The Archers’ actor June Spencer, 103, retires after more than 70 years

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

She has played the role of the redoubtable matriarch Peggy Woolley in The Archers for more than 70 years.

But at the age of 103, June Spencer is finally retiring from the BBC Radio 4 soap.

Spencer featured in the very first episode of the show in 1951. Her final performance was broadcast on Sunday 31 July.

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

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“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.”

In Monday’s episode, Peggy’s son, Tony, and Tony’s wife, Pat, will reflect on Peggy’s recent reminiscences and thoughts about family life, with both agreeing she is an extraordinary woman.

When The Archers started, Peggy, now a great-grandmother, was a young woman with two little girls. She has featured in many important storylines including her husband, Jack Woolley, succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

It was particularly personal for Spencer as her own husband, Roger, also had the condition until his death. The storyline began a year after he died.

Jeremy Howe, the editor of The Archers, said: “I think working with June Spencer has been one of the greatest privileges of my many decades in drama.

“Her Peggy is one of the great creations of broadcasting – utterly charming, utterly ruthless, sharp as a knife and witty in spades. 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.”

The Duchess of Cornwall, a longstanding listener to the radio soap, made a cameo appearance as herself in the 60th-anniversary episode of the show. She hailed Peggy as “a true national treasure”.

In 1991, Spencer was made an OBE and in June 2010 she received the freedom of the City of London.

She was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 2014 BBC audio drama awards and made a CBE in the 2017 birthday honours for services to drama and charity.