Swindon AdvertiserAcrebury is where it’s at for soap fans (From Swindon Advertiser)

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Acrebury is where it’s at for soap fans

ONE-man soap opera Acrebury is to be revived for some special 40th anniversary episodes.

The celebration will coincide with the 25th anniversary of BBC Radio Wiltshire’s arrival in Swindon’s Prospect Place.

Acrebury, the work of radio producer Gerry Hughes, built a fan base extending as far as the Channel Islands before coming to an end in 2000.

It told the stories of the inhabitants of a small Wiltshire village, loosely based on Aldbourne.

Gerry, 58, is working on 10 new episodes at his home studio in the Wiltshire countryside.

He was still at school when the idea for the soap first began to form in his mind.

“I was very frustrated when I saw all these other stories based around London, Liverpool, Birmingham, the Midlands, the North, wherever.

“I thought, ‘Well, you don’t see much modern fiction based in Wiltshire and the West Country, and we’ve got wonderful characters, ancient history and eye catching places.

“I wanted to do something about it. I reckon I was probably about 15 years old at the time.”

Gerry had always loved radio drama, and even as a small child listened with his mother to The Archers and Mrs Dale’s Diary – a serial which ran until 1969 and centred on the life of a suburban doctor’s wife.

By the age of 18, Gerry had started working for an agricultural supplies firm.

He was persuaded to join the old Swindon Hospital Broadcasting Society by founder member Keith Suter, one of his old teachers.

The first episode of Acrebury was broadcast to a hospital radio audience at 9pm on April 1, 1974. It ran for 578 episodes until November of 1985, when Gerry suffered a bout of ill health which brought it to an end.

By early 1994 Gerry was working for BBC Radio in Prospect Place, and bosses suggested a revival of Acrebury to replace a popular science fiction serial which was coming to an end.

That second run, with five 10-minute episodes a week, lasted for 1,558 instalments.

“For about the last year or so of its life,” said Gerry, “the afternoon episodes were repeated regionally right across the South West to include Gloucester, Bristol, Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and the Channel Islands at a quarter to 10 every evening.”

Gerry has provided all the character voices – male and female, young and old – throughout.

In the earliest days he simply changed his own voice as best he could, but for the soap’s second incarnation he was able to use altered tape speeds.

For the forthcoming special episodes he is using voice processing software.

His efforts have earned him a place among Guinness World Record holders for the longest one-person serial.

Recordings have also been sought out by and lodged with America’s Museum of Television and Radio. Tapes are kept in the museum’s vaults in New York and Los Angeles.

Acrebury also has its own YouTube presence featuring vintage editions and delighted comments from fans.

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