Huntingdon radio station’s soap Huntsford mark second birthday


Huntsford - Credit: Archant

A MAKESHIFT studio at the back of a house in Hemingford Grey is the gateway to a town that exists only on the airwaves.


Huntsford - Credit: Archant

I sit in the room with 81-year-old Pam Holley, a retired primary school teacher who lives with her daughter in Hartford, who also happens to be the biggest gossip in Huntsford.

Mrs Holley steps up to the microphone and becomes Maggie – imagine Miss Marple working in a sweet shop and you’ll get her character. Maggie knows everyone’s business in Huntsford.

“She does like to know what’s going on in the town and she’s a bit of a gossip,” said Mrs Holley. “I’m not like Maggie at all – the original script said she was very sharp-tongued and I’ll do anything to avoid confrontation.”

I hadn’t been nervous about my two-scene cameo as a news reporter prior to entering the room, but having watched several actors transform themselves before my eyes and faultlessly deliver their lines, it dawns on me that this isn’t just a bit of fun.

Huntingdon Community Radio’s soap Huntsford celebrates its second birthday tomorrow (Thursday, May 9), a remarkable achievement for a show that goes out three times a week and runs on the tireless work of volunteers.

The show, which airs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings with a Sunday omnibus, has featured in The Sunday Times Culture Magazine and was described as “honest, warm-hearted, camp and compelling” in a Radio Times article last year.

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The show is based around Wavelengths Hairdressers in the fictional country town of Huntsford, and is thought by those involved to be the only long-running soap to appear regularly on a community radio station in the UK.

Perhaps the key volunteer behind Huntsford is Mick White, who became involved with the project after being made redundant from his job working in electronics and software two years ago.

“I was at the JobCentre and they sent me over to Papworth Trust to do some volunteering and HCR was setting up in the same building.

“I offered my services and didn’t hear back for a long time but eventually was asked if I would help out.”

Having worked as a sound engineer in his early career, Mr White, 57, took up the role as sound editor on Huntsford before taking over production and now invests between 15 to 20 hours a week on the show.

“One hour of recording equates to about one minute of material, and then there’s all the editing and script writing meetings. We’ve got script editors now and we have a new director so we’re starting to spread the workload a bit more.”

Our three-hour recording session on Thursday night only created three minutes of material for the show’s 108th episode, which will be airing at the end of this month.

Many of the actors I met were very active on the local amateur dramatics scenes, such as 50-year-old salesman Richard Simons, who plays dad and mechanic Pete on the show.

Not all of the actors in Huntsford are experienced amateurs though. Mrs Holley had not acted since school when she responded to an advert for cast members for the soap in The Hunts Post three years ago.

She has gone on to be one of the main characters in the show and has a deep and sometimes emotional connection to her role.

Mrs Holley said: “I have a big family of three children and seven lovely grandchildren whereas Maggie is quite lonely.

“I have to think what would it be like to not have my family around me when I’m getting into character. I have started crying during recording before.”

While I didn’t quite burst into tears during recording, I did feel the pressure of being part of something that so many people invest so many hours in each week, and did wonder if the show’s director Sarah Hogben might burst into tears as I repeatedly failed to sound convincingly enthralled as I trailed a Huntsford con-man.

This is as much of the plot as I can give away but if you haven’t tuned in to the soap before, you can listen online or tune in to HCR (104 FM) at 10.20am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a look into the enthralling lives of the people of Huntsford.