I'm delighted to welcome actor Charlotte Martin, who plays Susan in BBC Radio 4's The Archers.
Updated: Apr 25
As an author and member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association, I’d like to ask you about Susan’s and radio husband Neil’s romance and how their marriage has survived while other characters haven’t been so fortunate. Also, your acting career playing someone whose life is so far removed from your own opens so many other windows....
When did you obtain the part of Susan Horrobin and how did she meet husband to be, Neil?
I had just left drama school and was working in theatre and TV when Trevor Harrison - Eddie Grundy and an ‘old boy’ from my drama school (The Birmingham Theatre School) - told me they were auditioning for The Archers. I actually auditioned for two other parts prior to getting ‘Susan’, neither of these characters remained in the programme, so ‘third time lucky’ for me`! Susan was introduced as a young girl from a poor family in the village (the Horrobins) and started working at The Bull as a barmaid. She met Neil when she won a pig (Pinky) at the local fair and Neil gave her some advice on looking after it!
Neil comes across as steady and dependable. Was there a moment when the listeners were left wondering whether marriage was the obvious option for him and Susan?
Their marriage was rather forced upon them as Susan became pregnant following a weekend away with Neil! I think both of them held very traditional views at the time and believed that getting married was the only option. Some might have thought their marriage was destined to fail, but they have proved everyone wrong!
Did Susan insist upon having a white wedding?
I think that Susan was rather overwhelmed by the fact that she had become pregnant ‘out of wedlock’ and their wedding happened very quickly… She was a much less ‘dominant’ person at that time and was just grateful that Neil was the kind of man who would ‘do the best thing’!
Would you say she is something of ‘a Marmite character’ in the eyes (or ears) of Archers’ fans? Most definitely! Listeners do seem to either love her or hate her, although, even those who despise her interfering and gossiping, still take some pleasure in hearing what she will do next.
I can remember only one time when Neil was possibly a little distracted by another woman – maybe when helping the widow of a friend or acquaintance with her smallholding? Is that the only time the Carter marriage went through stormy waters?
You are referring to Maureen (or Mo)… This was a particularly difficult time for them both, with Susan in prison and Neil left to cope alone at home. I think Neil was adrift and definitely wasn’t looking to have an affair, just that his circumstances meant he was alone and vulnerable and Maureen offered solace and comfort at a time when he was at his lowest. She was most definitely the instigator, and Neil, bless him, naively unaware of her intentions! Thankfully he was faithful to Susan. Apart from this one blip, they have remained, and continue to be extremely solid and committed to one another.
Has Susan ever been tempted to flirt with any anyone other than Neil?
I think she likes to flirt and she definitely appreciates a good-looking man… But there is only one for her…
Could you share with us Susan and Neil’s most romantic moment?
Most romantic? There are so many… and they all feature chilli…
Many Archers’ fans recall Sid and Jolene’s steamy shower scene. Has the script ever brought Neil and Susan anywhere close to a similar situation? We’ve had a couple of scenes in bed, but the old and battered mattress in studio we use for recreating such scenes quickly removes any real steaminess!
Does your work as Research Psychologist Dr Charlotte Connor help you understand and portray Susan’s character?
I think it does. My need to understand people, their strengths and weaknesses, this definitely comes into play when I think about Susan and her responses and behaviours. I think all actors are psychologists at heart, fascinated by people and what makes them tick.
How did you, as an actor, feel about your character being given a prison sentence?
It was a fantastic storyline and I was honoured to lift those scripts off the page. It portrayed a real-life dilemma of women who are sent to prison. The media were quick to seize hold of the storyline, and I found this a little unnerving, given that The Archers is fiction. Being invited onto Kilroy to debate women in prison was a little too far for me, there was no way that my storyline could have compared to the real-life trauma many women experience.
Would you say Neil and Susan’s marriage was one of the stronger ones in the village of Ambridge?
Absolutely. Despite their quick and unplanned wedding, they are completely devoted to one another and would be completely bereft without one another. They bring out the very best in each other. They have experienced some very hard times but I think that these shared experiences have brought them closer together. It’s hard to think of another couple in the village with such a strong and devoted bond.
Tell us where Mr Neil and Mrs Susan Carter would choose to spend a romantic holiday? Susan likes a bit of glamour and so somewhere exotic, I think Susan would rather fancy learning to Argentine tango in Buenos Aires… Perhaps she should suggest some classes in the village hall.
The fabulous old-school photos you post to illustrate what’s happening to various characters delight me and many more of your Twitter followers. Do any of the cast ever comment about your choice of photo?
They haven’t to date! I do hope they enjoy them as much as I and my Twitter followers do. They are never meant to offend, but to entertain and make people laugh. The idea just struck me as a great add-on to the audio. I absolutely love black and white vintage photography and bringing them together is something that continues to entertain me!
Which four guests would Susan invite to dine chez Carter to celebrate a return to better times?
Ooh, great question. Probably the Aldridges (after all they are family now!). But if Betty and Mike were still around, I like to think that the four of them would get together and celebrate their friendship.
Now a question for Charlotte, please! Which five guests from the world of entertainment and/or academia would you invite to join you at a dinner party to celebrate a return to better times? Anthony Gormley, Michael Palin, Jools Holland, Margaret Atwood and Grayson Perry.
Wow, please may I be the waitress? Charlotte, thank you so much for answering questions I hope will interest my fellow-authors as well as readers, whether or not they listen to The Archers. It’s been an absolute pleasure to interview you and I wish Neil and Susan many more years of marital happiness. Just watch out for that squeaky old mattress!