The Archers is currently running two stressful storylines (s.s.). We all find different things stressful, of course. My high watermark of nerve-wracking entertainment is the movie Top Hat starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, which I can only tolerate if I’m feverishly drunk. It’s all those misunderstandings, the will they won’t they get together, the nearly and almost, that do me in. (Spoiler: they fall in love eventually, though not before your correspondent is a wrung-out wreck. An inebriated wrung-out wreck.)
The first s.s. in the Archers’ current roster is the clunkily-written and embarrassingly-acted David and Ruth being menaced thing, which consists of the following: a baddie (you know he’s a baddie because he’s played by someone who sounds like Clive Horribin, in fact he might well be Clive Horrobin as there isn’t really room for more than one baddie in Borsetshire), phones up and says something mildly threatening. David and Ruth then panic and buy security cameras even though we thought they’d spent all their money on the Olympic-style opening ceremony for their new slurry tank, which featured poetry from Bert Fry and cup-cakes. Sometimes when I write about the Archers I can scarcely believe my own eyes at the words that come out. Did we really listen to a slurry tank party? Anyway, then there’s some stuff about how Josh/Ben (interchangeably annoying boys) want to ride their bikes to Hollerton and Ruth/David (interchangeably annoying parents) are worried in case the phone baddie does something bad off the phone. See? Stressful. Josh’s acting, in particular.
Don't look! You might accidentally see what David looks like... too late.
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).
The brooch goes nicely with this cape.
After all the anticipation, the weeks of speculation, the outlandish yet exciting theories: did it live up to the hype? No. It did not. And what’s more, Hell-en is still with us.
The unusually large cast spread out languorously across the half hour, confirming that what’s perky in fifteen minutes can be a complete dog at twice the length. We began with the much-trailed conclusion to the Hell-en drama, in which everyone who’s ever given birth – and many who haven’t – yelled ‘It’s pre-eclampsia!’ at the radio. The clues were obvious. Swollen ankles? Check. Headache? Check. Need for dramatic finale to a pregnancy during a special anniversary edition? Check.
And so a nation pinned their hopes on a perfect end to this sorry saga: Hell-en pegs it but the baby survives. Actually I was perfectly prepared to give up on the baby too if it meant binning Hell-en. In hospital Tony reprised the teary-scene from when he found poor John under the Massey Ferguson. He had a horrible reversal and started blubbing that Hell-en had been right all along and it was All. His. Fault. How very irritating. I think FanofLinda, a mental health professional, will back me up when I say that this is a classic case of someone with Personality Disorder (Hell-en) gradually sucking those around her (eg Tony) into their twisted world and making them see things all distorted. Tony mate; you were and are still right, and you have been way more supportive than the silly moo deserves. Take it from one who knows someone who knows.
The red herrings came thick and herring-y. Tony’s driving too fast and they’re all gonna die! Oh. They’ve arrived safely. Hell-en’s not going to make it through the Caesarean! Oh. She’s fine. (Damn.) The baby’s going to be touch and go! Oh. He’s doing well. Lizzie’s going to remember she has a heart condition and collapses on the banqueting table, accidentally stabbing herself in the heart with that Art Deco brooch as she falls! Oh. She’s hale and hearty. Kenton’s going to over-excite the children into a frenzy in which they go all Lord of the Flies and kill off the adults. Oh. They’re eating crisps.
I'd rather be at Jax
So Kenton and Kathy have split asunder eh? Well, you might say you were surprised they’d lasted so long, and you might be right. But in the Archers even the most implausible couples plod on and on for all eternity; there’s rarely any call for mediation. So although in the real world Kathy and Kenton wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, there are plenty of other couples whose continuing existence ought to bring a large delegation from Relate to look and marvel and maybe give out certificates.
Alistair & Shula – Frankly they’re an incredible couple, and I use the word in its old sense, meaning it defies credibility. Poor old Alistair has had several chances to make it out of Shula’s gnarled clutches, including before their ill-fated nuptials when she shagged Richard Lock. That was a perfect opportunity for Alistair to pack his possessions in a large spotty hankie and make merrily for the open road but like an oaf, he forgave her. A mere couple of years later she had turned him into a sulking, misanthropic gambler. Real-world relationship rating (RRR): By now he’d have had an affair with the receptionist at his vets practice, twisted the will in his favour, and buried Shula beneath the stables. And there ain’t a jury in the land that would convict him.
Eddie and Clarrie – Given that Clarrie is resourceful, respectable and earns her own income, her mystifying willingness to stick around can only mean one thing: that this is fiction. Not that I was in any doubt, obviously (ahem). Eddie has settled down a bit lately, but he has always been and always will be a wastrel, a chancer, a ne’er-do-well, whose only contribution to the household is to make Clarrie wail, ‘Ohhh EDDDDDDIE!’ at regular intervals. RRR: Clarrie would have quickly remarried an estate agent called Roger, and be having a nice middle-class life with a hostess trolley. Occasionally she would think of her brief sojourn in Meadow Rise, and shudder. Eddie would be living in a static caravan with some drunken trollop who’s no better than she oughta.
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.
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).
And cut! Grandma, can you tell us how you did that pattern on the top? Wake up, Grandma.
Everyone’s got their favourite. I’ve got loads. My most recent is from just the other day. It’s the one where Josh films Jill making steak and kidney pie. He might just as well have painted a wall and set the camera to record it for fifteen minutes. If I tell you that the only vaguely interesting thing that happened was Kenton referring to the pie as ‘snake and pygmy’, it’ll give you some idea.
Boring episodes of the Archers. Lord knows, there’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from. All which feature the flower and produce show, for instance; and there’s so many of those, is it any wonder that Bert Fry has taken to phoning in his surprise at being awarded a rosette for the biggest marrow? All which centre around harvest festival, Easter or other Anglican red-letter day, and their counterpart, any based round a service in St Stephens, can be added to the teetering mound of mundanity. And naturally, any one in which Tom reveals that his sausages are organic. The presence of Tom alone counteracts any other possible excitement. He neutralises heists, earthquakes and Lilian’s giggle at a stroke.
Fanoflinda recalls fondly a particularly soporific episode in which Phil (god rest his soul) and Jill were showing holiday snaps. ‘Look at Jill in that hat!’ the poor actors were forced to cry. You could hear the sounds of their careers being flushed down the toilet – or you would have, if the flushing loo sound effect hadn’t been deemed too interesting.