The Archers: The Curse of Ambridge

Does Jazzer know his elbow from his, er, derriere?

Like other pre-watershed soaps, the Archers is generally a haven of sedate language. The earthiest characters such as Jazzer and Ed, who in real life would be effing away on an every-other-word basis, restrict themselves, even in extremis, to ‘blimmin’ heck’.  Just this week, when Jazzer made a twat of himself in front of Fallon, he said, ‘She thinks I’m a prize idiot’ instead of something more plausible, and when Tom suggested he talk to her, Jazzer said she would doubtless ‘throw me out on my elbow’. He gave a little pause before ‘elbow’, making us wonder if he was preparing for authenticity, but the moment passed and we were back in Borsetshire: The County that Doesn’t Curse.

Or does it?

Over the years, there have been a few times when Archers characters have run amok and said a naughty. I’m pretty sure there’s never been an f or c word spoken. But even the milder profanities have the power to shock when heard in Ambridge, because of their rarity. I will never forget when Brian, after admitting to his affair with Siobhan, gave Jenny a bottle of perfume, and she threw it right back at him, spitting, ‘Give it to your whore!’ Mr Qwerty and I were completely riveted, forks suspended in mid-air. We sat in awed silence for fully twenty seconds, then both screamed, ‘WHAT did she say?’ We just couldn’t believe it.

Oy Sid, some b****r's gone and squealed on us (BBC R4 photo)

Swearing in the Archers can be divided into three categories. Category 1 is swearing which has definitely taken place. With the help of some lovely contributors to the Radio 4 Archers message-board, I have uncovered a number of these, such as the time Eddie told Kathy that Sid was shagging Jolene. That was a cracking scene. I remember the tension of it well but had totally forgotten that Eddie said ‘shagging’. While not exactly an expletive, it’s probably not the sort of thing you would say in front of Peggy. It was also used by young Alice, again in reference to Brian and Siobhan, making this story-line the one that really brought home the profane trophy.

Talking of things you wouldn’t say in front of Peggy…

the Victoria Cross goes to Jack, who under recent Alzheimer’s disinhibition, thought she was his first wife, and accused her of ‘screwing’ other men. He’s a brave chap. No wonder Peggy stuck him in the Laurels.

There are a couple of well-documented uses of the word ‘shit’. Alan said that dog shit was posted through his door when he married Amy’s mother. If the vicar can say this, surely Jazzer can? Or was Alan allowed it as a description of poo but not as an insult? Also I remember someone referring to Simon Pemberton as a ‘total shit’. Shula, possibly, whom he walloped. Not quite total, some of us might be thinking.

Blimmin' heck, my wellies look good with this.

Category 2 is apocryphal swearing. These are the cusses we think we remember, as though from a dream. One long-term listener reckons that Phil kicked the whole thing off in the 1960s with a judicious use of the word ‘bloody’, and I’ve had sleepless nights wondering what terrible event led to this expostulation. Probably it was just Phil trying to be with-it. I expect Jill shimmied in wearing a fab gear new mini-skirt, prefiguring by forty years Pip Archer swanning about in tights and shorts. ‘Bloody hell, Jill’, Phil might have gasped, staring at his wife’s legs, usually hidden by polyester slacks and wellies. ‘Do you like it, Phil?’ Jill smiled coquettishly, twirling round to show the back view and causing him to sit down abruptly on a hard kitchen chair. Yes, I can see it quite clearly. Other apocryphal oaths, most involving ‘bloody’ for some reason, include whatever Matt said to David after he discovered the latter had shot a badger; and to continue a theme, Caroline saying to someone who had shot a wild animal (presumably bigger than a badger), ‘You didn’t have to shoot the bloody thing.’ And Julia Pargetter, god love her, calling Lizzie a ‘bloody bitch’. Which of us hasn’t longed to do the same?

Category 3 is huge, being swearing which ought to have taken place. Oh, there’s so many of these: I’m sure you can think of dozens. When Grace died in the fire did Phil really make do with clutching his brow and muttering ‘Oh dear, oh no’? Shouldn’t it have been a little stronger? When the Archers offspring were arguing over their inheritance a few years ago, how tempted Jill must have been to snap, ‘For eff’s sake! Stop it now, you spoilt brats, or none of you will be getting my homemade marmalade this year.’

How is it that whatever ridiculous scheme their men-folk come up with, the best Clarrie or Kathy can manage is ‘Oh, EDDDDDIIIEEE’, or ‘Oh, Kenton!’ Surely their lives would improve beyond measure if they could properly express themselves.

Good gracious!

Wouldn’t it be great if, in the same way that offices have a dress-down Friday, we could have a swear-up Sunday? For one day only, everyone could talk as if it were real life. Lilian and Matt could skip the ‘tiger / puss-cat’ nonsense and refer to each other, as they doubtless do when we’re not listening, as something rather more salacious. Jim and Shula could have the vulgar slanging match they’re both gagging for. Phoebe could impress us with the latest words she’s learned in the playground. Annette could tell us what she really thinks about being up the duff (or on second thoughts, maybe not). Anyone who has any dealings with Linda can vent their feelings with a well-chosen epithet after she’s sallied off to her next project. Neil can tell Susan to ‘shut the eff up moaning’, which would take years off him. And everyone can just swear at Helen whenever they like.

I think it would be blimmin’ good.

Posted by Qwerty.

With thanks to Archers listeners: RosieT, Reggie Trentham, Almond Aire, catwomyn, taddydogman, Gene Bailey and Doctor Darling

9 Comments

Filed under The Archers

9 responses to “The Archers: The Curse of Ambridge

  1. inkface

    “when Jazzer made a twat of himself ”
    I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked at the appalling language used willy-nilly by bloggers these days. Wash your mouth out with carbolic young Qwerty.

  2. Qwerty

    It was the effort of trying to be restrained throughout the rest of it. I just lost my head for a moment. Sorry Inky. Won’t happen again.

  3. DrTrickCyclist

    I have a feeling it was Caroline and not the sainted Shulaarggg who called Simon Pemberton a ‘complete shit’. If memory serves she was trying to warn S off him. Allegedly friendship was behind it but am sure her (Caroline’s) dislike was fuelled by him being her main rival for Guy Pemberton’s substantial assets.

  4. What an excellent post! I never realised that they were such a sweary bunch in Ambridge! I think it would be very odd to hear ‘genuine’ obscenities in The Archers; it’d be a bit like hearing your Nan swear. Mind you, there doesn’t appear to be a watershed for bad language on Radio 4. Expletives can often be heard in afternoon plays, so perhaps the writers of The Archers will one day have their characters effing and blinding just like the rest of the world.

  5. PedantsRevolt

    And I thought pauseliveaction was a highly researched and fully peer-reviewed academic journal …. it was actually Anna Ford infamously on the Today Programme back in 1997 who described Simon Pemberton as a “total shit”.

    But then that was in the dying days of that nice John Major who had himself seen fit to call three members of his cabinet bastards. So maybe standards were different then.

    However, I also find from yellowing back issues of that estimable organ the Daily Telegraph which line the small room downstairs that Matt Crawford told Brian to “piss off” some time in the spring of 2009. Would that the Daily Mail had directed their ire in that direction, we might now find the whole of the Archers cast leaving the BBC, rather than just one overpaid presenter.

    Nevertheless (and I’m determined to start each paragraph with a stentorian note) the Qwert is on the money according to BBC Producer Guidelines which say that “in the right context strong language may cause little offence and in some situations it may be wholly justified in the interests of authenticity”.

    I think that a campaign for more convincingly authentic swearing in the Archers can only be a heartbeat away. And then I might even start listening to it.

    Actually the best non-swearing swearing recently was in the Fantastic Mr Fox, which simply made liberal use of the term “cuss”. And proceeded to use phrases like “what the cuss” and “that’s a real cluster cuss”. I think they drew the line at “mother cusser”.

    And the best swearing swearing was of course in South Park The Movie. Let’s move Cartman into Lower Loxley Hall and teach Freddie Pargetter how to swear properly.

  6. snowglobes

    I fear moral standards in the comments section of this blog are beginning to slip dangerously.

  7. fanoflinda

    Dear Querty
    I thought your fans might like to read some language extracts from the scene in which Grace dies in the fire. As you can see there was a liberal use of oh my god’s and blasts, but we did have a hell of a.. so perhaps relatively the language was more shocking then than now?

    - Oh my god she’s going up like a torch
    - listen to them, poor devils
    - oh my god, this is ghastly
    - we’re going to have a hell of a job getting the horses passed.
    - for God’s sake Grace come back
    - Phil you fool
    - let me go blasted man
    - Heave, blast you.
    - By George it’s going.
    - Now buck up.
    - that’s darn good going.

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