Angela Piper (Jennifer Aldridge)
This month, Angela Piper passed a remarkable milestone – 50 years as Jennifer. She looks back at some of the highlights of a distinguished career.
What was it like joining The Archers in 1963?
It was then on an amazing level, The Archers. The characters were an intrinsic part of everyone’s home. And there they were, which was really exciting. You felt incredibly privileged, incredibly proud to be chosen, to be part of that very special family.
Within a few years, Jennifer had Adam out of wedlock
I wondered why the notes I was getting were: make her a bit couldn’t-care-less, make her a bit of a tearaway, and they didn’t say why at all. And then suddenly this amazing story. One of my press cuttings says ‘Jennifer expects – by kind permission of the Director General’. And ‘Doris Archer is a prude’ was written onto Waterloo Bridge. [And also in Hornsey - here's the photographic evidence]
So the production team had selected Jennifer to be the representative of a rebellious generation?
I think they had. She belonged to a reasonably respectable family – well, her father was an alcoholic and she was brought up at the pub. But they were quite a respectable farming family. And at the time nobody knew who the father was – including me.
What effect did playing this very high profile story have on you?
Nothing really, except that at exactly the same time I had my own child Ben who [like Adam] had red hair. Which was quite extraordinary, because my other children since haven’t got red hair! What was incredibly useful was that listeners sent baby clothes and carry cots and god knows what as gifts to Jennifer.
And one amazing thing. I got a letter written on lined notepaper from an elderly brother and sister living together in Plaistow [in London’s East End]. They said they were very upset that I [Jennifer] might be thrown out of my home, Peggy being as she is, so they said they would take me in. And I thought ‘how sweet’ and ignored it. But then I got another letter saying the brother had redecorated their front bedroom ready for me to come with the baby. And I thought ‘ha ha’ and ignored that one. And then I got a third letter, some time later, saying ‘my brother has been sitting at Paddington station waiting for the trains coming in from Hollerton Junction’!
Nowadays people like to pretend that the characters are real. It’s a game.
But in those days, they really did believe that. At that point I handed all the letters on to the editor, Godfrey Baseley, and said he’d better get somebody to deal with this, because it was obviously quite serious and worrying.
As a young actor, what was it like to play this story?
It was great, very exciting when you heard it mentioned on That Was The Week That Was – David Frost saying ‘put us out of our misery, who is the father of Jennifer’s baby?’ But in radio, you play the scenes and then go home and forget about it for three weeks. It isn’t like playing it in the theatre night after night, dressing as the character. On the microphone you are that person. But as soon as you’re out of the studio you’re not that person.
Jennifer and Brian
Brian came along in the mid-70s. How did Jennifer change then?
She suddenly latched on to someone who had a fair amount of money. I don’t think it was knowingly done but she assumed the position of a wealthy farmer’s wife and she’s grown into that. Although if you peel away the layers she’s incredibly caring, and rather misunderstood a lot of the time – like when she gave her cast-off cashmere jumper to Pat.
She’s obviously got a really strong sense of duty.
She has. To her children, incredibly so. And one can be slightly cynical about her, to the extent that you think she’ll hang on in there with Brian because he’s got a lot of money. But she loves him, and she tolerates his wayward ways, as has been proved.
If they’d got divorced after the Siobhan affair, she would be a very well-off woman. So she didn’t just choose Brian’s millions, she chose Brian. Why do you think that is?
He’s got a lot of charm. And he’s got status within the village. And, warts and all, she loves him. He’s the father of some of her children [laughs] , and they’ve gone through a lot together. I think that if at any point she was going to leave him, it would have been over Siobhan. There had been the Caroline Bone thing, and the Mandy Beesborough thing. Up to a point I think she’s felt quite flattered that her husband can still pull these younger, good looking, stylish women. And of course, she’s had her moments in the past.
Some listeners still debate whether she had a physical relationship with John Tregorran.
I think it was an affair of the mind. I was always told that Jennifer was the most intelligent of Dan and Doris’s grandchildren. She was the brightest and most forward-thinking. And she was a writer. So she always fancied herself as a bit of a cut above the others. Although I was a bit let down when I discovered that Adam’s father was Phil’s cowman [Paddy Redmond]. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected!
But with John, one can feel very close to someone when you you admire them for their intellect. And it’s almost like a physical relationship, that closeness of minds.
That’s not something she gets from Brian. She doesn’t discuss books with him.
Not at all. I shouldn’t think he reads anything – maybe the odd Dick Francis – but he’s not got that sort of mind at all. So someone like John – well read, well educated, with an interest in literature and poetry, it is quite enchanting.
The Aldridges with Roger
And when her first husband Roger reappeared, there was a mental relationship with him, but also an intensely physical one.
It had the frisson of something that shouldn’t be allowed. I remember one of the scenes that Jennifer had with him, it was very intense – obviously during the day – and then she said ‘open the curtains, Roger’. And just that one line, everybody thought oh my god! They’ve been there in this hotel bedroom, in the day. It said it all about that excitement and that intensity of emotion.
There was huge intensity in her reaction to the news about Siobhan. What was that like to play?
It was brilliant, because they were well-written, wonderful scenes, with that dichotomy of hatred and love. When it’s well written and it’s a really good, gritty real story, it’s so much easier to play than, you know, ‘pint of bitter and a packet of crisps’. And the moment when things changed for her was when she saw the child, this vulnerable child.
And that changed everything.
Yes. I see it now in my mind’s eye. Seeing him when Jennifer went out to Ireland. That was the point where she decided she had to take Ruairi on. Even though he was her husband’s lovechild.
When you first came to The Archers, you looked around and saw these very familiar, very established voices. You’re now at the same stage in your career that they were. How does that feel? You’ve not become Doris Archer...
Doris then was a good 20 or 30 years younger than I am now, which is a bit frightening!
Do you look back and think ‘how on earth did that happen?’
You didn’t know you were going to be in the job more than a month. Nobody knew the programme was going to last. What I do find extraordinary is that I look at my children doing proper jobs like being CEOs and doctors and architects, and here I am 50 years on, still packing my little suitcase and driving to Birmingham on a Sunday evening.
You’re still a travelling player.
I think oh dear, shouldn’t I have got a proper job!
I think from the enjoyment you’ve given to millions over the years, the answer is no!
Keri Davies is an Archers script writer and web producer.
· Learn more about Jennifer and Angela in our Who’s Who