Note: I have added some updates since first posting at the end. The latest concerns a character I quite like: Oliver Sterling.
The only soap I follow these days is “the Archers” and I have been following it on and off (mainly on) for getting on for fifty years. I have just listened to tonight’s latest episode, as I try to most week days, or failing that on “catch up”. There are many attractions to this regular act of escapism to fictional Ambridge, each day (Saturdays excepted) following the lives of its residents for 12 minutes in an everyday story of country folk (although there is a raw edge and the truth is there always has been), but I still can’t quite work out why it is this is the only soap I take an interest in and why I take pride in being part of an exclusive club – followers of the Archers.
These days I find myself posting to my blog most days on all sorts of profound and important issues. Yet, interestingly, two of my most popular postings have been “The Archers, Rob Titchener and Domestic Violence” and “The Archers: the Saga of Rob and Helen continues”. For those who don’t know, for the past three years there has been a story line involving Rob Titchener and his wife Helen, who he has been abusing. For much of that time, most of the characters didn’t realize domestic violence was involved, for Rob appeared so credible, until Helen stabbed her husband and was put on trial for attempted murder. (If you want to know what happened, click on to the two links (here and here) that gives details.)
But that story has run its course. For me, and no doubt many other avid Archers listeners, the story had kept us riveted, to such an extent this was what we looked forward to hearing unraveled every time we listened, despite its dark underlying narrative, and yet one that highlighted an important, often ignored, issue that affects a number of people in real life – that of domestic violence. But what is the next compelling storyline? Here I struggle, because I don’t think there is any, but having been on a high all this time it is nice to be subjected to more mundane stuff and focus on other characters, including some interesting new ones. Forgive me, but I can’t help liking some and disliking other characters, not them personally or their acting skills, but as I weigh their good and bad features. I have to confess, particularly among the younger generation right now, most aren’t that likable, but that is part of the Archers’ attraction.
Tonight I couldn’t help smiling: Peggy’s cat from hell (who happens to like Fallon) Hilda took an instant dislike to newly returned wide boy, Matt Crawford, causing him to leave early much to Peggy’s delight. Phoebe is returned from uni and is presenting as a spoilt, entitled brat rather than as a nice, caring girl, which is what I had hoped. Yesterday, local PC, Harrison Burns, also captain of the local cricket team, was rumbled by Will Grundy. It is true Harrison had been caught out lying but Will is such a pain (I would like to thump). And every episode has highlights, sometimes brief cameos (like the appearance of Leonie and James who are back in ridiculous arguing mode, what a pair of irritants, whose mothers Linda and Lillian take sides with their child seeing no fault and falling out with each other) and sometimes part of something longer term, like will Tony Archer finally get to sell his field to the new squire of Ambridge – Justin Elliot? And now wide boy Matt is back one wonders what mischief he will create and how Lillian’s two love rivals will interact? Lily and Freddie Pargeter are interesting and I look forward to them taking part more in proceedings and I look forward to following the exploits of new vet, Anisha Jayakody, and whether she will hit if off with Rex Fairbrother or will he become an item with Pip Archer, who recently dumped his loser bother, Toby. Unless you are a hardened Archers fan, you may well think what a sad life I live!
And as for a whole bunch of regulars: David and Ruth Archer and Josh, Ben and Pip, their children; Tony and Pat Archer, (budding entrepreneur) Tom and Helen (and Johnny); Eddie (latest scam involves B&B) and Carrie Grundy and Joe; Kenton and Jolene Archer; Ed and Emma Grundy; Brian and Jenifer Aldridge; Neil and Susan (I don’t do gossip) Carter; (community activist) Lynda and Robert Snell; Adam and Ian; Alistair and Shula Lloyd (and Jim); Elizabeth Archer, Roy Tucker, Kirsty Millar; delightful matriarchs: Jill Archer, Peggy Woolley and Christine Barford and no doubt others who have slipped my memory. I mention these as they have all put in appearances in recent weeks and things are happening around them, and they continue to provide interest. But nothing too memorable, yet enough to keep me regularly tuning in, as I wait in hope for a story line to match that involving Rob and Helen and for there to be those to replace some of the old legends, especially Nigel Pargeter. Like life, the Archer’s moves on, and we the listeners, beholden to the production team as we are, wait in anticipation.
And going back to the question I posed earlier: why it is the Archers has fascinated me for most of my life? Maybe it is simply that I am addicted and like being part of the exclusive club of Archers fans!
Update 11/08/2017: Two months on, there is no clear contender to match the Rob and Helen storyline, which I guess is a once in the lifetime experience. I still listen to every episode, live if I can and on catch up if I can’t. I suppose one plus of not having the emotional roller coaster that the Rob and Helen story brought is it brings many more characters in the frame. The most pleasurable story is Jill getting arrested for her point of principle protest and becoming a celebrity in the process. The most moving story is that around Caroline’s death (covered in my blog here) and the subsequent trying to come to terms with it all by her grieving husband Oliver. The most infuriating story is Matt continuing to make mischief and poor Alistair is having to face again his demons from the past as a result, with his sanctimonious prig of a wife, Shula, not helping too much. The most annoying story involves the entitled brats of Ambridge e.g. Lily and Phoebe, and now we are on tenterhooks as to the aftermath of Phoebe’s night of passion. It would be nice to to see examples from the younger generation that I actually like. But at least Ed came up trumps, confronting as he did the xenophobic youngsters picking on the pickers and coming up with amazing wisdom for Oliver. Just hope he and moaning Emma find their affordable home. Tame it may be but it now looks like Harrison and Fallon can after all buy the home of their dreams, hooray! And then there are the other happy romantics: Lillian and Justin, Rex and Anisha and what about dull Roy and wise Lexi? Its good to know traditions like the village fete continue. There is a lot going on to keep up one’s interest (although for true Archers fan the bar in that regard is set low), but nothing yet to take over from Rob and Helen.
Update 21/08/2017: I am wondering if I have found at last found something in the Archers that will keep me on tenterhooks and emotionally charged, now that Rob has departed. It is not whether or not Phoebe is pregnant, nor if Alistair has managed to overcome his demons, nor whether any of Matt’s mischief making will make much of a long term impact; nor if whingey Emma will get the house of her dreams and make up with all the people she has managed to upset; nor on the outcomes of various love affairs; nor on all sorts of run of the mill stuff that keep folk like me tuning in to find out the latest in this every day story of country folk. No, I am talking about Oliver, who for a long time has been a minor, albeit salt of the earth, character, yet an important one nevertheless. He has always struck me as a decent sort with good common sense and a love for the country and life generally, comfortably well off having made a success of his earlier business life, up to recently enjoying his twilight years with his beloved Caroline, but with her recently departed now a lost soul. There is of course the matter of being asset rich but not having much cash to lay his hands on. His current dilemma is whether or not to sell Great Gables and enjoy his remaining years free from financial concerns or to be loyal to his loyal staff, something that concerns him because he is honourable and does not want to let anyone down. But the real issue is having been on a high is now on a low and he has lost his spark, leaving one to wonder whether / how it will come back. In real life, it is something I can identify with (there but for the grace of God etc.) and I await eagerly on developments. Oliver is such a nice fellow and he deserves a good end. I hope the scriptwriters will give it to him.
Update 28/06/2017: The Archers of course runs many story lines often in tandem and sometimes we have to be patient when it comes to one we are particularly interested in. In this case it is concerning Oliver trying to come to terms with his grief. Ed and Emma have not always been my favourite couple, but in this episode they, along with their children, have been fantastic. A lesson in how we might help those going through similar experiences as Oliver.
Update 05/09/2017: Good news – Oliver is planning to stay in Ambridge and (much to the relief of staff) not sell Great Gables, although no-one could have blamed him if he did move and/or did decide to sell up. I hope he manages to settle affairs in Tuscany – still loose ends to tie up. Today, he buries Caroline’s ashes, in a lovely, befitting setting (well done Ed). Of course there is other thing like Ian’s wish for a child, but Oliver is for me the focus right now.