Sunday, 30 January 2011

Splatted on the terrace like a lump of strawberry jam

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.


Sarah said...

When I heard people referring to the Archers on Twitter I thought it couldn't possibly be that British radio show I used to hear at my gran's house long ago. Must be some new show with same title. Some TV show.
Sort of comforting to know people are still listening to a radio show.

Yan said...

I am so with you on this, though I gave up on the Archers years ago - can't remember why now, but something to do with overkill on a story line and being fed up with the way every new twist and turn was flagged up days beforehand. Whatever. It was impossible to avoid the hype before she killed off Nigel so I was aware of what was going on and read about it in the papers. I think the most telling thing was when she told Graham Seed she had to kill him because he was so popular and then added 'I have to make an impact'. It seems that it is, and probably always has been, a vehicle for her own ego, the listeners come a vey poor second.

Incidently, if you ever complain about anything to the BBC and get a reply, the condescension is laid on so thick that you imagine they are speaking to a recalcitrant three year old.

Happy New Year, by the way!

Dawn/LittleGreenFingers said...

I used to kill time by singing (in my head - because otherwise, it was just cruel) the entirety of Joseph and HIs Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat. I now achieve the same rsult by listing all the characters I'd rather see killed than Nigel.

"Helen Archer, Kathy Perks, Neil Carter, Susan Carter, Peggy Archer, Lizzie Pargiter, William Grundy, Emma Carter...etc, etc, etc" I got to 33 the other day.

By the way, is Margery Antrobus dead or just 'at the Laurels' I never know...

Sue Beesley said...

Spot on. It seems so pointless to write out a major character (when the actor hadn't died or resigned and by all accounts didn't want to go) in such a stupid way. All that has resulted is one ridiculous episode and very many miserable ones since then.

And now, with this huge, sorry story dominating it, all the day-to-day stuff about people and farming seems trivialised, when it should be at the heart of it.

Another unhappy Guardianista for your scorecard.

Arabella Sock said...

Sarah - I know what you mean about it being comforting that people are listening to a radio show. The Archers in particular is a shared experience that many of us grew up with. I think that's why it 'hurts' when it loses credibility.

Hi Yan - yes I've had stuff from the BBC in response to complaints that was even more annoying than the original. I don't know why they can't just come clean and say we've run out of ideas for plots and the only thing we can come up with is the usual "birth and death" thing that soaps do.

Dawn - funny you should say that as I have always wondered what happened to Mrs. Antrobus too. I don't remember her dying although I might have missed it.

Sue, I think the theory is that Nigel's death will eventually open up a lot of new plot lines for Lizzie. Lets hope they haven't driven all the listeners away with dreary rubbish before that happens.

Now to crown it all we have Camilla turning up for a guest appearance at Grey Gables. Sticks to the ready everyone!!

mountainear said...

So agree - time to dip out of Ambridge for a while.

Dreary and drearier, improbable scenarios (what farmer usually rushed off his feet can drop all to go and run another business - David of course) + an even more improbable royal visit looming. I could rant on and on.

It has been a backdrop to my life - and like you have listened to it while on holiday. The people are very real and I can imagine all of Ambridge in my head. Just pretty sad right now that it's so erm soapy and melodramatic. Basically sh*te. Hope that's not too severe a criticism. Have had a couple of pints of Shires....

Nutty Gnome said...

The Archers has pootled along in the background of my life for ever - indeed it was the first thing we heard when we got within range of British radio after a year driving to Nepal and back!

The Nigel storyline didn't shock me to any core as it was so expected - and Vanessa Whitburn had pretty much announced that he'd died the day before the death episode!

What are the Beeb playing at?!Helen is ludicrously and miraculously transformed into a warm earth mother,Kathy Perks still needs a good slapping, Kate should bugger off back to South Africa and stay there and Kenton should give Jolene a jolly good seeing to!

It's all so thoroughly miserable now that I often don't bother to listen.....perhaps I should offer to write a few episodes for them - that'd certainly shake them to the core!!!