June Spencer, the 90-year-old veteran of The Archers, said she has no plans to retire, describing acting as “the breath of life to me”.
Spencer first played Peggy Woolley in a 1950 pilot of the radio drama and had no idea she would still be playing her nearly 60 years later.
The only original cast member still in the show told Desert Island Discs host Kirsty Young: “I love acting so much. I’m lucky to have a job I can still do.”
She spoke fondly of the early days when the show was live and a producer would tiptoe into the studio and cross out lines over her shoulder while she was reading.
Spencer, who was given a three-month contract on January 1, 1951 and did not expect the show to continue, said she does not have much in common with her Archers character except both love their gardens.
“I don’t think Peggy’s got a sense of humour and I hope I have,” she added.
Spencer nursed her own husband Roger through Alzheimer’s until his death in 2001 and used the experience when scriptwriters decided Peggy’s husband Jack would also develop dementia.
The actress said she was “all for it” and told them: “Let’s get all the publicity we can. Especially the plight of carers, to highlight that as well.”
She said delivering the lines was not upsetting but she would sometimes “feel the poignancy of it” when she listened to an episode later.
Spencer said she left school early to care for her mother who “decided she was an invalid” when she was around 40.
“I think she thought she’d got heart trouble. She was very anaemic,” Spencer told Young.
“She took to her bed. She liked me there all the time.
“I would sit in her bedroom with the curtains closed because she didn’t like the light. It was very frustrating for a teenager.”
When her mother moved into a residential home in her mid 90s “she bucked up no end and started going for walks on her own”, Spencer said.
The actress also spoke of her adopted son David, a classical dancer who was forced to retire after injury and who she said turned to drink after his marriage also broke up.
“Although he didn’t enjoy drinking he couldn’t stop. Sadly, eventually, as we knew it would, it killed him,” she said.
“It’s something that you live with every day. It’s the last thing you think of when you go to bed at night and the first thing you think of every morning.”