I love radio dramas. They let you lie back, and let your imagination go free. When its well written, there can be few media experiences that can beat it for pure relaxation. About 20 years ago, I thought I’d give the Archers a go. I listened to a couple of episodes, but the timing of it meant I couldn’t listen regularly, I gave up. But in October 2007, while looking for the podcast of a Radio Four programme I’d wanted to listen to, but missed, I spotted the podcast for the Archers – thanks to the BBC for http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/archers! Even better, I could subscribe to it through iTunes. One click later, and I would have radio heaven sent (almost) directly to my iPod.
With any new radio, or TV drama, it can take a while to get to know the characters – their names, who they relate to, what they get up to. With each episode of the Archers only being 12 minutes long, characters can be out of it for weeks while others are part of ongoing storylines. But after a while, I became familiar with the characters. The Archers is part of British popular culture, despite it being ridiculed by some. In excess of 5m people listen to it daily, which is a number a lot of TV producers would love to see for their shows. Although its origin was to educate the public in the ways of farming following the War, it has blossomed into a compulsive daily listen for millions.
The Archers is a showcase for rural Britain. It still provides listeners will a view of what daily life is like for farmers. It also can give the listener an idyllic image of rural England, and can be a lovely daily escape from the ongoing grind of our lives. I wonder how many listeners would love to go for a Sunday pint in he Bull? Although times have changed in Ambridge – they too are in the 21st century – a lot of things stay the same. Controversy is kept to a minimum even though there are occasionally some tough story lines. Weddings, deaths, births, affairs – the staple of most soaps – are all present in the Archers, but they’re handled fairly gently.
The Archers hit 60 last year, with an extended episode to kick off the new year. Anticipation was raised to fever pitch amongst regular listeners, with writers promising events that would “shake Ambridge to the core” – we were put out of our misery when local toff, and long term character, Nigel Pargetter fell from the roof of his stately home to a grisly death! But such typical soap land sensationalism isn’t really part of the Archers core. Listeners love the gentle calmness of the show. A change of producer in 2012 caused some concern, with an ex-Eastenders producer taking the reins. There were fears that the Archers would become just another typical soap, with lurid story lines becoming the norm. Fears that have proved to be overstated. We’re getting the human interest story lines – Lillian’s affair with her partner’s half brother being Eastender-esque – but tales of badgers, Llamas with TB, and Tom Archer’s sausages have reassured us that life goes on as normal!
Its now over 5 years since I started listenijng to the Archers, and its become a real guilty pleasure on the bus to work in the morning. Its gone and given rise to twice-weekly spin off series, Ambridge Extra, which gives some deeper insight to some of the Archers’ story lines, although the two programmes are generally independent of each other. The 6 episodes of 12 minutes each every week are a real gem of British broadcasting, a real part of our culture. To the uninitiated, look past the traditional staid image of Radio 4 and join the 5 million of us who love the dum-di-dum-di-dum theme tune that heralds our latest trip to Ambridge.