Creator of BBC's everyday story of country folk dies

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The Independent Online
Godfrey Baseley, who created BBC radio's longest-running series, The Archers, died yesterday. He was 92.

Vanessa Whitburn, the series' editor, said he had created a programme that became a national institution with an audience of 4.5 million each week.

"Millions of listeners are hugely indebted to him for the pleasure it has given them over the last 46 years. We have lost a gifted broadcaster who was also a friend."

Mr Baseley devised the series in 1950 when the idea was to create a "sort of country Dick Barton [the detective series] without the violence" telling the daily events of farming folk.

He had already worked as an outside broadcaster producing a weekly farming magazine, and each episode of the new show was to be full of hints and information for farmers faced with modernisation after the Second World War. It kept them in touch with the latest developments, in a classic BBC combination of informing and entertaining.

All the original actors were amateurs and had day jobs. The budget was so small the series could not afford to pay professional actors. Though he later denied it, it was widely believed the fictional Ambridge was based on the Worcestershire village of Hanbury where he grew up.

Speaking last year, Mr Baseley told how he had been surprised at its success. "I was amazed and delighted at how the show was received. Before long, we had replaced Dick Barton as the regular series on radio and the cult of The Archers began to develop."

When Grace Archer, played by Ysanne Churchman, was killed off on the first night of commercial television in 1955, The Archers was front-page news. As the storylines developed, embracing in recent years a racist attack, domestic violence and a woman vicar, it has continued to attract widespread comment.

Mr Baseley maintained an active interest in the series into his nineties, even though encroaching deafness made it difficult for him to hear the women's voices.

When William Smethurst, a producer on the programme from 1978 to 1986, attacked Ms Whitburn for turning it into "feminist tripe" Mr Baseley came to its defence. "I do not think too much reliance should be placed on this man's opinions," he said. "Isn't he best known for killing off Crossroads?"

However, he also expressed concern at the growing amount of sex and violence in the programme and never hesitated to contact Ms Whitburn if he thought an aspect of the production was wrong. He could be grumpy about his creation. "When I started The Archers it changed people's lives - but it's all just idle and meaningless gossip now, with no vision any more," he said.

Mr Baseley was married to Betty, who died eight years ago. The couple had two daughters, Jane and Helen, six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. His health had been failing for some time.

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