Everyday stories of country folk: celebrating 60 years of The Archers and MERL, 1951-2011

Chad Valley Archers jigsaw1 May to 22 December, 2011

Developed by Mark Mason, Guest Curator, with Dr Ollie Douglas, Assistant Curator, Museum of English Rural Life


1954 Archers Holly Cutting** News, 1st December, 2011

Christmas in Ambridge

With extensive help from our dedicated volunteer Christina Avramakis, the curators of the exhibition have been able to refresh the original displays in time for the festive season, adding photographs from the MERL collections with a wintery and yuletide feel, as well as ephemera, images, and memorabilia related to The Archers at Christmas. The exhibition draws to a close in the run up to Christmas so why not get into the festive spirit with a bit of Ambridge-inspired winter cheer? If you've been before, come back again to see if you can spot these seasonal changes.

See below for details of the special 'Christmas in Ambridge' guided tour with curator, Mark Mason, which takes place on Sat 3rd December.


About the exhibition 

In 1951 the first national episode of The Archers was broadcast. Millions still tune in today. The Museum of English Rural Life was founded in the same year. In partnership with the BBC, this new exhibition celebrates both radio serial and Museum, charting changes to the countryside that these two iconic institutions have witnessed over the last sixty years.

Farming changed rapidly during the 1940s and 1950s, as horsepower gave way to tractors, and threshing machines to combine harvesters. People at the University of Reading recognised the need to preserve this vanishing heritage. In 1950, a proposal was submitted to create a Museum of English Rural Life. This exhibition tells the story of this institution, revealing what the Museum was like in its early years, and how it came to be both where and what it is today. Objects, photographs, books, and archives from its diverse and captivating collections give shape to this story.

From its earliest episodes The Archers sought to promote the best in modern farming practice. In the 1970s the series became more entertainment-based but to this day it still seeks to provide an accurate portrayal of rural life. For the very first time, this exhibition brings together photographs, memorabilia, books, and archival materials relating to the programme’s fascinating history. Ambridge, the village at the heart of the series, helps to reveal how rural communities of 1951 contrast with those of 2011. Different farms featured in the programme show how agricultural practices have changed with the times. Together with material from the Museum’s own holdings, significant loans from the BBC and elsewhere support these rich narratives and bring The Archers to life.

This exhibition offers something for everyone. You don’t need to be a fan of The Archers or familiar with the Museum. If you are interested in the countryside and how it has changed during the last six decades, then this exhibition is for you. Visitors will find displays in the Museum's normal temporary exhibition space, as well as in the Staircase Hall, and will be able to follow a special Anniversary Trail around the main galleries to see how present day and 1950s farming compare.


MERL 60th anniversary logo bmp

BBC Radio 4 logo

The Archers 60th anniversary logo





1960s Christmas in AmbridgeExhibition talks and tours

Christmas in Ambridge

  • 3 December
  • 2.15-3.15pm
  • £4 including tea & mince pies after the tour
  • Booking required as numbers are limited

Hear the inside story from guest curator, Mark Mason. Join Mark for a tour of the exhibition, focussing on Christmas in Ambridge; find out how it was created and delve a little deeper into the subject! 

Includes the chance to see the 1963, 'Supper with the Archers' film made by the National Dairy Council and directed by Godfrey Baseley, Editor of The Archers.


Group tours

We are very pleased to be able to arrange tours of the exhibition for groups at other times. Group tours must be booked in advance. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.


Anniversary events programme

Help MERL celebrate 60 years!

Forthcoming events


Previous events

  • 'Everyday stories of country folk' at the Royal Berkshire Show
    17 & 18 September
  • MERL Village Fete
    4 June, 10am to 5pm
  • MERL Symposium: media and the countryside
    12 May, 10am to 5pm
  • Museums at Night - '50s night at MERL
    14 May, 8pm to midnight



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