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The art of the 'omnicut'

Saturday 8 January 2011, 17:43

Keri Davies Keri Davies Web Producer, The Archers

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Mary Cutler, scriptwriter for The Archers

Archers scriptwriter Mary Cutler offers a postscript to her previous blog post.

For many years the Archers Omnibus was only sixty minutes, which mean that every nightly episode had to contain one scene which could be cut for the Omnibus. The challenge for the writer was to write a scene that was good enough to broadcast at night, but wouldn't be missed if it wasn't in the Omnibus.

Basically this meant it couldn't have any plot not repeated elsewhere. We used to go for humour and charm and character in those scenes which made us rather sad when they were cut. There was also the technical problem that cutting one scene meant two scenes were next to each other that hadn't been before, so you had to be careful they didn't have the same people in them, in case they seemed to have got from one end of the village to the other at the speed of light.

You had to be extra careful about this - and this is still true - when thinking about Monday's last scene being next to Tuesdays first scene in the Omnibus (or second scene, if it happened that your first scene was the 'omnicut'). It was a relief when we got both a Sunday episode and an Omnibus long enough to fit them all in.

I needed to do it again when we had the extra quarter of an hour for the Anniversary episode. But, as I have indicated, I think the omnicut scenes contain some good stuff. So if you want to listen to an uncut Omnibus of this week, the full 90 minute version will here on The Archers website.

Mary Cutler is the longest serving Archers scriptwriter. She wrote the 60th anniversary episode, and the subsequent week's episodes.

  • The full 90 minute Omnibus will be available via The Archers homepage from 11.15am on Sunday 9 January

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    Comment number 1.

    Mary, you say "We used to go for humour and charm and character in those scenes which made us rather sad when they were cut.

    Yes, it makes the listeners sad too!

    The problem is nothing to do the juxtaposition of scenes in the omnibus.

    The problem is the relentless misery now being dished up. Why can't the Archers lighten up a bit?

    It's cow-pat, and you know it!

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    Comment number 2.

    Sorry, Cutler, but all you're doing is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    In 1994, Whitburn was quoted as having said:
    "The fact that you can disturb people so much raises ethical dilemmas for everyone involved."
    "With strong drama your aim is to encourage empathy and not to blight people's lives."
    So why has this been forgotten? You and your series editor have now destroyed a much-cherished programme for many people and you should both hang your heads in shame. No amount of editorial pruning can recover the programme to its previous status; it should now be suspended and the editorial team moved away to somewhere where they can no longer ruin the listening pleasure of your previously loyal audience whilst someone with more empathy attempts to salvage the wreckage...
    Why the deafening silence from Whitburn? Has she no conscience?
    The disgraceful 60th anniversary programme was truly a Ratner moment for the BBC's drama department.

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    Comment number 3.

    Can we the listeners edit out those 15 minutes please? We can cut out all the bits that say dead, death or funeral and instead have Nigel lying in a hospital intensive care unit; people would still be very upset about that so the anxiety would be relevant.

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    Comment number 4.

    Could you edit out the whole of the Helen incident - particularly the part where a woman who knows absolutely everything about pregnancy knew nothing about pre-eclampsia (oh come on!) Could you edit out the ridiculous scene in the car with Tony. And could you edit out the bit where David and Nigel talk about bringing in the banner, And could you edit out the part where Helen suddenly turns into a completely different character. Oh and could you edit out the whole of the David and Nigel part on the roof, particularly the fall.

    That might make it quite a good episode.

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    Comment number 5.

    Mary, I've just watched a documentary "The Archers - behind the scenes" by CountrychannelTV.


    Vanessa Whitburn explains that she runs monthly script meetings with the writers and production team - about 15 or 16 people.

    She says "although we get storylines from everybody and all kinds of influences, in the end I structure the storylines, decide what should happen and what shouldn't".

    This is very telling.

    According to the interview, what appears to happen is a small group of people discuss the issues, but in the end Vanessa Whitburn has the final say. She alone decides. People presumably then go away and start writing but don't actually meet up again as a group for another month.

    But what happens if decision made by Vanessa actually turns out to be not such a good idea after all? Does anyone on the team go and tell her? Do you draw straws as to who should let her know it's not working out? Or is it a case of the Emperor's New Clothes? No one wants to say anything....

    Obviously, we the listeners are not privy to what really happens, but it seems very clear that this latest storyline is awful. It should never have gone ahead. But perhaps in a small group, you end up talking yourselves into an idea, convincing yourselves that it will good to give the listeners a nasty surprise, and then subject them to months (or years) of ensuing misery.

    This isn't want listeners want.

    Rather than simply discussing these things in a small group, perhaps it would be sensible to get some external input - a fresh perspective, representative of the actual audience.

    I'm not suggesting writing a script by committee - but at least the team could try to get some feedback as to the general tone and direction that people want.

    At the moment it all seems to be rather insular - cut off from the listeners. There is much too much misery. It's been done to death and feels very stale.


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