The Archers is a long-running British radio soap opera broadcast on the BBC's main spoken-word channel, Radio 4. It was originally billed as "an everyday story of country folk", but is now described on its Radio 4 web site as "contemporary drama in a rural setting". With over 17,000 episodes, it is both the world's longest-running radio soap opera and, since the cancellation of the American soap opera Guiding Light in September 2009, the world's longest-running soap opera in any format.
The Archers is the most listened to Radio 4 non-news programme, with over five million listeners, and it holds the BBC Radio programme record for the number of times listened to over the Internet, with over one million listeners.
The Archers is set in the fictional village of Ambridge in the fictional county of Borsetshire, in the English Midlands. Borsetshire is situated between the (in reality contiguous) counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, south of Birmingham in the West Midlands, although it has been occasionally misinterpreted as Dorsetshire in South West England. Various villages claim to be the inspiration for Ambridge: Ambridge's public house, The Bull, is modelled on The Old Bull in Inkberrow, whereas Hanbury's St Mary the Virgin is often used as a stand-in for Ambridge's parish church, St Stephen's.
Other fictional villages include Penny Hassett, Loxley Barrett, Darrington, Hollerton, Edgeley, Waterley Cross and Lakey Green. The county town of Borsetshire is Borchester, and the nearest big city is the cathedral city of Felpersham. Felpersham also has a university. Anywhere further from Ambridge may be referred to humorously with comments such as 'that's on the other side of Felpersham!', but characters do occasionally venture further: several attended theCountryside Alliance march in London, there have been references to the gay scene in Manchester's Canal Street, and a number of scenes have taken place abroad or in other places around the country, with some characters resident overseas in South Africa and Hungary, and other characters have visited Norfolk. Birmingham is a favourite destination for shopping.
Since Easter Sunday 1998 there have been six episodes a week from Sunday to Friday, at around 19:02 (preceded by a news bulletin). All except the Friday evening episode are repeated the following day at 14:02, and all of the week's episodes are re-run as a Sunday morning omnibus at 10:00.
Main sites in the village are:
- Arkwright Hall is a large Victorian mansion with a 17th Century atmosphere. The building served as a community centre for many years, containing a soundproofed room and field studies centre. Later it fell into disrepair, but was renovated when Jack Woolley leased the mansion to Landmark Trust; Architect Lewis led the restoration of the building to its Victorian splendour.
- Bridge Farm is a 168-acre (68 ha) farm previously on Berrow Estate, but now owned by Pat and Tony Archer. The farm became a wholly organic dairy in 1984, in a storyline inspired by a scriptwriter's visit to Brynllys farm inCeredigion, the home of Rachel's Organic. In 2003, Tom Archer began producing his own brand of sausage out of Bridge Farm. In early 2013, the family decided to sell their dairy herd.
- Brookfield Farm is a 469-acre (190 ha) farm that was run by Dan Archer, and then by his son Phil Archer for many years. After Phil's retirement in 2001, David Archer took over the farm, and began focusing production on hislivestock. High-quality beef is now sold at the farm gate and elsewhere.
- Grange Farm was a working farm run by the Grundys until their eviction in 2000. The farmhouse, along with 50 acres (20 ha) of land, was sold to Oliver Sterling, who then began "hobby farming".
- Grey Gables, once a country club, is now a luxurious hotel in Ambridge, run by Caroline Sterling, née Bone. The hotel boasts a pool, spa, health club, and golf course. Ian Craig serves as the executive chef in the hotel's upscale restaurant.
- Home Farm is a 1,585-acre (641 ha) farm, by far the largest in Ambridge. In recent years, Home Farm became partners with Brookfield in producing high-quality lamb and expanded into soft fruit and deer farming.
- Lower Loxley Hall is a 300-year-old building located just outside Ambridge. It serves primarily as a conference centre, but also features other attractions which bring in many hundreds of tourists a year. As well as an art gallery, falconry courses and a café, Lower Loxley also boasts a garden and a museum.
- St. Stephen's Church, established in 1281, dates back to Saxon times. The church has undergone many changes over the years, including a number of different vicars. Its eight bells are rung by a group led by Neil Carter.
- The Bull, the village's only pub following the closure of *The Cat and Fiddle* which was later converted into apartments, is perhaps the most recognisable structure in Ambridge. It now opens at 10 A. M. and boasts a coffee cart and two computers. Having leapt into the 21st Century, The "Bull Upstairs" has become a hotspot for many Ambridge locals.
- Ambridge still has a village shop and post office, originally thanks to Jack Woolley's philanthropy. The business is now a community shop managed by Susan and run by a team of volunteers.
- Willow Farm is the spacious residence of the Tucker family. After Betty's death in 2005 the house was split into two to accommodate their son Roy. Its farmland is also home to Neil Carter's pigs.