Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Heroine of the Hour 2022 – 103-Year-Old June Spencer CBE

That 103-year-old June Spencer, as Peggy Wooley, has lasted 72 years as a character in BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’ is something to be celebrated suggests Matthew Steeples

Described by Kirsty Young when she appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in February 2010 as “one of the best-loved matriarchs in broadcasting,” 103-year-old June Spencer CBE is to retire from The Archers after 72 years on air.


“She’s seen it all: Alcoholism, gambling and bereavement,” continued Waugh at that time and now, speaking after having broadcast her final performance on Sunday 31st July, the actress herself amusingly remarked:


“In 1950, I helped to plant an acorn. It took root and in January 1951 it was planted out and called The Archers.”


“Over the years it has thrived and become a splendid great tree with many branches. But now this old branch, known as Peggy, has become weak and unsafe so I decided it was high time she ‘boughed’ out, so I have duly lopped her.”


Hailed by the Duchess of Cornwall as “a true national treasure who has been part of my life, and millions of others, for as long as I can remember” and honoured in 1991 with an OBE and then with a CBE in 2017 for “services to drama and charity,” the legend that is June Spencer added:


“I’ve been trying to retire for at least a year. They didn’t want to lose her character. Every time I tried to stop, they gave me more episodes.”


“The idea was that the country characters having to explain things to Peggy educated the listeners.”


Of how she’ll be written out, Spencer admitted to not knowing. She concluded: “The simplest thing is if [Peggy has] a fall or something and goes into The Laurels [the fictional Ambridge care home]. She can languish for years there.”


“It’s a great bonus for me that ‘The Archers’ has run as long as it has, and I’ve gone along with it,” once observed the radio stalwart. On ‘Desert Island Discs,’ the ‘radio matriach’ chose a Scrabble board as her luxury and Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ as her book. Her character was “often viewed as a traditionalist, a conservative character” and also as both “utterly charming, utterly ruthless, sharp as a knife and witty in spades.” Of her, the radio soap’s editor Jeremy Howe remarked: “To think that June has commanded the airwaves over an ‘Archers’ career of over 70 years beggars belief. I have rarely worked with such an inventive, focused and technically brilliant actor, or such a lovely person. Myself and ‘The Archers’ team and cast wish June a well-deserved and long retirement – and I know that if she doesn’t think the show is up to the mark, June will be letting us know. Bravo the legend that is June Spencer.”
Sunny Ormonde Lillian Bellamy
In June 2019, Sunny Ormonde – who plays Peggy Woolley’s gin loving daughter Lillian Bellamy – remarked: “She’s a phenomenon. She has her OBE, but I’m hoping she might be made a dame. If anyone deserves it, it’s June.”
When her granddaughter Helen (played by Louiza Patikas) stabbed her then husband Rob Titchener (played by Timothy Watson) after a row over, of all things, a tuna bake, Peggy Woolley showed her resolute character and supported her during her pregnancy whilst in the clink. Listen to ‘The Tuna Bake Killer Episode’ by clicking here.
One of the choices of Spencer, whose real-life husband like her fictional husband died of Alzheimer’s disease, on ‘Desert Island Discs’ was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ version of ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance.’
In March 2015, the veteran actress spoke with the Guildford Greenbelt Group about real-life changes to her home village of West Horsley, Surrey but, as they were especially keen to point out, she didn’t get political “as a BBC employee she cannot get involved in politics.”
Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Matthew Steeples is a writer and marketing consultant. He conceived The Steeple Times as a media arena to fill the void between the Mail Online, The Huffington Post and such organs as the New York Social Diary in 2012.


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