The Archers was forced to scrap over a months’ worth of storylines as the soap battled to adapt to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on production, the radio soap boss has revealed.
Ahead of the first new ‘post-pandemic’ episodes airing next week, in the new issue of Radio Times, on sale Tuesday 19th May, Series Editor Jeremy Howe explains recounts how, despite multiple contingency plans, continued recording of the long-running Radio 4 rural drama became increasingly difficult as the UK went into lockdown.
The programme initially planned to keep going, but to continue documenting life in Ambridge as the situation rapidly progressed felt more like “fighting the Battle of the Alamo,” according to Howe.
Production was paused while the team worked behind the scenes to make episodes entirely remotely, and work out a way to address the crisis in scripts.
“We binned 12 scripts and five weeks’ worth of storylines that were about to be written,” he says. “We then started inventing stories that were set in Ambridge, where the coronavirus had now arrived, that could be told in a way that both reflected the lockdown and could be recorded in the cast’s homes. I told the team – keep it simple.”
Howe praises the joint efforts and creative ingenuity of the production team to bring The Archers back to the airwaves, with fans being treated to classic episodes from the archive during the last three weeks while new instalments were being prepared at an understandably slower pace.
“The way the team, cast and writers have risen to this challenge has been, frankly, humbling,” he says. “I am thrilled by what we have produced so far, and I hope the audience will be too.”
Listeners can expect stories to focus on fewer characters than usual due to the logistics of making episodes in this brand new method, but Howe assures that there are “plans to bring more favourite characters into the spotlight.”
The Archers returns on Monday 25th May with new episodes airing at 7pm every day except Friday, so four instead of the pre-pandemic six, with a repeat airing at 2pm the following day and a shorter Sunday omnibus.
The new issue of Radio Times is on sale from Tuesday 19th May. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.