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Monday 30 June 2014

The Archers: Missed!

Oil Seed Rape, bees for the use of...
This blog is a strictly personal rant about something that used to be close to my heart. Something's going on in the countryside - and it isn't country living. Listening to The Archers has been a six-times-a week habit for three generations of my family (Non-listeners catch up here). I never thought I'd be the one to kick it but sadly, I think the programme's jumped the shark. 

Critic Alison Graham sums up what's gone wrong here. The Archers used to be a mixture of the funny and factual, the infuriating and the engaging. It's now no different from any other soap opera. There's virtually nothing left of the rural aspects which made it unique. When country matters are mentioned on The Archers now, it's clear the research is only half-hearted. Tom's cheating on organic principles, and putting down the deposit on a new house when any stockman would live on-site for the good of his animals was parachuted in, then forgotten about just as quickly.
From Our Village Flower Festival
 There are so few decent workmen left in the countryside (they've all moved into town), rich couple Jennifer & Brian would have been vetted their kitchen fitters carefully, and had their contract hedged around with penalty clauses. Ambridge Organics, the shop run by passive-aggressive narcissist Helen Archer, has (astonishingly) bucked the trend that's seen similar shops close in every other real country towns. In fact it's so successful, they're going to employ an agency to find an assistant manager to replace part-time help, rather than sticking a card in the shop window! 

The oddest thing, though, is the total lack of gossip about the type of things people living in a village really would talk about. When Helen Archer despaired of ever meeting a man and having a family, she decided to have Artificial Insemination by Donor. 

She was granted it within days, and became pregnant first time. Just like that-and nobody ever asked why, or how she came by little Henry. Similarly, nobody in Ambridge has ever been remotely curious in any way about baby Bethany (who has Down's Syndrome).  Bethany's been quietly forgotten, now she's served her purpose as a soapy plot-device. When you live in a village, you all have to rub along together- that means talking about things like Bethany's milestones and health, or wondering about who little Henry's father was, not ignoring them. Out in the wilds there are so few of you about, everyone's curious about their neighbours!
wild boar damage: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Schweinerei-einer-schwarzkittelrotte-001.jpg
Wild Boar Damage: By Dontworry

Yes, it's all fiction, but there's got to be a grain of truth inside the pearl of entertainment. The Archers is now nothing more than Eastenders-on-Am. Why doesn't the programme  cover real rural issues such as the lack of affordable rural housing, the number of teenagers killed on country roads (tragically, we've lost three from this village alone over the past 5 years), wild boar left to roam unchecked, the struggle to keep village churches going (what DOES Alan the Ambridge vicar give away each week, to guarantee almost 100% attendance?), and more cheerfully, the increasing numbers of community initiatives.

Do you listen to The Archers? What do you think about recent developments?


  1. You are right. What is to be done?

  2. We could try submitting story ideas to HQ. Here's the closest I could find to a link: http://bbc.in/VzlOFg. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a few ideas recycled: setting up a new rural enterprise, or what happens to the unemployed in Ambridge (there don't seem to be any!).

  3. I agree with every word you wrote about The Archers. I am so disappointed with the way it's changing. And as for the Roy and Elizabeth thing ...

  4. It's a great shame. One day, I'm going to submit some ideas to Ambridge Central. All I need is the time to do it!

  5. The story of a putting on a festival at Lower Loxley wasn't a bad idea - it's something that has become increasingly popular at minor stately homes and elsewhere. But turning it into a three-day BBC cross-promotional celebrity smugfest based on the rather infantile belief that everyone wants to go to a festival themselves, wasn't necessary. Contrary to what Steve Lamacq thinks, there wasn't "something for everyone". There are adults who listen to R4 who prefer classical music, or drama, to anything in the relentless varied soundtrack of Loxfest.

    The story of looking for a love interest for Elizabeth wasn't a bad idea. She's a widow under 50 with her own business and stately home and children who are out of infancy, a great deal less "undateable" than a drab character like Kathy Perks. But this particular love interest story is risible, positively unpleasant to listen to, and a wasted opportunity. If she was ever going to date someone she met through work, it would be someone in some luxury or craft business she came into contact with - a wine merchant or garden designer or minor celebrity chef. Or it might be someone else, like Ifty the maths tutor, more similar to her in personality or perceived social status, met through her children's education, perhaps another widowed, or semi-disentangled parent. That would have been more realistic and with plenty of dramatic potential. Or a story of introductions through an up-market dating agency to the sort of people she'd be more likely to date, such as a City type bringing new money into the country, of which there are plenty in real life and none actually setting up home in Ambridge, would have been more realistic. Indeed, why not even introduce a female character who runs an up-market dating agency, just the sort of person Elizabeth might encounter at a soiree at a minor stately home, and someone with an interesting perspective on the hits and misses of couples in contemporary life.

    But then the first sign of a wasted afternoon is over-thinking the Archers . . .

  6. Hi, Anonymous—thanks for your comment. I'm afraid I missed it first time round, but I agree with you. It would be entirely in character for Elizabeth to find an intelligent, multifaceted professional man, but mad to hit on a man she's know from birth and never shown any romantic interest in before. And look how sadly it's turned out. I've always liked Hayley :(

  7. Rural problems are still ignored and the latest storyline of Tony being injured by a bull is being dealt with in a dangerous dog manner! Btw interested that you too have problems with boar. My husband is in despair by them ploughing up the orchard. Problem worsened when the small farmers retired and sold up to an agribusiness who just doesn't care that the boar shelter and breed on their land.