Often, it’s the smallest things that introduce a moment of disquiet. As lockdown started, news came that The Archers would be reducing the number of broadcasts per week to eke out its recordings. In fact, I discovered that it was quite nice to escape the real world and be reminded each time that Ambridge was coronavirus free. Then we had the archive episodes. Having heard what came after, I’m all for saying can we go back to these please? After all, there must be 300,000; 34; 974,000 hours of material, to borrow from our beloved Home Secretary. Personally, I would very much like to hear Helen’s trial again, with the special jury deliberation episode.
I’d been all eager to hear the first instalment and awaited 7.00pm in my kitchen in childlike-excitement. Like all irritants, once something’s gone you miss it at some level, and the Twitter tweetalong has been a muted, sombre place the last few months. Other writers (Miranda Sawyer, for example), have already explained beautifully how disappointing this first episode was. David, patriarchal overlord, wanging on tediously about lasagne to Bess (that’s a cow, not a long-suffering family member), intercut with his equally tedious, grumbling spawn. Continue reading
Gah, script-writers! What is going on?? I know it’s not the first time I’ve said that to you, and doubtless won’t be the last. But look here, Pip has had three addresses in as many weeks, and I just know that there won’t be a decent pay-off. If the only reason you’ve dragged us through her boring house moves is so that the following scene will play out in an episode several years in the future, I will be quite aggrieved.
Pip: Oh no, this official form will to take ages to fill in [sound-effect of pen being hurled onto the desk].
Toby/Rex/Tom [it’ll be one of these three who wins the dubious Pip prize in the end, mark my words]: Why’s that, Pip?
Pip: It asks for all my addresses in the last five years! Do you remember that time after we/me and Toby split [delete as applicable] and I left Rickyard and went back home, then ended up slumming it at Lower Loxley?
T/R/T: Oh yes, that’s right. Fancy a coffee?
Pip: Go on then. [Sighs, sound-effect of pen being picked up.] I’d better get on with this.
Brian [entering randomly]: I say Pip, you look awfully glamorous considering you’re just filling in a form.*
I’m calling it: Calendar Girls is the weirdest play Lynda has ever tried to put on. Yes, I do remember the one when she wasn’t sure, right up until opening night, whether Jim would read in English or Latin (you’d think that as the director she’d have needed to know that). And I also recall 2008’s effort, Jack and the Beanstalk, in which Lynda played the rear-end of a cow. I’m sure you’ll have your own examples of the craziest village plays. But there are three key reasons why Calendar Girls is even more bizarre than its predecessors.
- Everyone in Ambridge knows the film inside out.
Whenever Lynda approaches someone for a part, the person knows who she is talking about. Even young’uns such as Emma, who are unlikely to have even seen the film on the grounds of implausible demographics, know all the characters’ names. It is JUST NOT POSSIBLE. For one thing, CG has not entered the public consciousness in this way. And secondly, even if it had, the names are not memorable. They are all names like Chris, Annie and Ruth. Names like characters on The Archers, really, and look how long it took us to remember them. I still call Jenny, Chris and David ‘Thingy.’ Calendar Girls is not the Rocky Horror Show. There are no Riff Raffs and Frank N Furters in CG, more’s the pity. (Imagines exciting new mash-up, rings agent, explains idea, agents pretends to lose signal and puts phone down.) Continue reading
So the gloomy day inches ever closer. The day that Helen wilfully hitches her wagon to Psycho Rob till death do them part, or until the Borsetshire Women’s Refuge helps her escape – whichever is sooner. In light of Jess finally getting round to organising the decree absolute, I am minded to reflect on Ambridge marriages. And long-term partnerships too, of course: I am a modern blogger, even if I still think that ‘living in sin’ sounds wildly exciting.
Are there any decent marriages at all in this benighted village? My decency test is very simple and goes like this: would I like to be one of the parties in this marriage? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. For instance, the script-writers clearly believe that David and Ruth have a good and strong marriage. That may be true, on paper. (Yes, I do realise that everything in The Archers is technically ‘on paper,’ at least to start with.) But my test asks whether I would like to be in that marriage. Actually be one of the two partners, I mean, not like Camilla was ‘in the marriage’ of Charles and Di. UGH, a horrible vision of being David and Ruth’s sexual plaything has entered my mind and won’t leave. Nurse! Brain bleach, stat. So anyway, no I damn well wouldn’t like to be married to David, thanks all the same. Would I like to be married to Ruth? Are you effing kidding me?! It’s nice they have each other, though. Saves two other people.
I’m going to run the test on some more couples. Continue reading
When listening to the Archers, the spirit of Tony Hancock’s masterful parody, The Bowmans, is never far away. In the famous final scene, Old Ben Merriweather (Hancock), sees ‘half the village’ coming across the fields.
Tony: ‘Dang me, they shouldn’t be walking across that field.’
Actor: ‘Why not?’
The rest of the cast cry out in unison. This is followed by silence.
Tony [flat]: ‘Oh dear, what a shame. They’ve all fallen down that disused mineshaft.’
Naturally my first thought, on listening to the Great Flood sweep across Ambridge, was that at long last, our Old Ben Merriweather moment had come! This was a marvellous once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rid of all the dead wood, in one fell swoop. I felt sure that the scriptwriters had finally seen sense, goaded by a million whinging listeners (including me), and that the following tragic scenarios would now play out: Continue reading
Ooh I’m prettier than I imagined
There’s so much I could say about what on earth is going on down Ambridge way. But why bother, when everyone else is already saying it, repeatedly, heatedly, and occasionally, defeatedly? Ablaze, we listeners are, ablaze, to be sure. So before I get onto the issue that’s really worrying me, I’ll quickly get some of the baggage we’re all carrying out of the way. Baggage is how my Archers therapist describes this stuff, by the way. She says I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. Though we need to up the sessions to three times a week.
Baggage: Continue reading
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m hankering for more input from the agricultural story editor. I know he was taken out of mothballs the other day for a bit of ‘Oo-ar the Am’s gone brown, that’ll be the silt that will, oo-ar, I knew no good would come of that Justin Elliott and his city ways.’ But even that storyline eschewed pastoral calm in order to bring us yet another high-tension crisis – in this case the Am pouring into Linda’s marquee (Linda’s marquee is not a euphemism). Also – sidebar – how come they’ve got biblical rain showers in Borcestshire while the rest of this happily-united Kingdom is basking in the sort of sunshine that causes hardened hacks to type ‘Phew wot a scorcher’?
Anyway, I’m so over the high-tension crises. Back in the day (a few months ago), there would be four tomato blight-type plots for every Dan wanting to join the army story. I’m not saying that was quite the right balance. But lately we seem to be lurching from one damn thing to another. Roy and Lizzie have shagged! He wants to leave Hayley! Hayley’s found out! She’s being oddly good about it! Rob and Jess have shagged! Despite what he says! Jess has got a bun in the oven! Helen’s being oddly good about it! On the grounds that she has lost the little that remains of her tenuous grip on reality! The writers refuse to decide whether Rob is a sociopathic domestic abuser or just a decent misunderstood guy, so the ambiguity seems to be produced by whoever’s writing the script that week rather than any kind of actual plan! The stress is doing my nut in! As if that wasn’t enough, Mike and Vicki are abruptly upping sticks! I don’t want them to! I love Moike! Will there be an eleventh-hour reprieve? (Sidebar: There will, of course, because Bethany is the only child with a disability on the show and to get rid of her would smack of something most unpleasant.) Continue reading
I’m just thinking… I’ve had four glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon… I don’t think I should drive back to Bristol, do you? (NO WE DON’T, CAROL.)
The Archers scriptwriters have recently become a tad obsessed with characters’ backstories. I imagine a bright young editorial assistant idly running her hand across those famous filing cabinets, full to bursting with index cards going back sixty-odd years, and saying, ‘You know? We should do something with these?’ her voice going up at the end of the sentence to indicate her youth and irritatingness. Leaping in to agree, because she’s young and quite pretty, the writers have been muttering about narrative depth and story arcs as if they were going out of fashion (they probably are), and throwing Midnight Walkers and John Archer’s unexpected progeny and Hazel Woolley at us, seemingly so we can mug up for Mastermind with History of the Archers as our specialist subject (don’t think this hasn’t occurred to me). Continue reading
Obviously there are many long-term and ongoing baffling things about the Archers, not least of which is, what is the point of Christine Barford, and why am I still listening after all these years. But over the last few months there have been so many baffling plot elements – considerably more than usual, I warrant – that most episodes end with me shaking my head in confusion. Which, to be fair, makes a nice change from shaking it in anger/despair, as is usual. So here we go. As at 19th June, 2014, these are the key things I don’t understand.
1. Why have all the younger generation been summarily dispatched?
It’s like Logan’s Run in reverse, down Ambridge way. No-one’s allowed in under the age of forty. First Pip was sent to Yorkshire, and nary a (Pip) squeak out of her thereafter (believe me, I’m not complaining). Next, Amy vanished into the NHS underworld. Then Brenda, after dumping Tom and having crazy Russian adventures that only happened on Ambridge Extra, not in real life, shacked up with some fancy-pants new boyfy down in that London. She reappeared briefly, and pointlessly, to show off her Liz Taylor-style rock and set tongues a-wagging that she caused the collapse of the Tom/Kirsty ménage.
Which brings me to Tom and Kirsty, who looked for some time like the inheritors of the series, and who fell apart so spectacularly that I imagine the Archers writers are gutted that they wasted the ‘shocks Ambridge to the core’ strapline on that posh bloke, can barely remember him now, who slid off the roof a few years back.
Phoebe’s been struck dumb, Will’s largely AWOL apart from the Obligatory Conversation With Charlie (see 4 below), and even Emma, who was previously never more than three whines away from popping up in a storyline, has gone shtum. Whither Alice, Christopher and Jamie, eh?
My bafflement is this: when the old guard dies, who’s going to be left? I’m with the Archers through thick and thin – sick and sin – but even I might struggle to stay with a showcase for Ed, Jazzer and Fallon.
Thumper: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.’
Bambi: ‘I don’t care! Jess is awful! There, I said it!’
God knows, I love the Archers. I listen to it religiously (in that I pray a lot during it, mainly in the hope that Shula and Helen will be absent and Kate will have contracted a fatal disease). I’ve listened to it for years. Hot damn, I just worked out how many years, then hastily calculated the percentage of my life given over to this dementedly b-movie soap, and had a little cry. Hang on, though, I’ve just remembered that I’m always doing something else while TA is on – loading the dishwasher, for instance, or ironing, eating supper, or having sex – so in fact it’s not been time wasted at all. Phew. I’ll wipe my tears and get on with it.
So yes, I adore TA. But there is one teensy little thing that makes me cross, yes, only one, or at least, only one that I am going to focus on right now. And that is the pitiful attempts of the script-writers to try and force us to have particular opinions about characters, when clearly we are grown-up enough to make up our own minds. The most recent and egregious example of this concerns bloody Jess, Rob’s slightly-estranged wife, who’s finally been cast, I mean, finally turned up in Ambridge.
Sidebar: Blimey, that Rob can’t half pick ‘em! I mean, Helen AND Jess? And yet he apparently has enough physical va-va-voom to be cast as sexy Robin Hood, so could surely bag someone decent.