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Patricia Greene: world’s longest-serving soap star

Submitted by on December 15, 2017 – 3:41 pmNo Comment

Patricia Greene 1There’s no trace of a Derbyshire accent and Patricia Greene is without doubt a received pronunciation speaker. An essential quality for someone who wanted to become a classical actress – but Patricia, or Paddy as she’s also known, has a different claim to fame, as the world’s longest-serving performer in a soap opera.

She joined the BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers 60 years ago. Now more than four million listeners tune in each week to find out whether interfering Jill Archer has managed to upset members of her family again.

Patricia Greene isn’t just a one-role actress. She has taken parts in television dramas including Casualty and Doctors and has also been on stage, touring in plays by Shakespeare and other esteemed playwrights. But at the age of 86 she counts herself fortunate still to be working.

In a fascinating chat she spoke about the debt of gratitude she owes to two girls she met while she was a conductor on a trolley bus in Derby, how a tutor told her she would never be on the radio because she sounded like “a fairy in hockey boots” and her love for the much-maligned ITV soap Crossroads.

She describes as “unbelievable” the fact that she has been in a soap longer than anyone else: “You don’t think about it really – you just do your job.”

She must be good at it because she is still performing the role she first took on when she was 26. Now that she doesn’t drive, she is picked up from her home in the Thames Valley and taken to the BBC studios at The Mailbox in Birmingham to record The Archers.

“I’m very fortunate: I get fetched and taken home. It’s really wonderful. We record a whole month’s episodes in a few days. We’ll do something like Sunday until Thursday one week and then two days the next week and then we’re finished. That’s good for people who are young who want to do other work and who need to do other work because you can’t live on the salary you get from The Archers.

“It’s under 15 minutes so it isn’t asking anybody to invest an awful lot of their life into it”

“When I joined I was 26, hell bent on being a classical actress. That didn’t happen because life overtakes you – you get used to the money, things happen in your private life and you think ‘I’ll just do it for a bit longer’.

Paddy has a theory why The Archers has lasted for so long: “It’s under 15 minutes so it isn’t asking anybody to invest an awful lot of their life into it. Some people have grown up with the programme and, what’s more, their mothers and grandmothers grew up with it. So I think it’s partly habit.

“It’s also partly because we’re all curious about people and you want to know what’s going to happen to these characters.”

She pays tribute to the scriptwriters who occasionally come with storylines that surprise even the actors. But she’s also been able to stamp her personality on Jill Archer.

Patricia Greene sitting“Jill had absolutely no sense of humour. But I have and as time has gone by I’ve imbued her with a chuckle. Every now and then you’re allowed to laugh a bit even though it isn’t in the script.”

Paddy readily admits that Jill has many faults: “She’s quite dense. Things happen to her family and she has no idea they’re happening. She’s by no means a paragon of virtue – she’s just a human being.”

One person who thought Paddy would never broadcast was her tutor at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.

“He said, ‘you’ll never do it so forget it.’ I wanted to be a classical actress, so it didn’t bother me at all. A fairy in hockey boots – that was the phrase he used.”

She auditioned for The Archers when she was out of work. Most actors did radio auditions in the hope of being spotted. There was little television in those days.

“I hated doing radio auditions and I was awfully bad at it. But I did a little piece at the end which was what I’d heard when I was a trolley bus conductor in one of my out-of-work periods in Derby.

“I heard these girls chatting. They were made me laugh. They’d been in the closed market in Derby. It was what they were going to give their dad for tea. One of them was going to do mushrooms on toast and the other one was just going to buy some plums – I don’t know what she was going to do with them. But they mixed the bags up. One of them got home without her mushrooms, so she had to give him fried bloomin’ plums for his tea.

“Sexy blonde in a tea tent”

“My Archers audition was ridiculous. They just said do a few pieces. You go in this little cubicle, you’re away from everybody, just with your script and your trembling hands. I did a poem in French, can you believe. I did something with a Brooklyn accent and I’d never been anywhere near America. It’s stupid. But the fried plums worked.”

Paddy was offered a six-week contract to play Jill who was described by the director as a “sexy blonde in a tea tent”. She passed the audition but said she could not do it because she was going on tour with a “posh play” – a Shakespeare comedy. Fortunately bosses at The Archers said they would wait for her.

“It’s the only time the BBC have ever said anything like that to me and they shifted the storyline a bit.”

Patricia Honor Greene MBE was born in 1931 in Allenton. She attended Ashgate Infants’ School on Ashbourne Road and after her family moved to Chester Green, she went to St Paul’s Junior School and Parkfields Cedars Grammar School.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Pro Chancellor and Chair of the Governing Council Christopher Hughes, Patricia Greene and the Chancellor of the University, the Duke of Devonshire

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Pro Chancellor and Chair of the Governing Council Christopher Hughes, Patricia Greene and the Chancellor of the University, the Duke of Devonshire

Her father was an engineer, completing an apprenticeship at pipe makers Aiton’s – but then like so many others he lost his job.

“You were very useful in the last year of your apprenticeship because you were getting an apprentice’s pay but you were doing a man’s work,” says Paddy. “When you were due for a proper man’s salary they sacked you. Everybody did it.

“He couldn’t get a job as an engineer for a long time. He was the shyest man ever. On my birth certificate he was down as a piano salesman. He couldn’t sell a loaf to a dying man.”

But Paddy’s father was into amateur dramatics. He met another Derby arts stalwart John Dexter who went on to become a theatre, opera and film director, working with Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Joan Plowright.

“He weaned my father away from ordinary amateur dramatics. The first play we did was Noah by (prominent French playwright) André Obey – quite a step. John Dexter was a hard taskmaster. He pushed us about a bit – he was very clever.”

At one stage Paddy was in the same amateur group as one of Derby’s greatest actors, Alan Bates.

“I’d taken some of my father’s genes on. My mother was also in a dancing troupe so they both had a bit of glitter about them.”

Paddy flirted being a schoolteacher but her heart wasn’t in it. She failed her exams because she was always rehearsing plays.

Checking into the Crossroads motel

Apart from being a trolley bus conductor she did some “funny” jobs which she was not cut out for. So she went back to school and asked for help to get into acting.

Her career began to blossom. At one point The Archers was being recorded at the BBC’s studios on Broad Street, Birmingham – just down the road from ATV where Crossroads was filmed.

Paddy ended up with several roles in the television series: “You always started off being a guest at the motel. I was a policewoman in charge of putting Noele Gordon in the cells in one storyline and then I got an ongoing part.

“Crossroads had Tuesday off, so I used to pop along to the BBC and do The Archers on a Tuesday and then go back to Crossroads. The people in it were such fun. I had a ball.”

Paddy married English actor George Selway in 1959. They divorced and she married Cyril Austen Richardson in 1972. They had a son Charles who was born the same year. She was widowed in 1986.

“There was a lot of flirting going on”

She was awarded an MBE for services to radio drama in the 1997 Queen’s birthday honours list and the University of Derby has just conferred an honorary masters of the arts for the same reason.

Although Paddy rarely visits Derbyshire these days, she was keen to talk about Derby and her recollections of it. She asked me if Derby still had an open market and she has vivid memories of shopping at Mabel’s pot stall as well as the fish and poultry market.

She also recalls the coffee scene and how teenagers used to meet in the café upstairs at Boots on St Peter’s Street on a Saturday morning.

“There was a lot of flirting going on. It was a real café society.”

As for the future, Paddy will still be expressing her forthright opinions and putting family first as Jill Archer. Fans of the series have 60 years’ worth of reasons to thank those two girls on the trolley bus with their fried bloomin’ plums.

* This article appeared in the August 2017 edition of Country Images magazine

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