The Archers, Rob Titchener and Domestic Violence

Note: this blog post is about the Rob and Helen story line in the Archers and particularly its central theme, which revolves around Rob’s domestic violence towards his wife Helen. I initially posted on the subject 07 February 2016, but since then there have been several significant developments. I have reflected on these in a number of footnotes at the end. The finale has been and gone, and is detailed in the last of my footnotes (ed – 03/03/17)!

As many will know, I am an Archers fan, and have been since my early twenties. While we are very much in a minority, I often find myself rubbing shoulders with those who share my enthusiasm for this long running radio soap, along with a fair splattering from among the famous, such as Neil Kinnock, Prince Charles, Helen Mirren and Stephen Fry. It is getting on for two years when I blogged on my interest in the Archers and when I reflected on some of the storylines around at the time. Most have since been worked out but I was intrigued with one statement that right now is a hot issue for the programme as well as life in general: “Will Rob Titchener be finally exposed as a control freak with a dark secret?”

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Strangely enough, we are still waiting with eager anticipation and hopefulness it will be the right answer to the question I posed at the time. Having just checked out the Archers fan Facebook page, it is clear that emotions are running high, with most wanting Rob to get his comeuppance. There has since been much water and the bridge concerning Rob’s involvement with Ambridge, in particular his developing yet far from wholesome relationship with the highly-strung, nervy, anorexic, overachieving Helen as well as several unsavoury incidents en route. Besides a lot of yet to be uncovered mischief instigated by Rob, there is the way he has manipulated the once self-assured Helen and reduced her to a surrendered, dutiful, now pregnant, wife, as well as winning over her darling son, Henry, to his side. While it is unclear if there has been physical abuse, there has been a considerable amount of psychological abuse, giving rise to strong emotions and angry reactions from Archers fans. One report reads: “Helen Titchener’s domestic violence storyline inspires Archers fans to raise thousands for charity”.

While the jury is out on whether the story should have run and how well it has been handled, and if it is the type of drama befitting to the more genteel sensibilities of Archers listeners, it has at least raised the profile of a significant number of women that suffer (and it should be added, the even more insidious abuse of men by their female partners) and often in silence and not understood. After all Rob is personable and accepted within the village as a good chap, by all except the few who have seen through him, like two of Helen’s friends she had recently fallen out with: Kirsty and Ian (ironically, partly over Rob). Rob even has Helen’s militant feminist mother, Pat, and her sanctimonious grandmother, Peggy, eating out of his hands. While one senses something is about to break and hopes (as I did two years back) Rob will be exposed as a wrong ‘un (and now a lot more than that, knowing what an evil ******* he really is), the scriptwriters have kept what is about to happen under close wraps. Also, to be noted, Helen is a complex character, albeit with some great qualities, and one wonders if what we are witnessing is her past catching up on her, like the suicide of her former husband.

If it were me, Rob will be shown up for all the nastiness he has perpetrated and receive his just desserts, with his victims, especially Helen, being somehow recompensed and coming good, but then that is not my call. I suspect the script writers know they are onto a good thing, thus letting the story run, and while the report headlined: Rob Titchener’s evil in the Archers makes for uncomfortable listening is true it also makes for compelling listening. My pleas to the script writers are are don’t do what often happens and let the story end up in an anti-climaxicle whimper (like you did with a story involving another DV rotter – Simon Pemberton), don’t forget the Archers was originally billed as “an everyday story of country folk” and, while times change and some like gritty realism, some of us would still like it to remain the way it was and, finally, don’t let this lead into a witch hunt against those men living with problematic women! I could also add… while I realise stories of DV in real life often take years to unravel, it is time to wrap things up – soon please!

One of my achievements as a community worker was to undertake a year long project investigating the missing communities in my town of Southend-on-Sea. This culminated in the publishing of the Missing Communities report. I looked at several groups on the fringes of society and one, the homeless, has been my particular focus in recent years. One missing community (although this is not quite the right word) that I did identify was those suffering from domestic violence (and this can be men as well as women) and the violence could be physical but, as we have seen in Helen’s case, it could also be psychological, and can and does go undetected. The aim must be to identify and then end the abuse. While I am all for reconciliation, sometimes it means ending the relationship and importantly protecting the one being abused and, where applicable, the children. This is a complex and sensitive issue. Because it is not one that I am particularly qualified to talk about or called to deal with as a major part of my community activism, it is not something I have written about to any extent since I wrote that report. (Even so, as a manger of a homeless night shelter taking in 20 overnight guests, two are victims of DV – one man, one woman – ed.)

Having listened intently to the Rob and Helen story unveiling these past many months, along with less taxing stories like how Eddy’s and Bert’s construction projects are going or Pips relationship with Matthew and the Fairbrother boys or the latest developments at Brookfield and Grange farms and Borchester land or life at the Bull, or the current fortunes of the Ambridge cricket team, or Linda’s latest community project or the latest item of (I don’t do gossip) Susan gossip, reminds me domestic violence is a real and distressing issue and there are those, including among those I know, who suffer from being in abusive relationships. What is needed is a sensitive understanding (as opposed to over-reaction) and for us all to be on the look out for and supportive of those who are being abused. Domestic violence is always unacceptable and, once cases of domestic violence have been identified, those who are suffering should not have to suffer any more and get the understanding and support they need. As for those of us in non-abusive relationships, not only should we be grateful that this is the case but also we need to take care that we avoid controlling behavior and love our partner.

Footnote 1: Since writing this two months ago, the plot has thickened considerably with major developments in the past week or so. We now know Rob did commit physical violence on Helen, including marital rape, although most of it was of a psychological controlling nature, and the story as it comes to a climax is truly keeping we fans on tenterhooks. The true nature of the relationship is about to come out into the open although there are still many loose ends that need to be tied up. Amazingly, the story has captivated many outside of the Archers community, touching as it does a raw nerve. As a final point and without wanting to bring in spoilers, it is looking right now that Rob may be paying the ultimate price for his actions (at least one hopes so), and one wonders where are the mitigating factors and extenuating circumstances? Much as the anger toward Rob among Archers fans is huge, would we wish that on him? For me though, the concern is still for Helen and of course little Henry and that somehow the truth will come out, especially as things stand it isn’t looking good for Helen. We know a lot more than the characters in the Archers other than Helen and our sympathies are rightly with her, but in real life the person making the accusation needs protection while investigating the facts so that justice is served. As for Helen, victim she may be but she still is a silly c*w going back to pre Rob days and while if she had done the right things the story line would not have arise, there no doubt would have been another Helen for Rob and his like to do their dastardly deeds- ed 05/04/16

Footnote 2: Things have moved on yet again and considerably so. Helen has stabbed Rob (long story), Rob is on the mend, Rob has custody of Henry with Pat and Tony having limited access, Rob is playing mind games with all he sees as a threat while milking as much as he can his hero of Ambridge image from the recent floods, Helen is in prison charged with attempted murder having made friends with Kaz, a prisoner with similar experiences, on remand while waiting trial, Helen’s son Jack has been born and is with Helen (although Rob, the biological father, refers to him as Gideon, and is intent on gaining custody along with Henry, and is intent on doing so by showing Helen up as an unfit mother), evidence is being painfully and (too) slowly gathered, Archers fans are on tenderhooks – as they say: watch this space – ed 05/08/18

Footnote 3: And still there are developments, as last nights episode with Ian standing up to Rob showed. While life in Ambridge continues as “normal”, the Rob and Helen story is kept to the fore with our being fed tantalising tit bits. We (the audience) have already witnessed many of Rob’s desperate shenanigans to thwart the defence case e.g. intimidation of witnesses, his self righteous and laudable depiction of him as the victim and his crafty manipulation of Helen’s son, Henry, over who he has temporary custody. Even as I write, Helen’s case is still a weak one, despite Rob’s earlier DV etc., since a lot of the truth of what happened in the lead up to Rob being stabbed has not come out and Helen’s is still reluctant to work with her barrister. We are told we can look forward to dramatic and memorable scenes when next week’s trial begins.  As for me, I can’t wait – I just hope amidst all the thus far injustices, we will finally see justice being done! – ed 29/08/2016

Footnote 4: The big development has been Helen’s trial, all but over except for the jury’s deliberations. Rather than elaborate on the thoughts I shared earlier, check out here – ed 10/09/16

Footnote 5: The trial is now over at last and the jury has given its verdict, check out here. Helen is now free, the just outcome Archers listeners wanted. But there are many loose ends to tie up and the story will no doubt continue to rumble on for some time to come. One matter, related to the story, was the self harming episode of Helen’s fellow inmate, Kaz, check out here – ed 12/09/2016

Footnote 6: Developments in the Rob and Helen story are now coming in thick and fast and the end is in sight, but not quite yet. Hardly a week has gone by since Helen’s release and the Family Court has just sat to decide who has custody of Helen’s children: Henry and Jack, the one matter more anything that bothered Helen all along, fearful she might lose them to Rob. For how it all turned out and my thoughts on the wider issue of child safeguarding and custody, check out here – ed 19/09/2016

Footnote 7: The story has moved on considerably and it seems the Rob and Helen storyline has come to an end. We last learned of Rob fleeing to country after an aborted attempt to kidnap Jack, leaving the door open maybe for a return. There has been drama afoot as referred to in my sequel blog post, check out here, and it seems Rob has been now fully exposed as a wrong ‘un and justice of a sort has been served, with Helen now very much on the up, although still concerns for little Henry. Probably the best storyline in my long history of Archers listening, aided by some superb acting, and one that has highlighted a very important issue. The problem now, as an Archers Addict, is having been on tenterhooks these past 3 years because of not knowing how this story was going to unfold, all the other storylines that we are now presented with seem pretty tame by comparison, although thinking about it: flower and produce show shenanigans, the latest of Eddy’s schemes, Susan’s latest gossip, Lillian’s antics and Linda’s pantos and campaigns are nice respite – ed 03/03/2017

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6 thoughts on “The Archers, Rob Titchener and Domestic Violence

  1. Kate HA says:

    Very well said. I read and often agree with your comments on Facebook. Bottom line problem with the Rob/Helen story is that the script writers appear to have ‘transformed’ characters in a village community into lightweight, self-obsessed sterotypes such as (I am told) appear consistently in urban-based TV ‘soaps’. I have not possessed a television since 1999 – a personal aversion to its brainwashing potential.

    What I, and I think a majority of long-time Ambridge devotees, object to is the downgrading of a quietly paced, very UNIQUE rural DRAMA into a run-of-the-mill, sensationalist, melodrama where it is impossible to ‘suspend disbelief’ i.e. the most essential ingredient of good DRAMA.

    Neither do the script writers appear to have any knowledge of rural communities. If listening figures have (which I doubt) ‘risen’ phenomenally, we are again required to accept BBC omnipotence when it comes to ‘what is best’ without reference to listener loyalty or complaint; ergo the emotive, sensationalist, morally relativist reporting which insists the UK must, no matter how damaging to our own infrastructure, give sanctury to millions of ‘entitlement-driven’ immigrants from a self-segregating culture.

  2. Marie says:

    I think raising the issue of DV is to be welcomed in the Archers. I live and work in a very beautiful rural area and even here, where there is a great community spirit and lots of local activities to enhance and improve the quality of life for everyone, DV lurks like a malignant tumour in homes that one would least suspect. In that respect, I have no need ‘to suspend disbelief’. It is all too believable. The writers have done their homework. Domestic abusers often ‘groom’ their victim, choosing women who are vulnerable and who are susceptible to their influence which soon manifests as control over their lives and other relationships. Isolating them from friends and family, locating their weakest and most insecure aspects and using those to undermine and demean them. Rob is a classic abuser in many ways. I have just one niggling misgiving and that is the introduction of Ursula his manipulative mother.. and I really hope it doesnt become a case of, ” well its the mother to blame.” Ursula’s role is one I dont recognise nor one that would be a common ingredient in these kind of circumstances. But I shall keep an open mind. Thank you for your very welcome blog piece on domestic violence and your obvious sensitivity and understanding of the how it effects its women.

  3. Thanks Marie for your comments. I originally wrote the piece before Ursula came onto the scene. First I thought she was hired by Rob as part of his dastardly plans to subjugate Helen but I realise now, though she gives me the creeps, she really is his mother, who seems to have no idea of what her son is up to. Like you, I hope she doesn’t muddy the plot unnecessarily and while her presence may give insight into why Rob is the way he is (I wonder if she was manipulated by Rob’s dad in a similar vein as Rob is now doing with Helen – since Bruce (Ursula’s husband) appeared on the scene that appears to have been the case – ed), she does seem at this time to be almost an irrelevance – meanwhile we wait with bated breath!

  4. Rita Newberry says:

    This story is so true to life. I know as I have experienced it, but you can grow stronger, find peace & contentment.🤗

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