I hadn’t seen this Arena programme when it first aired in 2007, and wondered what the Archers would be like on the telly. Turned out that, for the first half hour anyway, it was exactly the same as on the radio. Fearing the wrath of the famously militant listeners (many of whom are currently demanding the head of Vanessa Whitburn), the programme-makers tiptoed round, unwilling to show us any actors. Snatches of dialogue were in audio only, played over stock shots of the countryside. It was still vaguely interesting, though the programme focused too much on the Ruth-Sam story which feels as though it were a hundred years ago, what with people falling off roofs and cursed brooches. You’d think being the Archers they might have stuck in one of their much-admired and clunky ‘topical inserts’ and mentioned poor old Nigel, but no.
Incidentally, am I the only one bored to the back dentures by Stephen Fry’s ubiquitous narration? He’s so effing cosy and complacent, his mouth full of moist fruit-cake. I wish they’d got someone more edgy for the voice-over. Like Alan Bennett.
There were only a handful of really good bits in the first half of the programme. One was when we got to see the exciting story-board conferences. How I would love to be one of those writers! (Vanessa I’m available, I have some great ideas for how to get rid of Kate). Another was when a scene-stealing perky blonde woman, I’m afraid I missed her name, showed us round the sound-effects (marigold gloves for udders; bicycle pump for champagne corks; a board with all the different houses’ doorbells).
There was also an excellent reminder of the self-parody that was Walter Gabriel. Tony Hancock didn’t even need to change his dialogue in the Bowmans: Walt really did say ‘me old pal, me old beauty.’ And it was good to discover that Graham Harvey, the agricultural story-editor, does occasionally contribute, if you can call explaining about posterior presentations in cattle contributing. I’ve always assumed he just lies stretched out on a sofa eating cake and every few months calls out, ‘don’t forget they need to bring in the beets now,’ or whatever.
But until the half-way point, the prog was rather subdued. Then it changed pace abruptly, as if someone had rushed in and said, ‘RIGHT! I’m completely dicked off that we can’t show the actors,’ and bashed in the fourth wall with a huge combine harvester. We got just the briefest of warnings before we were thrust into the presence of the actress who plays Emma: surprisingly posh-looking and going on about how much mascara Emma wears.
Then in quick succession we saw Ed (not as dishy as he sounds), Adam (uncannily similar to my mental image), Ian (florid), Jill (eighty this year and completely gorgeous – memo to Botox-crazies, this is how to look good old), Jennifer, who confirmed that everyone, including me, expects her to be tall and dark, though she is small and fair; and dear departed Phil, who charmingly acted out how he could ‘die’ over the phone when the time came. In the end, he didn’t get the chance.
Best of all was the married double-act of Brian and Shula. Charles Collingwood bantered away, not letting Judy Bennett get a word in, for which I thank you, sir. He talked amusingly about the worry of never being sure if one is next for the threshing machine. What a treat to hear him go all Brian-ish.
Then all at once we were in the studio and Sam and Ruth were at the microphone with their arms round each other! It will take me a long time to get rid of that mental image. I assumed they would keep a prim BBC distance when recording love scenes but Sam was practically in her shirt pocket. I’d barely recovered from that when Joanna Toye was filmed writing a key episode, sweating over getting it right like a modern-day Shakespeare. Then a staffer showed off the amazing index card system which dates back to 1951, listing every little occurrence to every character. Who wouldn’t fancy a rummage through that? And then one of the writers came up with a brilliant suggestion for how Sam could hand in his notice that had all the other writers applauding. It was all fantastically compelling. Even the realisation that I had no memory whatsoever of the next exciting storyline (Hell-en hits Mike with her car), and that Stephen Fry was going to do a humorous summing up with that little chuckle that makes me want to smack him couldn’t spoil it. Cracking good telly as it turns out, that little radio show.
Posted by Qwerty. See all Archers posts here.