Victoria Summerley: A mellifluent tone to calm the country

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The Independent Online

It is perhaps appropriate that the man who transformed his character in The Archers from lusty young farmer to village patriarch, amateur astronomer, keen cook and pantomime musical director, should himself be something of a Renaissance man.

Norman Painting not only played the part of Phil Archer but also wrote more than 1,000 scripts for the Radio 4 soap. In real life, he was an expert on Anglo-Saxon and directed opera.

But it is his voice that Archers fans will miss most – a mellifluent delivery that sounded as if it had been lubricated by fresh milk, pints from village pub The Bull and wife Jill's honey.

The very sound of Phil's voice could probably calm anything from a family feud to a stampeding herd of Herefords, not to mention the strident tones of village busybody Lynda Snell.

It is a voice that dates from an era before The Archers became Brummified and estuarised: who now remembers the country burr of Walter Gabriel or the Cotswold twang of Tom Forrest? Who now would create such characters?

It will, of course, be interesting to see how the scriptwriters cope with the loss of Phil. With the notable exception of Lucy Davis, who played nanny Hayley and left the series after being propelled to stardom by The Office, the Archers production team tends to do its actors the honour of writing them out, rather than finding a substitute.

Just as well. It would take a very long time to find another Phil.

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