June Spencer: is The Archers star retiring, how long has she been Peggy - does she have children?

June Spencer is the last surviving original cast member of the BBC Radio 4 production

June Spencer, the last original cast member of the BBC Radio 4 production The Archers, is retiring at the age of 103 it has been announced.

In a statement, Spencer said: “In 1950 I helped plant an acorn. It took root and in January 1951 it was planted out and called The Archers.

“Over the years it has thrived and become a splendid great tree with many branches. But now this old branch, known as Peggy, has become weak and unsafe so I decided it was high time she “boughed” out, so I have duly lopped her.”

This is everything you need to know.

Who is June Spencer?

Spencer is an English actress best known as Peggy Woolley in The Archers, although some may also recognise her from her appearances on Songs of Praise, Guilty Party and Doctors.

She was born in Nottingham on 14 June 1919 and developed an affinity for the theatre at a young age. While she was first drawn to dancing, at the age of 12 she had settled on pursuing acting - something her parents were less than enthusiastic about.

June Spencer is the last surviving member of the original cast of The Archers (Photo: BBC/The Archers)

Chatting to the Independent in 2010, Spencer said that her parents wouldn’t let her sit the scholarship exams for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She said: “I don’t think my mother wanted me to go into it. I think she thought I would fall in with a bad lot.

“When I did finally get in [to the theatre], she said, “Oh well, I suppose it was inevitable”.”

Spencer joined an amateur dramatic society where she studied for her London Guildhall School of Music and Drama certificate.

Over the course of her career, Spencer has been awarded a number of accolades. In 1991, she was made an OBE, and later received a second award from the Queen in the 2017 Birthday Honours List for her services to drama and charity.

Her role as Peggy has made June Spencer the the second longest serving actor in a soap opera, worldwide and in any medium (Photo: BBC/The Archers)

In 2010, she was made a Freeman of the City of London, the same year she published her autobiography The Road to Ambridge: My Life, Peggy and The Archers.

A few years later, in 2012, she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Nottingham as a Doctor of Letters for her services to broadcasting.

Spencer was also recognised with a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Audio Drama Awards in 2014.

Is she married - does she have children?

In 1942, Spencer married her husband Roger Brocksom. The pair had first met in 1936, when they were both 17.

In her book, The Road of Ambridge, Spencer described Brocksom as “a fair-haired blue eyed boy with a cheeky grin”.

She wrote: “I remember telling him loftily that I would be his girlfriend for the duration of the holiday, but after that we would finish. I couldn’t bear holiday romances that petered out during the winter!

“Yet somehow he always seemed to be around. Although his home was in Grimsby, where his father was a schoolmaster, he soon came to Nottingham University before going into the army.

“His persistence finally paid off when he came on leave and proposed, though it wasn’t exactly romantic.

“He said, “How would you feel about being married to a Second Lieutenant?” I replied, “I wouldn’t mind if it was you.”

“It was some weeks before we were officially engaged because he had to save up for the ring.”

Spencer and Brocksom remained together until he passed away in 2001, age 81, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

She and Brocksom adopted two children, first their son David and then 30 months later, their daughter Ros.

David died in 2006 at the age of 55 from alcoholism. David had been a classical ballet dancer, however was unable to recover from the loss of his career due to back troubles and the loss of his dance partner wife, who left him for someone else.

Spencer the Times: “It was a mixture of losing his career, his wife — because she went off with another young dancer — and his little daughter, whom he adored, and his home.

He just lost everything. It broke his heart and he couldn’t cope.”

How long has she been on The Archers for?

Spencer is one of the original cast members of The Archers and has been on the show since 1950.

She featured as Peggy in The Archers trial episodes in 1950 before then joining the cast for the programmes first official episode on 1 January 1951. Spencer told the BBC that the job actually came about as a surprise, as she found out about the role “standing in a queue in the BBC canteen for lunch” whilst working on a different show.

June Spencer as Peggy Archer and Denis Folwell as her husband Jack Archer (Photo: BBC/The Archers)

Talking to the BBC about when she got the role, Spencer said that she and her fellow cast members were put through their paces before they even recorded a single episode.

She said: “We were gathered together and said without a script you’re going to be interviewed in character and that’s what [creator] Godfrey Baseley did.

“He said, “This is not a drama programme, it’s a real life over-heard”.”

When she first began on the show, she actually played two roles - as well as Peggy Woolley (née Perkins, formerly Archer), she also starred as Rita Flynn, an Irish baker.

While Spencer has played the role of Peggy for over 60 years, she stepped away from the show, and the character, for a few years.

The cast of the radio show 'The Archers' celebrate 21 years on the air, UK, 30th November 1971. The line-up includes cast members Chris Gittins, Leslie Dunn, Patricia Greene, Philip Garston-Jones, Norman Painting, Ysanne Churchman, Edgar Harrison, Anne Cullen, June Spencer, Pauline Seville, Colin Skipp, Jack Holloway, Bob Arnold, Alaric Cotter, Judy Bennett, Gwen Berryman, Angela Piper, Jeremy Mason, Elizabeth Marlowe, Alan Devereux, Julia Mark and producer Tony Shryane. (Photo by Victor Blackman/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

She originally played Peggy for three years, starting in 1950 when the show began, but took a break in order to take care of her family. For seven years, Thelma Rogers took over the part until she decided to leave the show to return to acting on the stage in 1961, and Spencer resumed her role as Peggy.

Her time as Peggy makes Spencer the second longest serving actor in a soap opera, worldwide and in any medium, have only been surpassed by her fellow The Archers star Lesley Saweard as Christine Barford. Spencers’ 65 total years as Peggy is just pipped by Saweard’s 67 years as Christine.

What has she said about her retirement?

Spencer has said that her retirement has been a long time coming, stating that she has been trying to leave the show “for at least a year”.

She said: “They didn’t want to lose the character. Every time I tried to stop they gave me more episodes.”

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and June Spencer cut an Archers themed cake during a celebration of “The Archers” 70th anniversary at Clarence House on December 7, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Kate Green-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Jeremy Howe, editor of The Archers, said: "I think working with June Spencer has been one of the greatest privileges of my many decades in drama.

"Her Peggy is one of the great creations of broadcasting - utterly charming, utterly ruthless, sharp as a knife and witty in spades.

“To think that June has commanded the airwaves over an Archers career of over 70 years beggars belief."

When is she retiring?

Spencer’s last appearance as Peggy was aired during the omnibus edition on Sunday, when she discussed commissioning a stained glass window of her two great-grandchildren.

She told the Telegraph that her final episodes were recorded from a recording studio that producers made in her home, as the journey from Surrey to Birmingham, where The Archers headquarters are situated, had become too much.

She said: “David Troughton [who plays Tony Archer] came down, and we did this final scene together, and then they packed up and went home.

“That was it.”

As it stands, however, Peggy hasn’t been written out of the show yet, which means that the writers will have to deal with her exit off-screen.

Spencer shared her own ideas on how to best handle writing Peggy out of The Archers, saying that they don’t need to “kill her off”.

She said: “The simplest thing is if [Peggy has] a fall or something and goes into The Laurels [a fictional care home in Ambridge].

“She can languish for years there.”