Gamekeeper George Barford in 'The Archers'
Saturday 30 October 2004
Graham Roberts originally signed on to play George Barford, the grumpy gamekeeper in
The Archers, radio's longest-running drama serial, for just three weeks. He stayed for over 30 years. During that time the part was transformed from that of a bitter, guilt-ridden and suicidal alcoholic into the bluff Chairman of the Parish Council, loved and respected throughout the fictional village of Ambridge.
Graham Roberts, actor: born Chester 10 October 1929; married 1974 Yvonne Robert; died York 28 October 2004.
Graham Roberts originally signed on to play George Barford, the grumpy gamekeeper in The Archers, radio's longest-running drama serial, for just three weeks. He stayed for over 30 years. During that time the part was transformed from that of a bitter, guilt-ridden and suicidal alcoholic into the bluff Chairman of the Parish Council, loved and respected throughout the fictional village of Ambridge.
Loved and respected, that is, by all but a deranged Clive Horrobin who, mere months ago - in revenge at George's anti-poaching activities, and after a prolonged reign of terror in the village that involved horse-mutilation and threats to George's wife Christine (née Archer) - blew the Barford's home into a blazing inferno, out of which George himself was only just hauled alive.
The Archers editor, Vanessa Whitburn, and her scriptwriters take the long view when it comes to meaty plotlines. Although it's doubtful that someone in 1997 (when George originally got thumped by an unknown poacher - i.e. the villainous Clive) thought that in 2004 some kind of violent resolution might be achieved, it's entirely likely that two or three years ago plot-weavers were pondering George Barford's fate and starting to pull disparate plot-strands together.
It's one of the pleasures of a properly orchestrated drama serial that its creators do try to offer storylines that make sense within a fictional world, and are reasonably truthful to the characters involved. With Graham Roberts's George, they had a wonderfully solid, three-dimensional character to play with, and one who, whenever he was reintroduced, loomed large in the serial.
Graham Roberts was born in Chester in 1929, and was educated at the King's School in the city. He always wanted to be an actor, but decided on a university education first, studying at Bristol, then Manchester. After National Service (during which he and a friend put on a series of one-act plays), he gained a place at the Bristol Old Vic drama school.
Roberts worked for many years with the Arena Theatre, a well-known touring rep company which appeared at venues all over Britain. During the early 1960s he appeared in a number of now-classic films, including Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1961) and David Storey's This Sporting Life (1963), as well as various television series such as Z-Cars.
During the 1960s and 1970s he did much radio work for the BBC, classical roles and experimental work for Radio 3, as well as more mainstream entertainment drama for Radio 4. He was a floating member of the loose radio repertory company gathered by the producer Alfred Bradley, one of radio's finest talents whose drama fiefdom was centred around the old BBC studios in Manchester.
And it was Bradley who, in 1973, tipped him off about The Archers needing a "northern gamekeeper" for a couple of weeks. Roberts tried for the part, exaggerating an already rich northern accent into full-blown "Yorkshire", and landed it, little realising that his career-path would be steady for the next 30-odd years.
As well as acting in The Archers Roberts recorded an enormous amount of audio books for cassette, and was for some 20 years a continuity announcer for Yorkshire Television in Leeds. During the 1970s he had worked for Grampian TV in Aberdeen, where, while living on Scotland's east coast, he enjoyed sailing and fishing. He also became an enthusiastic Tree Warden, working on a number of Scotland's remoter islands.
Latterly, he and his wife, the soprano Yvonne Robert, toured for several years in this country as well as the US and Canada, performing a programme of poetry and music. In The Archers, usefully, George Barford could also play the cornet.
When Graham first joined the cast of The Archers, writes Lesley Saweard, our paths did not often cross, as the character I play, Christine, was at that time married to Paul Johnson and his, George, was an ex-policeman, alcoholic game-keeper shacked up with Nora Salt, a barmaid.
In the series Paul Johnson was killed in a car crash and the widowed Christine was grateful to George, who had jettisoned the barmaid and given up alcohol. George helped Christine by changing tap washers, etc. Until one night, when she was dealing with sick horses, he came to her rescue and they fell in love.
Graham and I had an acting rapport which is quite rare. We instinctively knew how the other would react. He was a talented actor who was a pleasure to work with, as he gave so much. He was, too, a charming and amusing person, with many wonderful yarns to tell. I find it very hard to think of The Archers without him. He was also a caring human being, reliable and sympathetic. There is nothing he wouldn't do for you.
His wife, Yvonne, and I used to joke about our "shared husband".
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