Obituary: Godfrey Baseley

When we left for Australia on Boxing Day a neighbour asked us to take a packet to her daughter, who has been living in Sydney for several years. I assumed it contained Christmas gifts for the Australian grandchildren. But no, it was tapes of recent editions of The Archers, which her daughter was missing desperately. It was symptomatic of the compulsive attraction The Archers commands, 46 years after Godfrey Baseley first started it.

In 1948 Baseley, then the producer of agricultural programmes for the BBC Midland Region, attended a meeting in Birmingham Council Chamber at which a farmer suggested that there should be a regular serial programme, similar to the thriller Dick Barton, Special Agent, but without the violence, covering the many problems of country folk in general. Baseley took up the idea, and recruited Geoffrey Webb and Edward Mason, the Dick Barton writers, to script some trial episodes of what was to become the most popular and longest-running British radio series. It was first heard in the Midland Region only at Whitsun in 1950, and nationally on the Light Programme from 1 January 1951.

Within two years the daily audience following the lives of Dan and Doris Archer and their neighbours at Ambridge had risen to nine and a half million. The programme deliberately included items of practical farming advice (about 15 per cent), supplied to Baseley by the Ministry of Agriculture, but the policy was "to give the general listener, i.e. the townsman, a good balance between the purely factual and the more entertaining aspects of country life".

In October 1953 Baseley was appointed to be the BBC's television rural programme organiser. When I became Head of Television Talks two months later I found that one of my duties was to write the annual staff report on Baseley's work. This was difficult, for he still devoted the vast majority of his time to supervising the detailed development of The Archers and practically nothing to the television service.

Baseley was a hard task- master. In 1955 he decided to get rid of the actress Ysanne Churchman (Mrs Tony Pilgrim) who played the role of the volatile Grace Archer and decided that she should die trying to save a horse from a blazing stable. This episode of The Archers was broadcast on the day that ITV started. Telephone lines to the BBC were blocked for hours. Among the callers was a man, who sounded quite young, who seemed beside himself with grief. He rang up again after midnight moaning into the telephone that his life had been ruined. But this time he was maudlin with drink, and finally burst into tears.

Baseley always denied that it was a deliberate publicity stroke, pointing out that the decision to kill Grace had been taken more than three months ahead. The placing of the episode was in fact a joint decision of The Archers' producer Tony Shryane and the Controller of the Light Programme. The BBC's publicity officer, John Crawley, made sure that the media correspondents had a special opportunity of hearing that edition. In the next morning's newspapers Grace Archer's heroic death completely upstaged the opening of ITV. Challenged in the brand-new television programme Highlight, the scriptwriters replied: "You feel badly about the death of Grace Archer. What do you think we feel? But why blame us? Do people blame Shakespeare for the death of Desdemona?"

Baseley was a thickset man with a booming voice. He had been educated at two Quaker boarding schools, Sibford and Bootham, and had originally trained for the stage. He made his first broadcast in 1929 and became a producer in Birmingham in 1943. The irascible Gilbert Harding was involved in some of Baseley's early farming programmes. When Baseley's wife Bessie asked him to tea and poured the milk in first, Harding went into a fearful tantrum. Mrs Baseley gave as good as she got and the occasion perished miserably. The next morning Harding was full of remorse and telephoned to apologise.

Baseley was dismissed as script editor of The Archers in 1972 and replaced by Malcolm Lynch, a former scriptwriter of Coronation Street. He disliked the arrival of Vanessa Whitburn from Brookside, and was dismayed by the "outing" of the fictional landlord of the Cat and Fiddle. "I cannot understand for a moment why they should want a homosexual character," he said last year. "The Archers has completely lost its way. Luckily I'm nearly completely deaf and can't listen to it any more."

Leonard Miall

Cyril Godfrey Baseley, radio producer, journalist and actor: born Alvechurch, Worcestershire 2 October 1904; General Programme Assistant, rural affairs, BBC 1947-53, Organiser (rural programmes), TV Talks 1953-57; married Bessie Hatwright (died 1989; two daughters); died Bromsgrove, Worcestershire 2 February 1997.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?