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19:51 | Norman Painting, voice of Phil Archer, dies aged 85
Norman Painting, who played Phil Archer on long-running Radio 4 drama The Archers for nearly 60 years, has died at the age of 85, the BBC said today.

Painting had played the character since the show was first broadcast in 1950, developing from a young farmer to a family patriarch, and is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-serving actor in a single soap opera.

He also wrote more than 1,000 scripts for the show between 1966 and penned a best-selling book on the programme, first published in 1975. His autobiography, Reluctant Archer, was published in 1982.

In recent years Painting's appearances on The Archers have been limited due to ill health. In 2000, the actor revealed he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer but said it would not stop him recording episodes.

"I see no reason this illness should prevent me from continuing doing what I love ," he said at the time.

Over the years Painting's pragmatic character has been involved in numerous key storylines. One long-running plot strand revolved around who would inherit Phil's farm after his retirement.

One of his most dramatic moments, meanwhile, occurred in 1955 when his first wife Grace died in a barn fire while trying to save a horse. It is widely believed the BBC scheduled the death deliberately to clash with ITV's first broadcast.

"Even when I'd read my script, I didn't really believe it was going to happen," Painting recalled on the 50th anniversary of the famous episode.

In more recent years, the character - a former president of the National Farmers' Union - had been enjoying a quiet retirement, playing the church organ and photographing the heavens.

Appointing OBE in the New Year's Honours for 1976, he was vice president of the Tree Council and the only honorary Life Governor of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
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