Norman Painting, who had died aged 85, played the part of Philip Archer in The Archers since its trial run in 1950.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of Norman’s death. Norman chose to leave behind a promising career in academia at Oxford to devote 60 years in the service of BBC audiences. He rightly became renowned for his portrayal of Phil Archer, a role he created in the pilot episode in 1950, but he was also a gifted writer and talented versatile broadcaster. He was a pillar of The Archers family, but to millions of listeners he became a friend and latterly a wonderful father figure. His death leaves us with a great sense of loss but an even deeper feeling of gratitude for such a huge contribution to the BBC and its audiences over six decades.” – Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General
He was also script-writer on the programme, now broadcast on BBC Radio 4, from 1966 to 1982. Born in Leamington Spa in 1924, Warwickshire, Norman spent four years at the University of Birmingham, where his contemporaries included distinguished conductors Sir Edward Downes and Brian Priestman, with whom in the Fifties he was co-founder of Opera da Camera. He graduated from Birmingham with first-class honours in English, having also studied music, acting, theory of drama and theatre arts.
Norman won a number of prizes and a research scholarship which took him to Christ Church, Oxford where he researched and taught. He was inevitably much involved in university drama, both as actor and director.
By coincidence he took part in another production of King Lear with a (now) distinguished cast including Sir Peter Parker as King Lear, Shirley Catlin – now Baroness Williams, Robert Robinson, John Schlesinger and Jack May (who later played Nelson Gabriel in The Archers).
Norman has written, or adapted for radio, many drama and documentary scripts, not to mention the 1,198 scripts he has written for The Archers.
In recent years he has written and presented a number of television documentaries, and is probably best known to Midlands viewers as chairman and presenter of his quiz programme The Garden Game, which ran for five years.
“Norman was simply the consummate professional. He has played Phil since The Archers trial run at Whitsun in 1950. And, under his sure hand, Phil graduated seamlessly from young romantic hero, to serious farmer and father – holding Brookfield together in good times and bad, handing over the farm to eldest son David in 2001. Norman then gave us the delighted grandfather; enjoying astronomy with Daniel, music with Pip, and finally always there when needed, to give advice about farming methods of the past to son David. Norman always wanted to remain working on The Archers until he died – and I am delighted and proud of him that he achieved his wish.” – Vanessa Whitburn, Editor of The Archers
He has appeared in a variety of radio and television programmes including Call My Bluff for BBC Two, Radio 4’s Quote… Unquote… and On The Air for BBC Radio 2.
He was also the castaway on Desert Island Discs as part of The Archers’ 50th anniversary celebration programmes on New Year’s Day 2001. In 1967, along with Edward J Mason, he received a Writers’ Guild Award. In 1991 he was the subject of This Is Your Life.
For many years he has had a personal entry in the Guinness Book Of Records under the world’s most durable programmes, holding the world record for having played Philip in The Archers without a break for more than 50 years.
“Norman Painting was for almost 60 years a central figure in one of Radio 4’s hallmark programmes. As Phil Archer, he became a wonderful patriarch yet he had started decades earlier as a young romantic hero. His success was not due merely to longevity but to his passion for The Archers and his skill as a radio actor. He loved the medium. He will be deeply missed by the rest of The Archers team and his millions of fans.” – Mark Damazer, Controller, Radio 4