Your News: Rippingale’s ripping yarn – the inspiration for Ambridge

Jim Latham with a milemarker in Rippingale
Jim Latham with a milemarker in Rippingale
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After a huge row in the national press over the birthplace of The Archers – the world’s longest running soap opera – the village of Rippingale is holding an Archers Day, to prove that the programme originated in Lincolnshire.

The recent row centred on whether Rippingale, or Inkberrow in Worcestershire, was the model for the fictional village of Ambridge.

With my colleague John Warman I have gathered historical documentary proof, not just that Rippingale is Ambridge, but that central characters in the radio drama were based on real-life locals.

Claims from Worcestershire that Inkberrow was the inspiration for Ambridge, are completely wrong.

The BBC chose Inkberrow as Ambridge years after The Archers started and became so popular, national newspapers were desperate for photos of the cast in farming settings.

Inkberrow was near the recording studios in Birmingham and also the home of its Editor, Godfrey Baseley, and so it became Ambridge – but it was NOT its inspiration.

Years earlier, in 1946, Baseley – then a mere radio producer – came to Rippingale to make a half-hour programme called “Farm Visit.”

No recording of that programme survives, but a copy of its transcript came into Jim Latham’s possession - the last two pages carry interviews between Baseley, local farmer Henry Burtt and his son Stephen.

They show, without any doubt, that farming drama was in Burtt’s mind, that the eventual main characters of Dan Archer and his son Phil were based on Burtt and his son and what they talked about became plotlines for early editions of The Archers.

Two years later, the BBC organised a conference in Birmingham Town Hall, to find out why more farmers weren’t listening to radio.

It went on all day with no progress, until a man stood up at the back of the hall and said “What we want is a farming Dick Barton,” and sat down again, to loud laughter.

That man was Henry Burtt.

Dick Barton – a cliff-hanger, adventure serial, was the most popular radio programme of its day, with more than 27 million listeners.

Intrigued, Baseley returned to Rippingale, to find out what Burtt had meant and says, in his autobiography, they toured the village, talked about the hundreds of people who depended on his crops and the drama, if bad weather or disease caused failure.

That was the moment that the idea for The Archers finally clicked in Baseley’s mind.

Archers Day will be at The Bull pub in Rippingale on November 23. There’ll be an Archers lunch – all the dishes on the menu have strong Archers links and stories – an illustrated presentation by Jim Latham and an exhibition.

The full menu is available to view on the Rippingale Village website and you can book by ringing Sue Atkinson at The Bull (01778-440054).

The presentation will include video clips with Norman Painting, who played Phil Archer for nearly 60 years, telling fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, including the real tale of the “death” of Grace Archer in 1956.