Sunday, March 09, 2008

In praise of "The Archers"

I hold the view that a balanced life has only got room for one soap opera and that should be something you can attend to while doing something else. Hence, I have followed The Archers for longer than I care to remember. This last week or so it's been attempting to drum up interest in a conventional soap cliffhanger (will local nob Brian Aldridge disinherit his kids in favour of his "love child"?) by running trailers all over the network and generally trying to act like "EastEnders".

So far so predictable. But then, right in the middle of this, they dropped one of those plot twists that The Archers does better than anyone - a genuine everyday tragedy. The baby expected by young couple Roy and Hayley suddenly arrived three months early, was successfully delivered but then whisked into neo-natal care and wired up to monitors. We stood there in the kitchen and listened to the last five minutes, hardly daring to breathe.

They've done this before with established characters when the actors wanted out. John Archer was killed in a tractor accident. Betty Tucker had a heart attack. In both cases it was out of a clear blue sky, which is how these things happen in life, and it happened to somebody that you'd had a long-term relationship with. I know this sounds stupid but Clarrie and Eddie Grundy got married around the time that we did and their kids are around the ages of two of ours.

So for the next few weeks we shall be pressed up against the window of the neo-natal unit with Roy and Hayley. And, this being The Archers, there's no guarantee that it's going to have a happy outcome.


  1. I think one of the reasons the Archers is more involving (apart from the writing that is), is that we listen to it in the kitchen, at our desk, in the car on the way home from work, chopping veg on a sunday morning its part of everday life. Also the camera works better than eastenders and no body ask any to watch any bleedin' stalls.

  2. There's also the plus point that it's only 13 minutes out of your day and hence there's no room for any padding out of the episodes. This raises the pace when there's something dramatic but also means that the comic relief can arrive at a moment's notice, you can have episodes ending on cliffhangers, heartwarming moments or a good gag.

  3. The main reason that The Archers retains the ability to surprise us is that it's not followed by the Red Tops with the same avidity that they have for TV soaps - therefore we didn't know about John's tractor crush mishap until it happened, whereas with one of the telly soaps it would have been trumpeted on the covers of tabloids and those peculiar television addict magazines for month sin advance, thereby robbing the event of any drama.

  4. I was listening on Friday night and utterly rapt - our own Charlotte was born 8 weeks prem nearly 8 years ago and it brought it all back (a happy ending in our case, but I'll never forget the little bundle covered in tubes in the incubator). As you say, all the more effective for being out of the blue - we were just expecting another developement in the ludicrous world that is Brian and Jennifer's marriage.

  5. The Archers is my soap of choice, too, but yesterday's swung - as it can do - between the ludicrous (Lilian and Matt's reconciliation) and the deeply moving (the baby). One of my best writing gigs ever was doing an interview for an Archers' book and took tea with Jill, Brian and Kathy.

  6. It's the only soap where you've no idea what's going to happen next.

    The papers and magazines couldn't care less about it, so it all comes as a complete surprise.

    In the dim and distant past I did 'at homes' with the actresses who play Lynda Snell and Peggy Woolley. They were so lovely - Peggy Woolley even cooked us lunch. Which TV soap star would do such a thing? None, that's who.

    For that reason, The Archers will always have a special place in my life.

  7. Celebrity at homes! Don't get me started. I remember driving all the way from London to Stratford upon Avon to interview gardening expert Stefan Buzacki at home, and not even being offered a cuppa. Still, friends who do 'true life' interviews for women's magazines often decline a proffered cuppa as it's from a mug in the shape of a boob, or the surface is coated in dog hair.