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Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Archers: This Is The End, My Friend?

An everyday view of country life...
The Archers on BBC Radio 4 used to be like a big slice of chocolate cake at the end of a hard day. It was a harmless indulgence. A pick-me-up containing a few ingredients that might even do you some good (well, eggs and butter are off the verboten list now, aren't they?), if only psychologically.

Lately it's become cigarettes and absinthe—a deadly habit I just can't kick. How I wish I could, especially after the past few months when, as I predicted in my other blogs here about The Archers, it feels more like Eastenders on Am.

I don't have the heart to go through all the ways this programme has failed me, and a lot of other listeners, recently. If you want a taste of public opinion, read the comments on The Archers Facebook Page (beware trolls), The Archers Blog, and #thearchers on twitter. All this social media was set up by the BBC to create an interactive community, but they never seem to do any interacting themselves, or act to stem the rising tide (a fitting image) of complaints.

How I Spent My Last Sabbatical From The Archers...
The night of The Flood dragged out over every evening for a week was a perfect example of a great opportunity wasted. I was once caught up in a real-life flash flood that killed several people. The hell portrayed by The Archers was realistic—it was the execution that was all wrong. The drama should have been condensed into a one-hour special. As proof of this idea, it worked well as an omnibus, but as five (was it only five? It felt like five hundred) chunks of 13 minutes, it was an incoherent mess. Floods are a short burst of mindless terror, not a week of fancy sound effects.

The Archers team is very proud of their research among farmers and others caught up in last year's flooding. Unfortunately, that simply reveals another great flaw in this storyline. How many of the farmers they interviewed will ever be caught out by flood water again?  Despite this dry winter, every landowner I know in Somerset has kept one ear to weather forecasts, and has been even more scrupulous than usual about clearing out drainage systems. If the scriptwriters had let a few years elapse before using this story, complacency might have set in among real-life people living on flood plains, and it could have served as a useful reminder.

What sort of farmers don't take any notice of online weather warnings so thoughtfully put out for them by the BBC? Wait—I know! The sort of farmers who wanted to move an entire dairy enterprise to the other end of the country, and  invest shedloads of money they didn't have, in creating a brand-new dairy farm at a time when milk prices are on the floor. In other words, idiots. Who wants to listen to a drama about such unbelievable, unloveable characters?

Which brings me to my final rant. A member of the Mustardland online community of Archers listeners wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC. They received a form letter in reply, full of platitudes and basically saying The Archers was cutting edge drama with millions of faithful listeners. The inference was that this is how it's going to be from now on, so get used to it.

The sneering dismissal of anyone who dares shine a light into this growing gloom is bad enough. The fact that I, and several other people I know, received exactly the same letter—word for word apart from our names, and complaint reference numbers—makes it ten times worse.

The Archers is going to feature on Radio 4's Feedback programme this week. I'd like to think the programme will kick its usual habit of letting The Powers That Be tell all complainants they're wrong and the editor and scriptwriters are completely right, but I'm not holding my breath.

Those who live by social media may die by it. I really hope it doesn't kill off The Archers I once knew, and loved.