“We might write in the character for a few more episodes, would that be alright?” “I said yeah, that’s fine. And that was 41 years ago.”
Brian Hewlett, of Denton, who was born in Henley-on-Thames and received dramatic training at Rose Bruford College, Kent, has been a mainstay in The Archers - the world’s longest running radio soap. Making the odd appearance in the show’s early beginnings, he was cast as Neil Carter in 1973. Set in the fictional rural setting of Ambridge, it is something of an institution on the BBC. First broadcast in 1951, there has been more than 17,000 episodes to date.
“It started off very much as an agricultural programme,” he said. “It put a lot of information across to the agricultural public and then it included a lot of daily, home life, so people were able to listen in and find comparisons perhaps with their own life, or something more interesting that wasn’t quite in their own life.
“It has kept abreast of the times. The daily episode that goes out is meant to reflect that particular day’s happenings. Sometimes when something really important happens, then they rush people into the studio on that day and record a small portion of work, which is then slipped into the already pre-recorded episode and it is absolutely up-to-date.”
Six days are set aside each month for recording a month’s worth of episodes. Every day, four episodes are recorded, with each one given studio time of two-and-a-quarter hours.
Next month, Brian will take to the boards with New Eye Theatre Company, a project spearheaded by John Gleeson.
“I think it is quite a nice, interesting adventure, to try and get some professional work back in Eye. It’s a good thing,” he said.
He adds to the star power the group has enjoyed since its inception earlier this year, with Helen Fraser, of Bad Girls fame, starring for the company in April and May.
“I never think of it that way. I suppose there is a certain kudos of being a member of The Archers team, and that carries a certain weight I suppose. But I personally don’t feel like there is any star element about me. I’m just another working actor and glad to be so,” he explained.
Mr Hewlett, 75, who said he always wanted to be an actor, has performed in countless roles in many mediums - from stage, to television, and perhaps, most famously, radio. But he concedes that performing in front of a live audience is not only the most challenging, but also the most enjoyable.
“To me personally, it’s the most rewarding thing. It’s immediate - you get a reaction from the audience, whether it’s absolute silence, if you want them to be silent, you’ve succeeded in making them silent, or it can be guffaws of laughter which is terribly rewarding.
“I’ve done a lot of radio, but when you are doing radio, not only do you have to please what the director’s idea of it is, but you are also pleasing yourself because you are your own judge when saying the lines. You put yourself in the listener’s place, whereas on stage it’s great - you do the best to your ability to entertain the audience.”
What does the future hold? “Fortunately they haven’t killed my character off! So hopefully they will go on to use me from time to time. Life is an open book for me at the moment.”
n The New Eye Theatre Company returns to The Bank, Eye, from September 3-6. For tickets call 01379 873495