Actress Sara Coward, The Archers' Caroline Sterling, dies aged 69
The Archers actress Sara Coward, who played Caroline Sterling for almost 40 years, has died of cancer aged 69.
Stars from the much-loved BBC Radio 4 drama paid tribute to their "graceful and witty" co-star, who had been receiving palliative care after being diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.
Charles Collingwood, whose character Brian Aldridge had an affair with Caroline, said she would be "sadly missed" in a statement to the Press Association
He added: "Sara was a good friend to us all and her character, Caroline, was Brian's first affair outside of his marriage to Jennifer, what fun we had.
"She had a very distinctive voice which became recognisable to millions. She will be sadly missed by all of us."
Coward was diagnosed with the terminal condition after she found a lump on her neck and swelling in her right arm, shortly after recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy.
Earlier this year, Coward told the Radio Times from her care home in Leamington Spa of her wish that the character would not be written out of the show, saying: "I'd like them to find someone else to play her." She then suggested Belinda Carroll for the role - the wife of Michael Cochrane, who plays her husband Oliver Sterling in the radio soap.
Of her terminal cancer, she said she "would prefer it to be over quickly".
Tributes poured in on Twitter from stars and fans of the show.
Ian Pepperell, who plays Roy Tucker, said: "Dearest Sara Coward, may we all remember you for the love you gave, the joy you brought and the laughs and honesty you dealt to us. Rip pepp."
Isobel Middleton, who plays Anna Tregorran, said Coward was a "lovely woman, gone too soon".
She added: "Sympathies & condolences to all her loved ones."
Annette Badland, who stars in The Archers as Hazel Woolley, tweeted: "Sara was such pleasure to be with. RIP loving, kind, intelligent, funny lady."
Susie Riddell, who plays Tracy Horrobin, posted: "So sad to learn of Sara's death. A lovely, graceful and witty woman."
Keri Davies, writer and producer on the programme, said: "Caroline was my first #TheArchers crush, and when I came to work on the programme, Sara Coward was an absolute delight.
"What a loss."
Writer Carole Solazzo said she "always loved writing Caroline", adding Coward was a "Great actor & lovely person."
As well as her regular role in the show, Coward was a writer and stage actor, and spent eight years working for the Samaritans charity in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Coward's first appearance on the programme was in 1977 when she began working at The Bull with her Great Dane, Leo.
She became a regular face behind the bar and a well-known voice as she was promoted to manager and then owner of Grey Gables Hotel and Health Club.
However, her character is most well-known for her string of doomed relationships.
Coward, who was "very fond" of Caroline, was sympathetic to her character's love life. "The poor girl was only trying to find the right man; she just happened to search in some pretty peculiar places," she said.
She twice appeared alongside royal guests on the show, firstly with Princess Margaret in 1984 at Kensington Palace for a charity gala held at Grey Gables.
Her next encounter with royalty was opposite the Duchess of Cornwall in 2011 as the programme marked its 60th anniversary.
Of her appearance with Margaret, Coward said: "Her Royal Highness was charming, "I have this terribly flat voice" she told me apologetically, with a ready sense of humour and a dry wit.
"We did one rehearsal and the producer said, 'That's very good, Ma'am, but do you think you could sound as if you were enjoying yourself a little more?' She looked him straight in the eye and said acidly, 'Well, I wouldn't be, would I?'"
Coward last appeared on the programme in September 2016.
Announcing her death, Archers' editor Huw Kennair-Jones said: " Everyone in The Archers family is very sad today. Sara was a gifted actress with a unique voice.
"Even when she was navigating the tribulations of Caroline Sterling's love life, Sara's deft wit and clever characterisation meant Caroline was never solely defined by her relationships but always as a fully rounded, intriguing woman of substance.
"We will all miss her both professionally and personally."
She spent the last months of her life trying to leave the world "a kinder place" as she launched a social media campaign urging people to smile at each other more.
She started Sm:)e from a hospice in Warwickshire and o n social media wrote: "Make someone feel good today just by being kind. This can be as easy as simply sm:)ing at people, or doing something more to help them in some way. And finding out how good you feel as a result."