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Archers star Patricia Greene: Tutor said I'd never be a broadcaster

Published 27/12/2015

Patricia Greene has played Jill Archer for 60 years
Patricia Greene has played Jill Archer for 60 years

She has played Ambridge stalwart Jill Archer for 60 years, but Patricia Greene revealed an acting tutor told her she would never make it on radio.

Luckily a risky move in her first audition secured her the role of "sexy blonde in a tea tent" Jill, she told Kirsty Young, as she opened up on Desert Island Discs about her early years on the world's longest-running radio soap opera.

The 84-year-old recalled a tutor at Central School of Speech and Drama during a microphone technique class who told her to give up on any broadcasting dreams.

"I opened my mouth and he said, 'You'll never be a broadcaster, you sound like a fairy in hockey boots', and I thought, 'Goodbye broadcast, I want to be a classical actress'."

But a phone call from The Archers in 1957 changed her career path.

"I was totally useless at first. There were six proper radio actresses before me and I was the last to audition and I'd been told by director Tony Shryane this was a "sexy blonde in a tea tent" and in the script it said I was the household drudge, a machine who will do absolutely anything, and of course that's how the others read it. And I did it (Carry On actress) Fenella Fielding and I got the job."

Her inexperience showed through on the second day on set when she took one of the stage directions too far and threw a glass of water over Norman Painting, who played Phil Archer, and nearly electrocuted him, but she impressed Archers creator Godfrey Baseley.

"After the six weeks - initial, horrible, I couldn't do anything - he came in and said, 'Cut the sex, you're going to marry him'."

Now Jill has moved back to Brookfield Farm with her son David and daughter-in-law Ruth, whose marriage is going through another sticky patch.

"I think they'll come through it, I don't know, but there will be trouble ahead, I feel," she teased of the fan favourites.

With three-quarters of her life playing alter-ego Jill, she said she still "desperately cares" about the programme, although admitted considering quitting Ambridge when her son Charles was a toddler.

"Oh my gosh, was I tempted! But I couldn't go because I had a little boy and I had loyalty to the programme."

She chose Unforgettable by Nat King Cole as she spoke of her first love and then of her second husband who died in 1986 and left her raising their 14-year-old son Charles alone.

Born in Derby in 1931, her own parents' marriage was less than idyllic with her mother's "almost French idea of, 'You got a man and then you took a lover'."

"She used to say, 'Don't tell your father'. It's not the best way to bring up a child," she said.

Greene turned towards her weekly cinema trips and fairytale love stories as solace. "I lived in this fantasy world believing about 'lurve'."

But she described an appearance in amateur dramatics with her father as the moment she knew she wanted to be an actress, introducing her second disc, the Shepherd's song from Beethoven's sixth symphony.

"I noticed in the wings my father with a little tear on his face. I'd never seen him cry and I thought, 'This is what I want to be part of'," she said.

Declaring herself a feminist, Greene praised the "wonderful" strong female characters in The Archers, calling it "extraordinary" that soap operas are the only shows with more female than male parts.

The Archers will celebrate its 65th anniversary on January 1 2016.

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