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02/08/2015
BBC Radio 4
The Radio 4 Blog

The Archers

I should warn that if you only listen to the Archers Omnibus, you might want to avert your eyes now. Spoilers lie ahead...

After Tony Hancock got rid of Kenneth Williams, Sid James and others, in what had been a superb supporting cast, particularly on radio, he set out to make some television half hours. Contrary to pessimistic predictions he and they were wonderful.

Most older viewers will remember The Blood Donor or The Lift but another episode was a superb take off of the Archers called The Foresters.

In it, Hancock played a Walter Gabriel figure who had been bumped off from a radio soap opera and was determined to bring down the series and everyone it.

I thought it such a funny satire that I would never be able to take The Archers seriously again.

Yet, over 50 years later, I am still listening intently and getting cheered, upset and generally worked up by what happens in Ambridge.

Others in my village exhibit a devotion close to idolatry, and one former policeman has made his front room into an Archers shrine. 

So I could imagine the consternation throughout the country when, this week, Tom Archer pulled out of his wedding leaving Kirsty in a devastated, collapsed state.

By no coincidence I interviewed the new editor of the Archers on Thursday and was able to put listeners’ concerns to him, not least "How could you do that to Kirsty?"

A new Editor always wants to put his stamp on the programme. In television, often by changing a programme’s opening titles and studio set, and perhaps its presenter.

What should a new editor of the Archers do, once he has understood how it works?

That’s what I also wanted to talk to Sean O’Connor about.

It will never be the editor’s show. The series has been too successful for too long to belong to anyone other than the listeners.

The temptation to introduce new characters and kill off old ones can be fatal for a series. Drama is heightened reality but it has to be credible. Too many car crashes, or an aircraft smashing into the Bull, would be greeted with derision. The body count has to be modest.

The previous editor, Vanessa Whitburn, took a massive gamble having Nigel Pargetter fall off his roof uttering the longest death cry in broadcasting history.

Before broadcast she had to check on the nature of the roof, whether Nigel had ever climbed up onto it before, and whether it was in character for him to do so. Then she had to cross her fingers and wait for listeners’ reactions.

She seems to have got away with it, but I know at least one passionate listener who still misses Nigel greatly and will never forgive his assassin.

Here is the interview with Vanessa Whitburn's successor, Sean O’Connor:

The editor of The Archers, Sean O'Connor, defends recent storylines.

Feedback is now off air until the summer, but please do not stop writing, emailing and phoning. Everything you send us will be read or listened to and will influence our planning for the next series.

I hope you have a long and happy springtime.

Roger Bolton


Listen to Feedback

Comments

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Lawrence Jones

    on 5 May 2014 18:55

    Replying to CSR (message 15)

    Thank you for the clarification Ms. Raphael and please don’t lose any sleep over my chip incident. I guess drama students are taught how to feign chip grief and so are familiar with the subsequent loss of emotional equilibrium that can occur after such an incident?

    Glad you enjoyed listening to ‘Men from The Ministry’ whilst conducting your homework tasks. I wouldn’t want to re-visit any of those comedies – and find it hard to believe that I would, quite religiously, tune into ‘Peticoat Line’ each week. Hee-hee, quite amusing to think that a 13 year old growing up in a turn-up trouser, 6 7/8 (as in one’s cap) boarding school should seek out bagging-off tips from a posh female panel. I liked the wisdom that one could detect within Ms Renée Houston's comments (RIP). I think I can also remember a comedy in that 1815hr slot (as it was then), entitled: ‘Just Perfect’.

    Not sure why/when R4 comedy started to adopt this southern and Oxbridge flavour (Mr. David Mitchell made a snide comment recently on ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ about R4 having to cater for Northern listeners) and I did listen for some clues on that R4 pilot assessment programme that you took part in. I spotted that the other panel member who took part in that programme was also a southerner.

    Sadly, I am pessimistic about the future of radio – the marriage between nail and coffin commenced (for me) with the axing of ‘A World in Your Ear’. Axing of ‘Americana’ was also another dreadful mistake. It had developed into such a fine radio programme and Mr. Frei was the perfect radio presenter.

    P.S. Loved Dante’s Inferno…….just fab radio production. Oooooooh, wouldn’t liked to have met those Whispering Women (goodness, those radio actresses are so talented) down a dark alley!

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Wombat40

    on 5 May 2014 10:33

    To who ever is responsible for the transmission of Digital Radio.
    I visited my sister in Wales this weekend and she was telling me of the problem she has trying to listen to the Archers.
    She has listened to the Archers since it started in the Early 50tys.. In fact it was my job to take the 2volt accumulators to be recharged on my way to school every week as it was I who was responsible to make sure the wireless worked for the Archers, and Dan Dare on Radio Luxembourg.
    My question: is there a date for the coverage in outlying areas to be improved or as in my sisters case to start.

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Nemo399

    on 2 May 2014 06:06

    Actually, Sue Hubbard, I rather think Tony has behaved exactly as he did tonight, when he was so angry with John just before he died, and was completely unaware that his son was upset because Hayley had turned down his proposal. It was a dramatic parallel that most long term listeners would have picked up and they'll now be worrying that Tom will do something rash as a result. Great stuff, Sean and the team.

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Sue Hubbard

    on 1 May 2014 22:28

    I am concerned that the programme is becoming a bit too sensational. It would be a rare thing for an individual in real life to behave as stupidly as Tony Archer did tonight. It was just ridiculous and out of character. Rather too silly for words. Your listening audience are not fools. I have been listening to this programme for over 40 years and although not the most sensitive person, this character has never behaved in anything like this way before.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by MYMAIL

    on 1 May 2014 18:35

    It would have made alot more sense if tony archer had had a second heart attack at the wedding rather than him forcing Tom to pull out of it because of the wait/pressure
    he put on TOM.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by MYMAIL

    on 1 May 2014 18:29

    APPROBIUM APPROBIUM APPROBIUM to the script writers and editor, why does the story line have to be populist? and who on earth came up with the latest choice of actor for Tony Archer Pats husband-his behaviour is in no way true to form of the previous actor!- but very true to the form of the latest actor for tony archer- Toms father spends his whole time behaving like a spoilt and grumpy child towards TOM. Why???? oh why can Tony Archer not show a bit(a wee bit) of character like his predecessor???
    This whole subject has even made the letters page of the Daily Telegraph! and that does not surprise me one IOTA!

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by CSR

    on 29 Apr 2014 20:24

    For Lawrence Jones…sorry I made you drop your chips. I would indeed have been tiny when Whack-O was broadcast on the Light Programme. What you heard was one of the Radio 4 Extra broadcast assistants say they had found missing episodes of Whack-O. I said I used to hear Men from the Ministry when doing my homework!

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by Newby

    on 29 Apr 2014 16:57

    Please do not turn the Archers into another 'Eastenders' , 'Home and away' and all that TV stuff. We don't need something disastrous going on all the time to make something interesting and enjoyable. The world is not full of disaster, hate, violence, death and people trying to outdo each other. The Archers was a place where we came for a bit of reality.

    Oh.....and bring back the sea shanty before the morning Shipping Forecast......never knew what the music was called but I still miss it!!

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Nemo399

    on 29 Apr 2014 16:12

    I couldn't agree less with Steve's objections to the wedding story line. It was brilliant and I speak as someone who's followed The Archers since the 1960s.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by marshall

    on 28 Apr 2014 11:19

    Why did Tom suddenly take up psychobabble "I don't know who I am' as an excuse for dumping Kirsty? And why didn't Peggoi thump him when he did?

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