.”

Following her diagnosis, Coward told Radio Times she hoped her character would be recast and would carry on after she was gone, even suggesting her own replacement in Belinda Carroll, wife of Michael Cochrane who plays Caroline Sterling’s wife Oliver in The Archers.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do with the character, but I do hope they don’t write her out,” said Coward. “I’d like them to find someone else to play her. In fact I know the very person; Michael Cochrane’s [real-life] wife Belinda Carroll would be perfect.”

After stepping down from The Archers, Coward started the SM:)E campaign, using social media to invite people from all over the world to share their smiles, and to post messages about kind acts they had performed or received, along with the hashtag #milesofsmiles.

“We worked out that it would take 2.5 million people standing shoulder to shoulder to form a line 1,000 miles long,” said Coward. “So we are asking for 1,000 miles of smiles. People say it’s a lovely legacy, something nice to be remembered by. But I have no interest in being remembered. I just want the world I’m leaving to be a kinder place.”

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Read our full interview with Sara Coward from September 2016