The Archers actress Sara Coward has died

The Archers actress Sara Coward has died of cancer aged 69.

Sara, who had played Caroline Sterling on the much-loved BBC Radio 4 drama since 1977, was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year when she found a lump on her neck and swelling in her right arm, shortly after recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy.

As well as her regular role in the show, Sara was a writer and stage actor, and spent eight years working for the Samaritans charity in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sara recording with the Duchess of Cornwall in 2011 (BBC/PA)

Earlier this year she told the Radio Times from her palliative care home in Leamington Spa: “I would prefer it to be over quickly.”

Announcing her death, The 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 also told the Radio Times 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”.

Sara’s first appearance on the programme was in 1977 when she began working at The Bull with her Great Dane, Leo.

Sara Coward and Arnold Peters, who played Jack Woolley in The Archers, in 1984 (BBC/PA)

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.

Sara, 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 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, Sara 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?’”

Sara as Caroline after marrying Oliver Sterling, played by Michael Cochrane, in 2006 (BBC/PA)

Sara last appeared on the programme in September 2016.

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 on 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.”

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