BBC Radio 4, country living, Drama, Farming Today, The Archers

More About The Archers…

Mustardland Redux?

Lots of people have said how they agreed with my previous post about BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, Missed! You can read that here. Long story short, my family started listening to this Everyday Story of Country Folk (!),  as it was originally subtitled, with Episode One. I don’t know anyone who listens that regularly any more. I’m disappointed at the way The Archers has gone downhill recently, so this post suggest a remedy.

I used to listen to The Archers every evening, sometimes its lunchtime repeat too, and always the omnibus on Sundays. Now, like thousands of other people, I lurk on The Archers message boards instead. I keep trying to pick up my listening habit again, but so far I’ve had no luck. In my opinion the programme’s no longer worth it. That makes me sad.

The Archers began as thinly-disguised information for farmers and growers. Over the years the preachy part reduced, and it became a  few minutes of easy listening at the end of the working day.  Admittedly in the past, some of it was laughable (Walter’s elephant, and the Great Ambridge Train Robbery) but good scripts and careful research meant listeners took the rough with the smooth. If you got fed up with one story line, it didn’t matter. You loved, identified with or enjoyed disliking the characters, rather than the plot. It was no hardship to shut your ears to the bits you didn’t like, and listen out for the rest.

Now it’s all change. Character-driven entertainment has now become plot-centred soap-opera. Ok, so the words “An Everyday Story of Country Folk” is too old-fashioned, but “Essential Drama From The Heart Of The Country” means Eastenders-on-Am is here to stay. Believe me, that’s NOT a good thing.

In this house, suspension of disbelief has been replaced by ridicule. Rural churches aren’t full every week, with thousands raised for repairs within months. Children (especially babies, and/or those with Down’s Syndrome) don’t disappear for months on end without even being mentioned in conversation. Festivals aren’t organised on a whim to bolster failing finances. To get people to pay decent money to attend them, you need class acts. To try and persuade us either Jolene or Fallon have ever been paid to sing like that is not simply beyond the realms of fantasy. It’s an insult to our intelligence. Parachuting The Pet Shop Boys to save LoxFest at the last minute was beyond ridiculous.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. There are well-handled bits too, like Jack’s decline, but they’re far too thinly spread. Why don’t the scriptwriters find the drama  in what is really happening in the countryside today? Why are country people so short of money and opportunity? How do you manage with a special needs child, miles from hospitals, and with infrequent public transport? What’s happening to our sense of community? There are a lot of subjects out there to be explored. All it needs is vision, and sensitivity.

Warning – it’s my belief that The Archers is being run down, and on purpose. The next stage will be constructive dismissal from the radio. I’ve had this suspicion for a while, but didn’t like to voice it too loudly in case it speeded up the process. It’s up to us, the listeners, to suggest something better.

Here’s my contribution. Archers Team, please liaise with the people from Farming Today. Dramatising that would be far more interesting and engaging than The Archers has been for some time. In the last week or two, Farming Today has featured pieces on rural crime, specifically dog theft,  rural tourism, and an interview with the farmer who owns the land where the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered (NB. Scripties: I enjoyed that one on the day, and in omnibus. It’s The Priceless Discovery That Keeps On Giving, IMO).

The Farming Today team find interesting, varied things to put on five days a week, every week. I hear it nearly each morning while doing early greenhouses. That programme is never predictable or stale. More importantly, it’s often dramatic without being laughable. Come on, Archers Scriptwriting team! Make friends with Farming Today, and we’ll flock* back to our once-dependable programme.

What do you think of that idea?  Have you got any suggestions for improving The Archers?

*See what I did there?

17 thoughts on “More About The Archers…”

  1. Yes. I've been listening since my late teens (now in my early forties), and for the first time in my life, I've turned off episodes.

    The point about soap operas, surely, is to find the drama in the mundane. Isn't that what the Archers has done so fantastically over the years?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Joe. I've been concerned about this for a while. Whenever 'The Archers' is mentioned on Feedback, the responses from management are always a variation on the theme “we know best”, which is neither help nor encouragement 🙁

  3. Thanks for commenting, Amanda. You're right – it's the way characters we've grown to know over time respond to everyday triumphs and setbacks, not just unbelievable, unlikely story lines. Although I'd still love to know how much the wedding-that-never-was cost in total, and what happened to all those unpaid bills!

  4. I don't have any of the accounts they want me to use so this probably won't work, but if it does — thank yu for voicing the sorrow I have been feeling for some time now. I date the decline to the decline of Norman Painting, to be honest: I think that he would look sad and shamed, and the worst would then not happen. Once he was dead, the show could be allowed to fall to pieces.

  5. Sorry, posted this on your earlier blog by mistake, please feel free to delete it there.

    The story of a putting on a festival at Lower Loxley wasn't a bad idea – it's something that has become increasingly popular at minor stately homes and elsewhere. But turning it into a three-day BBC cross-promotional celebrity smugfest based on the rather infantile belief that everyone wants to go to a festival themselves, wasn't necessary. Contrary to what Steve Lamacq thinks, there wasn't “something for everyone”. There are adults who listen to R4 who prefer classical music, or drama, to anything in the relentless varied soundtrack of Loxfest.

    The story of looking for a love interest for Elizabeth wasn't a bad idea. She's a widow under 50 with her own business and stately home and children who are out of infancy, a great deal less “undateable” than a drab character like Kathy Perks. But this particular love interest story is risible, positively unpleasant to listen to, and a wasted opportunity. If she was ever going to date someone she met through work, it would be someone in some luxury or craft business she came into contact with – a wine merchant or garden designer or minor celebrity chef. Or it might be someone else, like Ifty the maths tutor, more similar to her in personality or perceived social status, met through her children's education, perhaps another widowed, or semi-disentangled parent. That would have been more realistic and with plenty of dramatic potential. Or a story of introductions through an up-market dating agency to the sort of people she'd be more likely to date, such as a City type bringing new money into the country, of which there are plenty in real life and none actually setting up home in Ambridge, would have been more realistic. Indeed, why not even introduce a female character who runs an up-market dating agency, just the sort of person Elizabeth might encounter at a soiree at a minor stately home, and someone with an interesting perspective on the hits and misses of couples in contemporary life.

    But then the first sign of a wasted afternoon is over-thinking the Archers . . .

  6. I disagree. It has always gone up and down. The old stories you mention are just a few. They had a kidnapping (actually 2 if you count Kate kidnapping Helen), a firebombing, affairs much more unlikely than Roy and Elizabeth (Brian chasing Betty round the table). It always takes them much less time to organise things than real life (pantos brought together in a few weeks) and thank heaven it does because it is boring. It is just that over the years it all pans out and you forgive and forget the more outlandish storylines.

    Likewise they still have in fact some of the very storylines that you are after! rural crime–all that Daryl stuff started with rural crime plus jills burglary plus the sheep worrying incidents. Rural tourism- we've had bits on running grey gables and much as everyone hates the loxfest (it was a bit ridiculously fast) that is the reality of many stately homes near me at least in terms of their tourism. they had the sporting event recently which again is near me a growing tourism ploy (cycling sportives, tough mudders). They have rural poverty in Ed and Emma and the difficulties of rural transport when Nic couldn't drive. In 13 minutes there will always be characters left out but we have heard a good bit about Bethany and Ed and Emma's kids

    I think that they are timing some stories quite well eg Helen and Rob, Dan in the army, rather than like Daryl just beating it to death and then tidying it up suddenly when everyone is sick of it. Tom and Kirsty does seem to have been unceremoniously dumped as a storyline and the wedding day jilting was beneath them it is true.

    Yes not all stories are perfect but I am listening more now than I was before. And the Archers never is perfect- nothing is.

    re. Elizabeth and Roy, I got together with my now husband after an intense work experience a bit like Loxfest. One (very) tactless acquaintance told me that her mind boggled when she heard we were together so I guess if our lives were being written by scriptwriters they would be in for a lot of flak too!

  7. Anonymous 1 (sorry for the numeric!) I agree it would be in keeping for Elizabeth to have an affair. She's still a relatively young woman and as you say she'd be likely to find someone through work. Ifty would have been a keeper, but Roy…never! If it was going to happen with him at all, it would have been years ago. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Anonymous 2 (again, sorry for the numeric), I agree The Archers has gone through rough patches in the past, but IME it was the plots that were the problem then. In RL people act out of character, but not with such regularity it's tricky to remember what that original character's goals and motivations were. Take Tom the sausage king – nothing mattered to him more than his business, and his pigs. So why did he consider for *one second* living off-site? It happens in RL, but only in extreme circumstances. When you're responsible for stock, you can't expect your poor old dad (or whoever) to cover for you after you've pushed off to a house some distance away-which is exactly what would have happened in Ambridge! Thanks for commenting, btw.

  9. Christina I have been listening to TA since day 1 it was always a must when I was a child and I carried on the tradition and was a firm addict but I too have become quite indifferent now to whether I miss an episode or not and like yourself abhor this plot led transformation and have found myself first amused then annoyed and finally disgusted with what has been done to the programme.
    I did think maybe there's was a plan to attract a younger audience but if so this is not the one but I now fear you may be right it is a deliberate ploy to run it down and out.

    M

  10. Hi Anonymous-you're definitely right about the hunt for a younger audience. The problem is, younger people have so many other things to do rather than listen to Radio 4, and it's an uphill struggle to attract them, without alienating people like you and me. Not sure that “character bombing” or whatever it was called was the right approach, but linking with other Radio channels *might* help. Thanks for commenting!

  11. What I don't really understand is why the people running things on Radio 4 feel they have got to attract a younger audience at all costs: apart from Listen With Mother and the like R4 always tended to be aimed at people who were grown-ups, not at pop-obsessed Yoof. The present generation of the young will find Radio 4 in their own good time the way the rest of us did.

  12. That's true, although with so many other means of entertainment their worry must be that fewer people *of all ages* are listening to the radio now, and it'll only decrease in the future. The radio listening habit we picked up from our parents and grandparents won't be so readily passed on.

  13. I agree with your comment about TA being run down on purpose. It will take a while, probably, but have you noticed how few male Archer children there are? Josh, Ben, maybe Henry … and then who? John Richard is not an Archer by name. Everyone else seems to be having girls. (It must be something in the milk …)

  14. Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting. You're right about the dwindling number of male Archers. Tom's unlikely to come back with a son in tow. The Archers has become such an institution over the years, there'd be a riot if it was dropped without notice. They've got to alienate their audience first. 🙁

  15. Well said; I agree with everything you've said. I'm sick of pointless shouting, of every single relationship being a drama; the Loxfest story was just ridiculous from start to finish. We hear nothing about how elderly people manage now there's no surgery; or about how the elderly who are less well-heeled than Jack expect to spend their declining years. And the preponderance of youngish widows and former widows in the village leads me to wonder whether there's something very nasty in the beer; only scrumpy-drinkers seem to live to a ripe old age. I stopped listening regularly when they hurled Nigel off the roof to “celebrate” an anniversary and to “shake Ambridge to the core”. At first, it was principle, but I kept up with my online community and dipped back in; now, it's sheer unwillingness to listen to people being unpleasant to each other. I don't *want* to believe there's a hidden agenda – but I wouldn't be surprised…

  16. Hi Liz – Thanks for commenting. In Ambridge's odd mix of inhabitants, there's one sad omission – city people who “escape to the country” find they hate it, then discover they can't afford to move back to where they came from as town prices have gone up while out here they've stagnated or sometimes fallen. They were common here in Gloucestershire in the late 1980's, but there's been a resurgence in their numbers lately.

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