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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 09:41 GMT
Prince praises Archer farm crisis
Charles with Norman Painting and Patricia Greene
Big fan: Charles chatted with the Archers cast
Prince Charles has used an anniversary party held for radio soap The Archers to voice his concerns for farmers affected by the foot-and-mouth disease.

The Prince of Wales hosted a party on Wednesday in honour of the rural soap to mark its 50th birthday at St James's Palace.

He praised the daily Radio 4 drama, set in the fictional village of Ambridge, for its handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis and said its broadcasts would help the public understand the outbreak.

I have shared with Pat and Tony the joys and frustrations of being a pioneering organic farmer

Prince Charles

The prince, who was at the party with companion Camilla Parker Bowles, commented on the quick reaction of producers to cover the topic reflected the problems facing farming communities.

Prince Charles said: "It would have helped explain to the non-farming community how desperate and frightening the outbreak is to farmers and the rural community.

"I would like to say how deeply I feel for all farmers at the moment and all those whose livelihoods depend on them, particularly hauliers."

The radio cast and production team were joined by celebrity fans including actors Martin Clunes, Stephen Fry, former prime minister John Major, Education Secretary David Blunkett and TV presenter Cilla Black.
Camilla Parker Bowles and Ted Kelsey (Reg Grundy)
Camilla Parker Bowles meets Ted Kelsey (Reg Grundy)

The prince, who runs an organic farm on his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire, said he empathised with many of the characters from the radio show.

Jokes with the cast

Referring to Pat and Tony Archer and their farm in fictional Ambridge, he said: "I have shared with Pat and Tony the joys and frustrations of being a pioneering organic farmer.

"And I know what it is like trying to establish your own brand of organic products."

The prince joked about putting tearaway Edward Grundy on to one of his Prince's Trust volunteer schemes and said that he had followed the court case involving Tommy Archer's exploits in a GM rape field.

He also laughed as members of the cast performed a comedy sketch with various impersonations, including one of himself.

Programme editor Vanessa Whitburn confessed she had made an informal request for the prince to take a cameo role in an episode, but had been told it was not appropriate.

In June 1984, his aunt, Princess Margaret, became the first royal to act in a television or radio programme by starring in an episode of the series.
Norman Painting and Patricia Green
Norman Painting who plays Phil Archer is the cast's longest-serving member

Celebrity guest list

Guests at St James's Palace included the cast's longest-serving member, Norman Painting, who plays Phil Archer, Trevor Harrison, who plays Eddie Grundy, Felicity Finch (Ruth Archer) and Edward Kelsay (Jo Archer).

Other celebrity invitees included EastEnders actress Wendy Richard, who chose the Archers' theme tune as one of her Desert Island Discs, and comedian Jenny Eclair.

Britt Ekland, who once played herself in the soap, was unable to attend.

The Archers is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 1900GMT and repeated at 1400 GMT the following day.

See also:

01 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Charles to host Archers party
23 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Archers takes on foot-and-mouth
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Foot-and-mouth hits the soaps
02 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Archers celebrate 50th birthday
08 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Prince Charles helps Street party
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