Chariots of Fire actor Nigel Havers and Dr Who star Catherine Tate are set to join the Archers as jurors in a one-hour special concluding the dramatic trial of Helen Titchener.
The Sunday night special will deliver the verdict in the trial of Titchener, who is played by Louiza Patikas, for the attempted murder of her husband following a dark storyline of domestic abuse.
The special episode has been extended to an hour, the first time in the 65-year history of the BBC Radio 4 drama, to allow fans to listen in on the deliberations of the jury at Borchester Crown Court before the final verdict is handed down.
Havers and Tate will be joined by Dame Eileen Atkins, creator of Upstairs Downstairs and writer of Mrs Dalloway, as well as a special appearance for Graham Seed who played Nigel Pargetter in the Archers for 27 years until his character died in the show’s 60th anniversary special in 2011.
“There were three things I wanted to do as an actor,” said Havers. “Play Max de Winter in Rebecca. Tick. Be in Coronation Street. Tick. Do an episode of The Archers. Big tick.”
Other jurors include Rakhee Thakrar, who plays Shabnam in EastEnders, and Aimee Ffion Edwards, whose credits include Skins and Peaky Blinders.
“Working on this jury special was an absolute joy. Being part of such an iconic and important story for The Archers was an honour,” said Thakrar. “I’m very grateful to have been involved.”
Over the past week listeners have heard evidence from both sides with the prosecution portraying Titchener as an unstable and volatile perpetrator.
The defence has argued that she acted in self-defence following months of abuse and the need to protect five-year-old son Henry, who was present when she stabbed husband Rob.
Having played Helen since she left drama school, 16 years ago, Patikas has lived with the abuse story in her head for the past three years.
“It has been much like it has been for the audience, because they’ve been through the same journey as I have with Helen,” she said in an interview with the Guardian. “But it has been extraordinary, because – as much as we all knew it was a very powerful storyline – none of us anticipated the impact. I haven’t just walked into a part, like the theatre. There’s a huge backstory to Helen and her family, and to carry all the back knowledge into this has been really devastating.
“It’s been very creatively rewarding, but I’ve read scripts and thought, ‘I don’t want this to happen to her, I can’t bear it.’ One of the things that really struck me when I met a survivor of domestic abuse – and I met quite a few of them – was how her whole central nervous system was jangled and messed up, and although her story was very different to Helen’s, this was the most valuable thing I learned. All your senses are incredibly acute – you hear and smell what you wouldn’t normally, every noise is a potential threat.”
The recording of the night of the stabbing was different from anything Patikas had done before.
“It was very emotional on every level,” she says. “You can go in, do a fairly controlling scene with Rob and Helen, Tim [Watson, the actor who plays Rob] and I would be chatting beforehand, telling a few jokes, but this was a very different vibe right from the beginning. Tim Stimpson, the lead writer, was in the studio with us the whole time and that really helped with the focus, because it was big stuff to do.
“There was a lot of choreographing of the actual stabbing, that was done separately with no emotions. Then the next scene after that was incredibly powerful also, because the scenes I’d been doing for a year were largely just me, reflecting the isolation of Helen, then suddenly there are many actors in the room with me, the paramedics and the police.”
Archers editor Sean O’Connor, who will move back to EastEnders as executive producer after Sunday’s episode, said that the jury plotline was heavily-informed by his own experiences.
“I have done jury service three times and found the process fascinating,” he said. “Twelve randomly selected strangers have the power to make or break another individual’s life. The reality, for me, was an extraordinary insight into who the British public are. On the one hand I met some amazing people who exhibited a depth of humanity and care about people they had never met, which I found deeply moving. At the same time, I also experienced the ugly, iron face of British prejudice; it was a real eye-opener.”