"Upper Slocombe" - The Archers' connection with Campden

Judith Ellis

We have been given a souvenir booklet about people in ‘The Archers’. You might wonder about its relevance to Campden history, but it all started here!

Charles Gardiner (1902-1966) was Clerk to Evesham Rural District Council for 37 years with a variety of responsibilities, particularly during WWII.  He was also a keen observer of country life and a prolific writer about customs, dialect, work and leisure in the Vale and Cotswolds.

He wrote books and humorously descriptive magazine articles on a range of local topics, and in 1936 submitted a radio play to the BBC. It was called ‘Motor Cars or Hosses’ and was the first of a series of comedy plays on ‘the deplorable episodes in the history of the Parish Council of the Cotswold village of Upper Slocombe’.  But there was a snag. Many of the parts were in Cotswold dialect which was not familiar to BBC actors and so local people were enrolled to play the parts.  They continued to act in the following twelve half-hour episodes and also in other productions.

'Upper Slocombe' radio team, l-r: Bill Payne, George Hart, unknown, Bob Arnold, Lionel Ellis, Garnet Keyte, unknown, Charles Gardiner

‘Upper Slocombe’ radio team, l-r: Bill Payne, George Hart, unknown, Bob Arnold, Lionel Ellis, Garnet Keyte, unknown, Charles Gardiner.

Motor Cars or Hosses ?

“Being a Truthful Account of one of the more Deplorable Episodes in the History of the Parish Council of the Cotswold Village of Upper Slocombe.  Compiled from the Official Records by C. H. GARDINER”

1937 Radio Times advertisement for 'Motor Cars or Hosses?'

1937 Radio Times advertisement for ‘Motor Cars or Hosses?’

Scene: The Village Hall and possibly other and more exciting places
Characters:  The Chairman, The Squire, The Rector, Mrs. Witherspoon, Messrs. John Smith, Maggs, Moore, Juggins, and Robbins, and other inhabitants of the village.
Producer: Owen Reed.
Synopsis:  The Squire, living as he does in a fine manor house with irreplaceable antiques and old masters, looks askance on the Parish Council’s horse-drawn fire equipment. Possibly he had heard of both engine and firemen being ready and the horses out somewhere drawing the local ‘fly’. However that may be, he offers to pay half the cost of a motor fire engine. The opposition shown by a powerful element of the Council who fear the other half of the cost will fall on to the rates, leads to a battle and an ingenious denouement.

Coronation Chimes

“Being a truthful account of the Coronation celebrations in the Cotswold village of Upper Slocombe.  Compiled from the official records by Charles Gardiner.”

Radio Times advertisement for 'Pump and Circumstance', September 1938

Radio Times advertisement for ‘Pump and Circumstance’, September 1938

Liberty Hall

‘Liberty Hall’ was one of the later half-hour plays, from 1948, and two years later the first episode of ‘The Archers’ was broadcast, with a number of the ‘Upper Slocombe’ actors moving into key roles, including  Bob Arnold, Bill Payne and George Hart.

1948 Radio Times extract with cast list of Liberty Hall

‘The Archers’, was said to be inspired by the Upper Slocombe series. Bob Arnold became Tom Forrest, Bill Payne turned into Ned Larkin and George Hart was Jethro Larkin until he was ‘killed off’ in 1987. Bill lived at Ebrington and George ran an agricultural engineering business in Campden.

Radio Times information accessed from the BBC Genome Project   on 31.12.20


Comments about this page

  • Well, actually, as head of Children’s TV, Reed assigned the task of creating Blue Peter to John Hunter Blair, but the idea and concept for the show were Reed’s right down to its name. Your post connects Reed to Motor Cars and Hosses as producer, and, as you point out, Upper Slocombe provided inspiration and several actors for The Archers.

    By Sebastian Ritchie (19/02/2024)
  • So, the man who created the longest running children’s TV show in Blue Peter also produced the show that led to the creation of the longest running radio drama – the Archers: Owen Reed.

    By Sebastian Ritchie (10/02/2024)
  • Hello Sebastian – thank you for your comment. I have checked this and find that, according to the History of the BBC website, Blue Peter was created by John Hunter Blair, not Owen Reed. In fact I can’t find a reference to Owen Reed and Blue Peter. Owen Reed doesn’t seem to have had any direct connection to The Archers either, but I realise that’s not what you’re saying. He did have a long and distinguished career in both television and radio however – thank you for bringing him to our attention.

    By Mary Fielding (19/02/2024)

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