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.
High Priestess Whitburn says 'Let's shake it up, baby'. Photo from the Guardian.
For an update after the Big Event, click here
Since High Priestess Vanessa Whitburn announced that there would be a special sixtieth anniversary episode on January 2nd, the world has been abuzz with anticipation (it says here in this BBC press release that I’m copying this from). Ambridge will be SHAKEN TO THE CORE apparently. Well shiver me timbers and pour us another sherry Marjorie. I have managed to avoid the message board speculation, which uses the acronym SATTC to refer to this topic, in order to bring you my unadulterated (apart from the sherry) thoughts on what these possible Ambridge Shaking Events might be. Apologies if they’re all wildly unoriginal and have been bandied about already across the internet, though I don’t know why I’m apologising because I don’t actually care. The only clues I have permitted myself are Herself’s own words that two storylines are involved: ‘one running and one new surprise.’
In Category One, the most obvious Core-Shaking Storyline currently running is Hell-en and her increasingly criminal behaviour. If ever a pregnant woman was asking to be pushed down the stairs it was this one. Possible core-shakers include:
- Tony finally growing a pair and strangling Hell-en with that godwaful-sounding butterfly mobile. The clue is that it ‘hangs from the ceiling’ – this has been mentioned several times – so he could easily make it look like suicide.
- Ian finally realising that Hell-en is an evil succubus and poisoning her with the much-referred to white spirit he borrowed from Robert Snell.
- Hell-en miscarrying, though I really don’t think the writers will go down this route, for reasons too complicated and frankly dull to go into here (if you’re interested I can send you my lengthy ‘Why Hell-en’s baby will survive’ treatise, £2.99 plus p&p).
- Hell-en going into premature labour. The baby’s health hangs in the balance for a few nail-biting weeks before the little fighter slowly gets stronger and stronger, though sadly not strong enough to cope with the ultimate horror of being parented by Hell-en.
Clearly the script-writers, like the rest of us, could take no more of Jude. With brutal speed they dispatched him to roam America, sans Pip. Go West, young man. No, a bit further than Penny Hassett. If only he could have taken Brenda and Helen with him, my cup would have runneth over. Just imagine the three of them in a Thunderbird convertible, barrelling along the Big Sur Highway. They could fuel the car on whinge-gas alone.
Hey Jude, you let me down...
The departure of Jude and his irritating text-speak was an occasion of great delight for everyone, particularly me, David and Ruth. Everyone, in fact, except poor old Pip, who has lost her Fizz. Her wailing reminded me very strongly of being dumped myself, at seventeen – even though surely I must have been quite pulchritudinous and fascinating – by an older man. Well, he was eighteen but he’d been to Belgium, so he seemed very worldly. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? No, I don’t mean to Belgium.
I thought Ruth did a fair job of comforting Pip, at least until she started banging on about college again. I’m learning a lot of parenting techniques from Ruth, though I’m mainly filing them in the ‘how not to do it’ section. I also learned a lot from David, who, when confronted with his post-Jude daughter, decided to focus entirely on a cow he was grooming. Grooming as in brushing it and tying ribbons on its tail, rather than preparing it for an illegal relationship. At least, I think so. Their skirting-around conversation about forelocks and rosettes was meant to be a metaphor for everything being okay between the two of them, but it just made them seem completely suppressed and weird. Which is accurate enough, on reflection.
Blimey, I certainly didn’t see that coming. Peeling the potatoes, I was, and idly listening to Fallon flirting with Harry (pack it in, Fallon, none of us think you’re going to end up with Harry rather than Jazzer), when Jolene rang and dropped the bombshell. Two bombshells actually, the first being that she gets a better signal on her mobile when calling from New Zealand than I do when trying to speak to a chum up the road. Must find out what network she’s with.
And secondly, that Sid – Landlord of the Bull, erstwhile manager of the cricket team, and King of Homophobes – was dead. You could have knocked me over with a potato peel. I reeled from the sink and turned up the radio (laptop, actually – it was on Listen Again but ‘turn up the computer’ is a phrase that has yet to slip comfortably into the language). I felt sure if I listened hard enough, it would turn out to be a mistake. Lucy had smothered Sid with a pillow but he had been resuscitated; a rampaging herd of lambs had trampled him underfoot while out jogging (him, not the lambs), but he was now right as rain and suffering no more than hurt pride and hoof imprints on his stomach. But no. Heart attack and bam. Gone.
On reflection, some clues were there, if only I had been concentrating. Sid hasn’t been heard from for a while (apparently the actor who plays him is ill). And Fallon, a few days ago, expressed regret she hadn’t said goodbye to Sid before he went to NZ, then said, ‘Well, it’s not as if it’s the last time I’ll see him.’ Big chunky clue – no-one ever says that in soaps unless it is in fact the last time they’ll ever see them.
So glad someone's finally applied my theory to something meaningful
Malcolm Gladwell described a ‘tipping point’ as a moment of critical mass. He used it to explain how crime dropped dramatically in New York in the 1990s, but here I will apply it to something far more important: The Archers. I fear my favourite programme is on the verge of a tipping point, from which there is no return.
It’s been flirting with danger for some time, but The Archers has now almost reached the point at which the number of staggeringly irritating plots outweigh the enjoyable story-lines. Soon the whole edifice will come crashing down. It’s not just me who feels this way. Only the other night this comment appeared on The Archers message board: ‘Could someone get my radio back please? It’s in the garden and I’d get it myself but I’m just phoning the glazier.’ This cri de coeur was triggered by the episode in which Helen discovers she is pregnant. Right there with you, glazier-pal. Hell-en is unbearable whether she’s happy or sad, but happy is definitely worse.
Here are eleven pieces of evidence to support my thesis that The Archers is becoming so utterly annoying, it’s only a matter of days before every listener turns off their radio simultaneously at 7.05 pm, producing a surge of power to the National Grid large enough to cause a tsunami or earthquake (or something – haven’t quite sketched this part out properly yet).