| Updated at: 2158 PST, Monday, January 03, 2011|
LONDON: "The Archers", the world's longest-running soap opera, celebrated its 60th birthday over the New Year long weekend with a major storyline set to shake up the BBC radio serial.
Feted by some as the essence of Englishness, "The Archers" features everyday tales of rural life in the fictional village of Ambridge, where typical activities include cowshed births, post office chats and broken tractor dramas.
It has five million listeners in Britain and its six, 15-minute episodes per week are also broadcast on the Internet and from British military bases worldwide.
The show was first broadcast nationwide on January 1, 1951. June Spencer has played publican Peggy Woolley since the start.
The soap marked its anniversary over the three-day New Year long weekend with its 16,300th episode and a "thrilling storyline... that will shake Ambridge to the core", according to BBC publicity.
In Sunday's special double bill, cheesemaker Helen Archer gave birth via an emergency caesarian after becoming pregnant through artificial insemination.
Meanwhile stately home owner Nigel Pargetter fell from a roof after losing his footing attempting to remove a New Year banner -- with his fate left in the balance.
Many famous faces have made cameos over the years, including Queen Elizabeth II's sister princess Margaret, actresses Britt Ekland and Judi Dench, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, Australian comedy star Dame Edna Everage and former England cricket captain Mike Gatting.
To make the sound of a lamb being born, the sound effects man squelches his hand in a pot of yoghurt and then throws a wet tea towel on to some straw.
In recent years the show has shocked some traditional listeners with storylines involving homosexuality, racist attacks and illegitimate children.