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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 14:54 GMT
Archers episodes on the web
The cast celebrated their 50th anniversary last year
The cast celebrated their 50th anniversary last year
Fans of BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers will now be able to catch up on their favourite characters on the internet.

The week's episodes can be downloaded from the BBCi website, the first time it has been allowed.

More than five million people tune into the action at Ambridge every week.

Last year the show celebrated its 50th anniversary, with a party hosted by Prince Charles.

The show has tackled many hard-hitting storylines affecting rural economies, including the recent foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Princess Margaret appeared on the soap in 1984
Princess Margaret appeared on the soap in 1984
Last month The Archers paid tribute to Princess Margaret, who died at the age of 71.

She became the first royal to ever appear in a soap in 1984.

Margaret joined the countryside soap for one episode to highlight children's charity the NSPCC, of which she was president.

The soap was first broadcast on January 1, 1951 and is the longest running on either TV or radio.

Drama

It was originally the brainchild of civil servants at the Ministry of Agriculture who hoped the programme would encourage people back to farming after the war.

It was promoted as "an everyday story of country folk" but tips and advice about changes in agriculture were woven into storylines.

But its dramatic content soon captured the public's imagination and when Grace Archer died in 1955, an audience of 20 million hung on to every word.

The show has had its ups and downs since then. At one point it was almost taken off the air in favour of a series called Waggoner's Walk.

It has gone on to become an institution, loved by millions of listeners throughout the country who follow the trials and tribulations of the Archer family in the village of Ambridge.

See also:

10 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
The Archers' tribute to princess
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Prince praises Archer farm crisis
23 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Archers takes on foot-and-mouth
27 Jan 00 | Entertainment
The Archers get steamy
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