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Monday, 7 September 2015

The Archers—A Habit I Just Can't Kick

Not St Stephen's
I know, each time we poor listeners are subjected to some new outrage I say I'll never listen to The Archers again, but the truth is I can't help myself. As I've explained in previous blogs, two generations of my family listened every day, plus the weekend omnibus. That's all changed. I know lots of people who've given up on it completely. As the series degenerates into Eastenders-On-Am, I can go for weeks at a time without switching on at all. The trouble is, I miss the old-style Archers terribly. It's a true addiction. I dip into online forums and the BBC Blog here to find out if it's worth tuning in again.

It never used to be like this. The Archers began a few years after World War Two, when few people had TVs. The Ministry of Agriculture liked the idea of a radio programme that would be "an agricultural Dick Barton" (think Indiana Jones, with tractors) to inform farmers of best practice while entertaining its listeners. The young, go-ahead Phil Archer tried out things his father frowned on. Comedy and drama spiced it up. The village's old scoundrel, Walter Gabriel, was always cackling at something. His son, the oddly suave and sophisticated Nelson, was a likeable yet slightly shady character. Phil famously lost his first wife Grace in a fire, a fictional tragedy intended to steal the thunder of a real-life TV station's opening night.

You tuned in to The Archers every night to hear about the ups and downs of family life in a believable country setting, with the odd train robbery, pet elephant, and plane crash thrown in now and again for variety.

I've lived in the country nearly all my life, and while times change and the tag line "an everyday story of country folk" was definitely beyond its sell-by date, The Archers is no longer fifteen minutes of escapism. They've shortened the slot, and the programme is now a clone of the snarling, sensational TV soaps I rejected a long time ago.

Okay, so life's not a bowl of cherries but the reason I (and my parents, and my grandparents before them) listened to The Archers was because I cared about the programmes characters, I wanted to hear the baddies get their comeuppance, and yes, I admit it–to laugh at the sometimes silly sound effects. It was fun. It was familiar.

Now all that has changed. First, the wind of Political Correctness swept through The Archers. The Vicar married a Hindu, while Ambridge has been introduced to racists, homophobes and gays, and at one time rivalled the United Nations in its number and variety of accents. Then, the Archers got a new editor.  Sean O'Connor came from TV, and doesn't it show? He's jettisoned old characters and some young ones, with the excuse they haven't been to drama school. The programme is now stuffed with drama school alumni who all (with the exception of Daisy Badger, who is unique) sound exactly the same. This really, really doesn't work on radio. We have no visual clues to help us sort out who is speaking to whom.

Reflecting the country's changing attitudes and population is a good thing. The problem for me is that concepts in The Archers are now introduced for the sake of it, with no reference to past characterisation, or future story development. For example: Shula Archer is a middle-aged pillar of the community, businesswoman, churchwarden and all-round goody-goody. She witnessed a relative's partner, Rob, commit a violent assault, then lied to the police about what she saw. That's something St Shula would never do in this story universe. Something she definitely would do is confide in her family about Rob's violent temper. This hasn't happened. People in real villages talk to each other. Rob the thug's card would have been marked out of existence a long time ago. Instead he's become a pantomime villain, while his first wife, the sainted Jess, has vanished. The nice, respectable woman who was liked by the whole village has been written out. She's never spoken about by the villagers any more. That's highly unlikely, considering how they were all such friends. Worse, Jess was apparently always a drunken slapper, according to the latest scripts. Wrong! Lady Muck Jennifer has a radar for that sort of thing. She would NEVER have let Brian within a mile of Jess if that was the case.

Kenton Archer has been bailed out by his family on lots of occasions. Expecting a windfall from the sale of his brother's farm, he maxed out on credit cards. So far, so typical. He's always been an idiot. When the sale fell through (another gripe—the scriptwriters now treat us as the idiots. How many listeners thought Brookfield Farm really would be sold, and David would move away? None, that's how many.) Real Kenton would have found a pressing need to visit his daughter on the other side of the world. Instead, he stays and slips into drinking and depression. That could well happen in real life, I agree. What I can't understand is why his wife, Jolene, craves his approval for the financial help she's getting from his family to bail out the business left to her by her husband? Jolene's a tough, sensible woman. She'd accept the money, save her business, and get help for Kenton. And that's another thing—only months ago Ruth Archer was crying over the size of an electricity bill. Since then, her family has had to pony up the dough for all sorts of expenses surrounding the failed sale of Brookfield, petrol, and temporary help while Ruth drives long distances to visit her mother. Now they can afford to hand over thousands of pounds to bail out Kenton, again. The rainbow after the Ambridge flood obviously had both ends on Brookfield land, with a crock of gold deposited at each one.

myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
Go Wild In The Country!
The only reason I listen to The Archers now is if I get a hint that the evil Rob is going to get found out. As a survivor of mental abuse I'm horribly familiar with what's happening to Helen but to be honest, they've turned Rob into such a pantomime villain the storyline is ridiculous. It's the people you least suspect who get away with DV for the longest time. Rob's been fiddling the meg-dairy's computer, threatening blackmail, and he walked out on his job "on a whim". To take just one of those complaints, a huge enterprise like Berrow Farm would have a dedicated IT team. You don't rely on mucky fingered non-experts keying in info, as and when. You pay people who know all about it, and do it all day—properly.

The Archers used to have an agricultural advisor. I think they must have been abandoned somewhere, along with the archives and character sheets!

Have you been listening to The Archers for a long time, or are you a recent recruit? Are you enjoying the new-style Archers?

In other news, my own everyday story of city folk fooling about and (eventually) going wild in the country, My Dream Guy, is released on 15th September. You can order your copy here.