We were very sad here at TV Today to hear of the death of Norman Painting, a world-record holding actor who had played Phil Archer since the trial episodes of the BBC’s long-running radio soap, The Archers.
Painting’s contribution to the legendary soap is huge. He had been been with the series since the five pilot episodes in 1950 (The Archers went national in 1951), the character of Phil maturing from young man to father and then grandfather. It’s a breath-taking achievement and his presence has enriched my enjoyment of The Archers over the years with those calming, avuncular tones.
But away from the recording booths in Birmingham, Painting wrote over 1000 scripts for The Archers between 1966 and 1982. He reportedly left scriptwriting behind due to artistic differences with the then editor of the show, but was happy to continue appearing as Phil for decades to come.
Painting’s passion for The Archers never diminished, penning a history of the show, Forever Ambridge, in the mid-1970s. It was a best seller and was reissued in 1980 to tie in with the 30th anniversary of the soap.
Away from The Archers he had been a tutor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a regular performer during panto season and a player with the Birmingham Repertory Company. In 1976 he was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting, and was appointed the only Life Long governor of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. He held the Guinness World Record as the actor playing a continuous role for the longest time.
Any piece on the life of Norman Painting must make reference to the traumatic events endured by his fictional alter ego in a storyline broadcast in the mid-1950s. On 22 September 1955, Phil Archer’s first wife Grace (Ysanne Churchman) was killed in a stable fire at Grey Gables. It’s a moment that has gone down in broadcasting history. It was widely believed this was to scupper the launch night of new TV channel ITV, but Painting had always maintained it was a move to counter the somewhat cosy image of The Archers at the time.
Vanessa Whitburn, who worked with Painting for 17 years as the current editor of The Archers, has said of the actor:
“Norman was simply the consummate professional. He has played Phil since The Archers trial run at Whitsun in 1950… 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.”
Painting recorded what was to be his final episode of The Archers just two days ago. To the many fans of The Archers around the world, he was a true broadcasting great and his presence in this legendary show will be greatly missed.