10:37 30 October 2009
Norman Painting, veteran radio star of 'The Archers', has died aged 85 of heart failure.
Painting appeared in the very first pilot episode of the programme in 1950 as Phil Archer.
The hugely popular patriarch remained at the heart of Ambridge life for nearly six decades.
Painting is in the Guinness World Records book as the longest-serving actor to play the same part.
His last time on air was September 17; however he was in the BBC studios earlier in the week recording future storylines. Painting's final episode will be broadcast on November 22.
In 2000, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer but didn't let his ill health prompt retirement. He said "I see no reason why this illness should prevent me from continuing doing what I love."
Vanessa Whitburn, editor of 'The Archers', said: "Norman always wanted to remain working on The Archers until he died. I am delighted and proud of him that he achieved his wish."
In addition to his famous role as Phil Archer, Painter also worked as a scriptwriter on the longstanding programme. In all, he produced 1,198 scripts between 1966 and 1982.
Painting's iconic character began life as a smooth romantic hero, transforming into a doting grandfather as the decades went by.
In 2007, Phil and Jill Archer (played by Patricia Greene), celebrated 50 years of marriage.
Phil's first wife, Grace, was killed off the show in September 1955. The BBC's headline-grabbing cliffhanger episode was deliberately scheduled as a spoiler to clash with the launch of the all-new channel ITV.
Recalling their 52-year soap radio marriage, Patricia Greene said: "We recorded our last scene together on Tuesday. He had been desperately ill for very many years and he was brave as a lion.
"He was absolutely nothing like Phil Archer in his real self. He was more of an academic sort of person, but he threw himself entirely into the part.
"And he had that farmers' unsentimentality. He never married but had dogs and goats and rabbits. Once I asked him if the rabbits had names, and he said, 'Yes. Pie One, Pie Two and Pie Three."
Mark Thompson, BBC director general, paid tribute: "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, 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."
Mark Damazer, controller of Radio 4, said: "Norman Painting's 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."
Painting was born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, in 1924, and received an OBE in the 1976 New Year's Honours List.
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