I have followed the Archers on Radio 4 since the mid 1980s, the last twenty years or so through the weekly podcast. It is the only ‘soap’ I have followed since I gave up on Coronation Street when it started increasing the number of episodes each week many, many years ago.
Soaps are supposed to be enjoyable entertainment, combining drama with a fun insight into the lives of people you don’t really know. In a sense, watching a soap makes you a voyeur. When the soap starts to take over your leisure time by increasing the number and lengths of episodes it encroaches so much on your real life that it becomes a constrictor on your home and social activities.
Okay, that has been mitigated a little by Sky+ which allows you to record episodes to watch at your leisure, but it is still eating deeper and deeper into your family life. That is why I gave up on TV soaps. They took too much of my spare time.
I continued to enjoy the Archers because it has never varied its six, fifteen minute episodes and they are accumulated to produce a ninety minute weekly omnibus. I tended to listen when I was cooking or in the gym.
The problem with the Archers is not its length or any intrusion into day to day life, but its storylines.
I understand that new producers and directors were pulled in from TV soaps and since that happened there has been a deterioration. Over the last twelve months the deterioration has been like falling over a cliff.
Before getting on to the script faults I should mention that over the last months the actual acting has been deteriorating with even such stalwarts as Brian Aldridge sounding as if he is in a studio instead of a farm kitchen. This is also very noticeable in other sequences of dialogue. New characters are particularly bad on occasion and it sounds as if the studio time has been reduced to cut costs so fewer attempts to get it right. A recent sequence in The Bull was abysmal. You can put up with this occasionally if the story is good and that is the real problem. Once the story begins to fail, all of the other faults grow in stature.
Archers stories have tended to be pretty realistic, but the new regime obviously felt that realism was not enough, they wanted to add more to it with an increasing number of cliff-hangers and unlikely scenarios.
However, behind it all was the constancy of farming and the business of running farms. It is its key appeal.
We enter the last couple of years and things start to change:
- An eminently suited couple, Tom & Kirsty are split asunder. This is achieved by Tom deciding, on his wedding day, to abandon her at the altar. There was no reason for it within the storyline and it was totally contrived.
- He then goes on to abandon his business, built and grown through years of work, abandons his family and vanishes to the other side of the Atlantic. When he returned it seemed to have affected his voice, but all soaps have to change cast members and if all of that were contrived to hide that the actor had changed it was a damn silly way of going about it.
- No businessman would have left his growing business in that way. It was total nonsense.
- Rob (a control freak) entered the scene around then and I actually don’t have a problem with him. Good character, a puzzle, but an interesting storyline. However his influence on Helen, who became his wife, caused her to lose all semblance of sensibility. Causing her shop to fall into losses and close. In the past she has always been a strong enough character to ensure she spoke her mind. The writers should have continued with her strength of character and developed the effect of Rob upon her over a longer period – why all in a year, why not over a decade – this is the Archers, not a Dr Who miniseries! We ended up with an unrealistic business closure.
- In the meantime, the idea of the farm shop enters the storyline. Again good and we all know how strongly Pat, Tony, Tom and Helen feel about organics. They are also strong personalities yet they are letting Rob walk all over them. Rob is not a retailer and proves it continually. There should have been a real argument about it already, but the writers seem to be postponing it. Pat and Tom would not stand for what is happening with the shop – they are business people. They would have been talking about it and then would have thrashed it out. The writers are dragging it out unnecessarily. As a businessman I know this.
- So while looking at business, let’s now divert to the new road project. This coincided with the illness of Ruth’s mother and, lo and behold, the entire Archer clan is about to sell up and abandon Ambridge. This is wrong on SO many levels.
- Everyone knows the Archers are ‘The Archers’ so the storyline was immediately seen as nonsense and all the listeners could do would be to listen to whatever stupid solution the writers invented to get the Archers out of moving to the north east. That is just one fault with this plot.
- The main fault, though, is that the problem the farm might experience with the new road could just as easily happened at the new farm in the NE. New roads, or power stations, or industrial estates can happen anywhere. The fact that the Archers had decided to throw up all of their security and business knowledge to move to a hill farm in the NE solely to be close to another relation while abandoning all their existing relations is so stupid as to be breathtaking in its madness.
- Of course, they didn’t go – they never could go – the listeners knew they never could go. Ridiculous.
- However, when they decide not to go the obvious solution is taken to bring the mother south and she dies en route. No problem with that – good writing, but this now sends Ruth totally out of character. She heads off to New Zealand for the whole of Christmas and New Year, abandoning her husband and three children who, of course, struggle to make the business work. What an idiotic and totally unbelievable scenario.
- I have no problem with Kate’s lack of business acumen nor Kenton’s stupidity – we know they are like that. That Linda is planning two plays a year, though is testing listeners to the limit.
- Coincidentally to the Archers all suddenly acquiring the symptoms of dementia, the Stirlings decide to leave their own business and vanish to Italy for a few weeks going on years!? Their business at the hotel had been struggling and then they supported people homeless from the flood. The people they supported were damaging to their business, causing them to get awful GripDevisor write-ups. Somehow, they leave their struggling business and vamoose to Italy. How? Do the writers think listeners don’t have any idea of the viability of places and businesses after years of being voyeurs into their running?
- It only gets worse. The Stirlings then allow the cause of their damaged ratings, the Grundys to move into their very chique house. You’d think after their years in the village, they’d have realised this could only lead to disaster. Even the sensible member of the family Edward doesn’t put his foot down when his father ruins any credibility the son has built up by illegally putting a herd of cattle in the Stirlings’ back garden. Can the writers not do better than that? Where, in the whole of the western world, would anyone be stupid enough to give their house rent-free to the likes of the Grundys? Nonsense and the writers know it. They are dumbing down the quality of their golden egg. They think we’re stupid and will tolerate ridiculous plot ideas.
- Rob’s influence on Helen is fascinating as he becomes increasingly controlling. That he is trying to control Bridge Farm, too, means there is a comeuppance in the offing, but his mother comes to look after Helen. This could have been an interesting development as she seemed to be nice and supportive. I was waiting to see how Rob was going to react when he discovered that Helen had support from his mother and she also liked Helen’s best friend.
So, there we are, the last omnibus finished with Rob’s mother turning into an evil witch in one fell swoop. She has only been spying on Helen and is reporting everything back to her son and telling him that he has to be even more controlling. Come off it BBC – that is a step too far when combined with all the other stupidity in the last year or so!
The scriptwriters, or more probably the series producer and director, have turned an enjoyable bit of radio drama into an unrealistic nonsensical farce.
They can keep it!
Now if you’d like to read something weird (so I’m told) here is the link to my first science fiction book and please don’t forget to put a review up.
Tony Harmsworth, 25th February 2016