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The Archers, game theory and the kitchen sink

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Chris Vallance 16:00, Monday, 6 April 2009


It began, a couple of weeks ago, with my editor asking, "Chris do you know about game theory?" I've been a journalist long enough to know it doesn't pay to plead ignorance (unless you've done something wrong or stolen pens from the desk of a colleague), so I said, "I know all about game theory - I studied it at university." This wasn't entirely untrue: I remember the subjects I studied at university, but in the same way a hangover remembers the last thing you drunk.

"Great, I knew you'd know", said my editor, "I want you to do a piece on game theory and The Archers for Broadcasting House: the plot-line with Matt, Chalky and the SFO is a perfect example of the prisoner's dilemma". This was a bit of a challenge. The prisoner's dilemma has been used to analyse everything from the cold war to the economy, but I believe this was the first time it had been applied to Ambridge.

In the end, I did what any good student of game theory would do, I cheated and let two other people make the radio piece for me. A very patient and kind professor of economics, Martin Cripps gave up his Friday to visit The Archers' studios and an equally charming and patient Mary Cutler - the longest serving script writer currently working on the show - agreed to discuss her craft with Martin.

The end result was a fascinating conversation and the two had more in common than you might suppose.

You can listen to a longer version of their conversation in the player below.

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