The BBC admitted last night that it had been a "tough decision" to kill off long-running Archers character Nigel Pargetter from the 60-year-old radio soap. His death also marks the end of three decades in the part for actor Graham Seed, who was first spotted by then-Archers editor William Smethurst in 1980 while performing in a Birmingham Rep production.
Vanessa Whitburn, the programme's editor, had appeared to give the latest plot twist away yesterday morning by suggesting Nigel had died after falling from a roof in the series' 60th anniversary episode on Sunday. Whitburn, who has edited the series since 1992, told listeners of Radio 4's Today that fans would have to wait to learn Nigel's fate, saying only that it would have repercussions that would affect the fictional village of Ambridge for a decade. However, asked about Sunday's broadcast, she said: "Obviously, there's a birth and a death and that's quite iconic, I think."
Told by presenter Evan Davis that she had given the plot away, Ms Whitburn backtracked, saying: "There is a birth and a potential death – that's what I said."
The anniversary double episode, which had been billed as having a storyline which would "shake Ambridge to the core", also saw Helen Archer give birth to a baby boy, called Henry, by emergency caesarean after being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.
Nigel fell after losing his footing while attempting to remove a New Year banner from the roof of his home, Lower Loxley. He had been encouraged to climb up there by brother-in-law David Archer. The episode ended with a blood-curdling scream as he fell, followed by the strains of the familiar signature tune. His death leaves questions about how his wife Elizabeth will manage while caring for their twins, Freddy and Lily. The BBC said the manner of his death would also leave his brother-in-law David Archer "traumatised".
Sunday's episode met with a mixed reaction from listeners, who posted comments on the Archers website, complaining that the show was not the cliff-hanger it was promised to be.
One listener wrote: "That was pants." Another said: "I thought it was supposed to 'shake Ambridge to the very core'? I have to say I am truly disappointed. Once Nigel started prancing around on the roof like a goon I stopped listening. I've been waiting for that episode for ages and I am desperately gutted!" But Ms Whitburn said it would have been "ridiculous" to have a mass killing of characters or a bomb in The Bull pub. "I said and I stick by the fact that it will shake Ambridge to the core," she told Today.