Actor Graham Roberts, who died on October 28, aged 75, is best known for his 31-year-stint as a regular voice on the long-running BBC Radio 4 series The Archers. Playing the character of retired policeman and gamekeeper George Barford, who was married to Christine, a retired riding stables owner, he was initially invited to join the series by producer Alfred Bradley for a two or three-week season in 1973.
But over three decades later, he was still there, his character developing as he did. First known for being taciturn – a trait that is not easy to convey in the strictly aural confines of radio – George was also an alcoholic who attempted suicide, but Roberts developed both his character’s powers of speech and a dry sense of humour over the years.
Born in 1929 and growing up in wartime Chester, Graham Roberts and a group of friends would put on shows to raise money for the Spitfire Fund and the War Weapons Week. Encouraged by his early love of performing and a school English master, he decided to become an actor. Since this was not an entirely respectable profession at the time, he bided his time and went to study at Bristol and Manchester universities.
On entering National Service, however, he gave theatre as his occupation, and there got to know the brother of Shakespearean actor Robert Eddison. Together they entered the Royal Naval Dramatic Competition and put on one-act plays. He later trained at Bristol Old Vic, and subsequently worked with the Arena Theatre, touring from Birmingham, and appeared in rep all over Britain.
Roberts also appeared in a number of film and television shows, including This Sporting Life, A Taste of Honey, A Touch of Brass and Z Cars. He was a long-standing continuity announcer on ITV stations Yorkshire and Grampian, and he regularly did plays for Radio 3 and 4. He also recorded more than 100 unabridged audio books, including Rumpole of the Bailey, the Heartbeat novels and the Morecambe and Wise biography.
He was married first to Kate (who subsequently married Scottish comedian Rikki Fulton) and then to soprano Yvonne Robert, protegee of the late Dame Isobel Bailee. They would tour regularly in performances of poetry and music in Britain and North America.
They lived together in a village near York and, though he said there were few, if any, elements of his Archers’ character to his own, he did own up to parallels between the life of his own Yorkshire village and that of Ambridge.