I'm taking time out from my usual blogging to write about something that has been in my head since New Year, clogging up my brain to the exclusion of more interesting information and I want it OUT! So allow me to spew forth my feelings about the Archers.
First let me establish my Archers credentials and how, despite not being an avid listener, it has nevertheless been a string running in the background my life for many years. My parents always had the Archers on the radio at tea time. When I say tea I mean a fairly light evening meal taken around the kitchen table as opposed to dinner of the meat and two veg type which we had at lunchtime at my father's insistence. I blame my unfulfilled academic potential on the fact that having bussed three miles home, walked half a mile, scoffed meat, two veg and a pudding, walked and bussed back to school, all between 12.30pm and 2.00pm, I then spent most afternoon classes in a postprandial stupor, the effort of digestion having drained all energy from my brain. Or worse, returning to school on a Friday having enjoyed the deep fried haddock and chips that my mother excelled at cooking only to find my classmates less than happy with the pervading smell of fish wafting from my uniform and once throwing a bottle of lavender water over me in protest.
I have already digressed.. but this in itself is part of my Archers credentials, I remember the Archers and ergo I remember my life. The holiday in Northern Spain where the Bedsock and I sat in the car on a rainy day listening to the Archers on longwave. The time when I was at the kitchen sink and Tony found John Archer dead under the tractor and I was totally stunned and shocked. The Christmas spent in Dinan in an old, musty, rented house with only the radio for entertainment which was fine because we were hooked on the Brian and Siobhan affair and its various twists and turns. I remember Lizzie when she was fun, Pat when she was feisty, Helen when her pony Comet was ill (although I don't remember whether the horse died or not) and of course David when he killed the badger.
All the more disappointing then that the promised SATTC (Shake Ambridge to the Core) storyline was such utter pants. After a week of 'signposting' which even the dimmest listener could not have failed to have missed, Nigel fell off the roof to his doom. I laughed out loud as he emitted a scream, the length of which (it has been calculated) would imply that he passed sixty storeys before splatting. A splat that has since led to the tedium of weeks of grief, hushed voices and funerals at just the time of year when most people need their spirits lifting from the winter SAD. A parallel storyline had the overnight conversion of the hateful, controlling, turkey-basting, dairy queen Helen transformed by the birth of the Baby Cheesus into a glowing miraculous madonna of motherhood! I know I am not alone in feeling that the only thing that could save this would be to see Helen bought low and miserable as invariably and satisfyingly happens so often to Gail in Corrie. One can only hope that in Helen's case the Mills of God are grinding slowly and that one day they will grind exceeding small.
Does any of this matter? So a long running radio programme has gone downhill with a couple of badly scripted and/or ludicrous storylines. Hardly the end of the world and it may well get back on course eventually. Yet it feels to me like something is over, something I will never get back. A feeling exacerbated by reading the BBC Archers Messageboards where, what was once a forum for witty comment and interesting discussion, has now become for a venue for sniping and picking to pieces every single aspect of the plot with half of the threads ending in repetitive bickering. Initially I was surprised at wave of anger and resentment flowing towardsVanessa Whitburn the series Editor, someone I was barely aware of before the New Year Archers debacle. Then after hearing Ms. Whitburn interviewed by a disgruntled listener on the Feedback programme I too was taken aback by her patronizing manner and ill-judged comments. Ms.Whitburn fielded criticism in the manner of a typical spin doctor, disingenuously implying that people were upset by the death of a well-loved character rather than that the manner of Nigel's death and the lead up to it was so clunkily scripted and signposted as to make it risible. She went on to say that her interviewer and "several other listeners" had been annoyed by this storyline and that she did "feel for" those upset by it. I don't want Ms Whitburn to "feel for" me and far from "several other listeners" the general mood I have observed on various forums (including twitter) is that most people who listen to the Archers are at present, to some degree, disenchanted with it.
According to popular theory put forward by Daily Mail readers on the Archers messageboards I am one of the Guardian reading, latte drinking, left-wing leaning, city dwelling listeners that Ms. Whitburn aims to cater for. If so then she has failed even in that. What I want from the Archers is an insight into the minutiae of a supposed country life, believable characters in believable situations where the richness comes not from sensationalist plotlines but from well scripted observations of human behaviour with its follies and foibles and a bit of farming thrown in. I want to engage with the characters lives. I want a return to the times when storylines like Phil Archer's hip replacement gave me some leverage in introducing the subject to my own father who refused to admit he needed one. I want to actually LIKE some of the characters rather than find that the need for new 'issue' led stories has given people an overnight character change and usually for the worse.
I don't doubt that writing a good script is more demanding than plotting a dramatic event but they need to try. I still have the Archers on most days but at the moment it is so far in the background that I scarcely hear it.
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