William Smethurst, photo by Simon Farquhar, no reproduction without permission
WILLIAM SMETHURST : TRIBUTE AND FUNERAL DETAILS
You may have heard on the news that William Smethurst, one time Editor of The Archers, passed away, on 22nd July.
William was at the helm when I was first trusted to mix the drama. I have always remembered trying to compassionately manage a particularly lethargic spot operator during an episode that William was directing. William, kindly but authoritatively, encouraged me to deal with the issue. With knots in my stomach, fearing the immense hurt I was going to cause my colleague, I went into the studio, only to discover that he couldn’t have cared less! I learned valuable lessons: that not everyone has the same sense of duty and obligation, and that difficult issues are best tackled sooner than later. This has stood me in good stead ever since. Thank you, William. Needless to say, said spot operator went on to become a very successful Radio 1 producer, later to forge a successful career in both broadcasting and feature films!
Writer, Jo Toye, was learning her craft at the same time that I was learning mine, and has sent this tribute:
“William arrived on the writing team of The Archers in the mid-Seventies and started his shake-up of the programme in his typically imaginative way then. By the time I joined the production team as a PA in 1980, he’d been Editor for a year and delighted in the team of ‘left-wing, feminist’ writers he’d engaged. His storylines eschewed social comment for what he called ‘social comedy’ – a typical Bridge Farm family story involved not the dawning realisation of domestic abuse but the saga of CND-supporting Pat changing their daily paper from the ‘Express’ to the ‘Guardian’, to Tony’s mystification. As I typed the scripts his bold crossings-out and rewritings taught me everything I know – no chance of the writers doing their own rewrites then as everything was sent in hard copy, by post…
With his clear-sightedness about what The Archers should be – ‘the voice of the shires’ – and the support of then Network Editor Radio, Jock Gallagher, who’d rescued the programme from the doldrums after the retirement of the legendary Godfrey Baseley – William’s energy and ever-whirring marketing brain raised the programme’s profile and listenership.
So many of the characters he created are still there today – Caroline Sterling, Susan Carter, and the inimitable Grundys, while others (Nelson, Nigel) have passed into Archers mythology. So many of the writers he took on – me included – are still writing today. His willingness to back untried young hopefuls didn’t stop at The Archers: when he later created and ran the sci-fi soap Jupiter Moon for BSkyB he gave their first big break to Anna Chancellor and Jason Durr.
He could be tough when he wanted to be – when he moved to Crossroads in 1986 he revelled in the title of ‘Butcher Bill’ – but he was also ingenious, inventive, intelligent, witty, warm, massively well-read, and a genuine lover of the countryside, its seasonal rhythms and its history.
He shepherded The Archers through what many now see as a golden age – in simpler times and in the very special atmosphere of Pebble Mill itself. He brought great pleasure to millions of people but for me it was personal. I owe him everything and shall always be grateful.”
William’s funeral will be at 2pm, on Tuesday 2nd August, at Halford Village Church, Queen Street, Halford, Near Shipston on Stour.
(Here is an obituary for William Smethurst on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36905761 )
The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:
Julian Hitchcock: ‘Sad indeed. Fine, much deserved tributes. I loved his sense of mischief and gossip, wry chuckle and that dangerous glint in his eye that warned that you or your name might just find their way into Ambridge.’
Cathy Houghton: ‘I worked with him on Midlands Today, a really lovely man.’
Linda Flavell: ‘Loved working with Bill so many years ago, a truly lovely guy.’