Actor known for The Archers

Born: August 8, 1939

Died: November 19, 2019

COLIN Skipp, who has died aged 80, was an English actor who became known for his voice rather than his face, as a mainstay of the cast of BBC radio soap opera the Archers for 46 years.

Skipp played Tony Archer, only son of Peggy and the late Jack Archer and cousin to the main Archer family, and due to the extraordinary longevity afforded performers in such a well-established soap, he was able to guide the character’s growth throughout both actor and subject’s life in a parallel manner which few other actors might have experienced.

First broadcast in its continuing format on New Year’s Day 1951, Godfrey Baseley’s The Archers was designed to educate, inform and entertain farming communities on the BBC Home Service, yet has since grown to become one of the biggest hits of the BBC’s radio programming on Radio 4, as a quaint but surprisingly switched-on rural soap opera set in the fictional Home Counties village of Ambridge. With five million regular listeners, its fanbase is pan-generational and committed, and Skipp was responsible for many memorable moments through the years.

When Tony first appeared in the Archers in 1967, he was a young heir to his parents’ Bridge Farm who was seen as something of a local playboy, with a number of girlfriends and a love of fast cars. Now, years down the line, the character has taken over Bridge Farm with his wife Pat (Patricia Gallimore), and has exemplified many of the changes which have overtaken farming in recent decades.

When the old-fashioned Tony and environmentally aware Pat’s marriage was failing in the 1980s, she caused a stir – among fans of the show as well as within their fictional household – by replacing his Daily Express subscription with one to The Guardian, while he chose to make the farm fully organic as a show of faith in their marriage.

In 1998, meanwhile, Tony discovered the lifeless body of the couple’s son John after a tractor accident, a moment which many of the show’s fans say ranked among the most dramatic and emotional heard on The Archers.

By the time of Skipp’s departure in 2013, Tony had grown into the polar opposite of the playboy youth he once was, a settled family man who was, if anything, a little unexciting; settling into family arguments with his brother-in-law Brian Aldridge and fretting over his daughter Helen becoming a mother through Artificial Insemination in 2011.

In the run-up to his retirement Skipp had suffered several heart attacks – which the character of Tony also suffered in late 2012 – and noted that his 74 years of age were not as resilient as Tony’s youthful 60.

Yet Skipp’s decision to leave the show was not the end for Tony as a character, whose voice was replaced by that of David Troughton, son of the former Doctor Who actor Patrick. “I shall miss my trips to Ambridge,” said Skipp at the time of his retirement. “However, I’m looking forward to spending time with my own wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.”

Born in Finsbury in 1939 and raised in north London, Colin Skipp attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) on a scholarship, where one of his classmates was his future Archers colleague Charles Collingwood, aka Brian Aldridge. Before joining the Archers he took small roles in television dramas, including Johnny Speight’s Curry & Chips (1969), and continued to be active in theatre throughout his life.

He is survived by his wife Lisa, daughter Nova and granddaughter Melody.