Actress and star of The Archers

Born: January 30, 1948;

Died: February 13, 2017

SARA Coward, who has died of cancer aged 69, was an actress known for playing Caroline Sterling on The Archers for almost 40 years.

At one point the co-proprietor of Grey Gables, Ambridge's country house hotel, she was loved by fans as one of the Radio 4 soap's most colourful characters although she was also notorious for her fairly disastrous love life .

She first appeared on the programme in 1977 after being spotted by the producers in rep as Lady Macbeth and her character began working at The Bull with her Great Dane, Leo. She then became a regular behind the bar and a well-known voice as she was promoted to manager and then owner of Grey Gables Hotel and Health Club.

Her character was most well-known, though, for her string of doomed relationships. At one point, she had an affair with the village baddie Brian Aldridge before marrying landowner Guy Pemberton who died six months later. She then met Oliver Sterling, who, like her, shared a passion for hunting, and together they bought Grey Gables in 2006.

Born in south-east London and trained at the Guildhall School in London (she also appeared in rep in St Andrews), Coward was at first reluctant to appear in what she thought of as soap opera about sheep, but the producers reassured her that she would have fun and would only have to work for three months a year.

In time, Coward grew to be fond of her character and sympathetic about her love life. "The poor girl was only trying to find the right man; she just happened to search in some pretty peculiar places," she said.

She twice appeared alongside royal guests on The Archers, firstly with Princess Margaret at Kensington Palace for a charity gala held at Grey Gables, then with the Duchess of Cornwall in 2011 as the programme marked its 60th anniversary.

Of her appearance with Margaret, Coward said: "Her Royal Highness was charming, 'I have this terribly flat voice' she told me apologetically.

"We did one rehearsal and the producer said, 'That's very good, Ma'am, but do you think you could sound as if you were enjoying yourself a little more?' She looked him straight in the eye and said acidly, 'Well, I wouldn't be, would I?'"

As well as her regular role on the show, Coward was also a writer and stage actor, and spent eight years working for the Samaritans charity in Stratford-upon-Avon.

She was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year when she found a lump on her neck and swelling in her right arm, shortly after recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy.

Earlier this year she told the Radio Times from her palliative care home in Leamington Spa: "I would prefer it to be over quickly."

She also spoke of her wish that her character would not be written out of the show, saying "I'd like them to find someone else to play her".

Coward last appeared on the programme in September 2016.

She spent the last months of her life trying to leave the world "a kinder place" as she launched a social media campaign urging people to smile at each other more.

She started Sm:)e from her hospice and on social media wrote, "Make someone feel good today just by being kind. This can be as easy as simply sm:)ing at people, or doing something more to help them in some way. And finding out how good you feel as a result."