‘I know how the Aldridges must feel about down­siz­ing’

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Fans of the BBC’s lon­grun­ning ra­dio soap The Archers will be aware of Jennifer Aldridge’s tur­moil. Her hus­band, the rogu­ish landowner Brian, has been forced to re­tire from run­ning the farm, and has put the fam­ily home up for sale.

The cou­ple, who are now are in their 70s, have been Am­bridge’s wealth­i­est res­i­dents, liv­ing at Home Farm. Chate­laine Jennifer has created a lux­u­ri­ous and stylish home in the 18th-cen­tury manor house, where they have lived since the Seven­ties.

It has been the set­ting for many of Am­bridge’s note­wor­thy scenes, in­clud­ing when il­licit sex­ual ac­tiv­ity caused a bouncy cas­tle to burst in the grounds, and when Toby Fair- brother poured sheep dye into the swim­ming pool.

The pow­er­ful thread in the story now is that Jennifer is not only fac­ing the loss of her home, but also her sta­tus as a home­maker. She’s al­ways bak­ing and pre­par­ing meals, and loves noth­ing more than hav­ing her fam­ily around her large din­ing ta­ble en­joy­ing one of her Sun­day roasts. Her state-ofthe-art kitchen, with in­duc­tion hob and gran­ite worktops, was the sub­ject of sev­eral episodes of the pro­gramme from its in­cep­tion through to in­stal­la­tion, and came com­plete with un­der­floor heat­ing, boil­ing wa­ter tap, a Belfast sink and wine fridge.

Ac­tor Charles Colling­wood, 75, has played Brian for 43 years. His real-life wife, Judy Ben­nett, has played an­other char­ac­ter, Shula Heb­den Lloyd, for even longer (she is an­other soon-to-be down­sizer, as she and her vet hus­band, Alis­tair, are di­vorc­ing). Ben­nett and Colling­wood have al­ready down­sized. “My Archers char­ac­ter, Brian, is not re­ally both­ered about hav­ing to sell the mar­i­tal home,” says Colling­wood. “As a farmer, he is more in­ter­ested in the land. Re­tain­ing it is more im­por­tant to him than the house – whereas the re­verse is im­por­tant to his wife, Jennifer.”

The real-life cou­ple sold their big five-bed­room fam­ily home in north Lon­don 14 years ago, and moved to a four-bed­room cot­tage in a vil­lage near Portsmouth, in Hamp­shire. “I was happy to move from Lon­don,” says Ben­nett. “I just wanted to live some­where that had a big sky.”

The only ma­jor change dur­ing that time is that Colling­wood now wears a hear­ing aid. “I don’t feel 75,” he de­clares. He drives the 144-mile round trip to Birm­ing­ham for the eight-day Archers record­ing sched­ule each month. They record four 15-minute episodes a day, and each one takes two and a half hours. Six episodes are broad­cast ev­ery week, with an om­nibus edi­tion on Sun­days. “I’m not sure my mother or fa­ther would have driven that far at my age,” he says.

The cou­ple have been mar­ried for 42 years. Ben­nett started her pro­fes­sional ca­reer in chil­dren’s pup­pet shows, and recorded 150 episodes of The Ad­ven­tures of Ru­pert Bear be­fore mov­ing to The Archers in her late 20s. “I nar­rated and did all the voices in 1969 for ATV,” she re­calls. They would seem to have the per­fect life: there are sep­a­rate tele­vi­sions with Sky boxes, so they can watch dif­fer­ent things at the same time (Ben­nett loves soaps and Colling­wood loves cricket), and they each have their own bath­room.

“We don’t yet need sep­a­rate glasses for our teeth,” Colling­wood quips, but they are plan­ning ahead, check­ing, for ex­am­ple, that their long, straight stair­case would be suit­able for a stair­lift should they need one. “I’ve also planned a lay­out so we could live down­stairs,” says Ben­nett. “The study would be a wet room, the din­ing room a bed­room and the carer could live up­stairs.”

The down­stairs rooms are ar­ranged in an in­ter­con­nect­ing cir­cle – by de­sign. “So if we get Alzheimer’s, we can walk around, bump into each other and rein­tro­duce our­selves,” Colling­wood laughs.

There are no symp­toms so far. In fact, nei­ther has any in­ten­tion of re­tir­ing, and each of their char­ac­ters has good sto­ry­lines at the mo­ment. There are sev­eral mem­bers of the cast of The Archers who are much older too.

Judy Ben­nett and Charles Colling­wood at home, main

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