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Feedback: The Archers and Ambridge Extra

Friday 12 July 2013, 16:46

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Here at Feedback we have just had our largest postbag since the controversy over the coverage of the death of Lady Thatcher. This time it concerns a fictional death, that of Paul in the Archers and the revelation that his brother Matt knew all about his relationship with Matt’s  lover, Lilian. A case of one woman, two brothers, two lovers.
Actually we had all twigged that Matt knew but that Lilian did not know that Matt knew, if you are still with me. The scene in which he revealed his knowledge to Lilian was an absolute cracker, brilliantly acted by the key participants. The problem was that you had to listen to another related programme, Ambridge Extra, to hear it. And for that you needed to be able to listen digitally.
The revelation was reported in the Archers on Radio 4 when Lilian told Jolene all about it, but that was like reading a newspaper report of a crucial sports match that you couldn’t attend, or the review of a play you hadn’t seen.
 
One can understand the dilemma.  Ambridge Extra gives the Archers’ writers the opportunity to run story lines at greater length and to explore and develop newer or younger characters. And the digital channel has come a long way in recent years. Audiences have grown significantly, and the hope is that fresh story lines will attract even more Archers addicts over to 4 Extra.
However, as the present BBC Director of Radio, Helen Boaden, said this week “The BBC must not get ahead of its audience”. Many of our listeners feel that in this case the Corporation has.
The problem is that only 25% of overall listening is done on digital, and at least 50% of homes still do not have even one digital radio receiver.
Even those homes which have digital tend to have, in addition, several analogue radios and unlike when watching television,  radio listeners tend to move from room to room or into the garden or the car while listening, and they expect to be able to hear the same programme wherever they are.
Much of the correspondence we received revealed real anger and upset amongst those who could not hear the Matt Lilian confrontation at first hand, and who fear they will be excluded from other crucial scenes in the future.
This week I talked to the person responsible for overseeing drama on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra  Commissioning Editor Jeremy Howe.
Here is our feature
EXTRACT
By the way, next Tuesday the BBC Trust will publish the BBC’s Annual Report. It will then be available on the Trust’s website. This follows this Wednesday’s admission to Parliament by the Chairman, Lord Patten ,that  he and his colleagues felt “shock and dismay” over some recent executive pay outs, and the new Director General, Tony Hall’s statement that the BBC had “lost the plot” over executive pay in the recent past.
The report should make interesting reading and we hope to have one of the BBC leaders on next week’s Feedback. After all we are one of the key ways BBC “share holders” can attempt to hold the Corporation to account. Please help us to do so by writing to us or phoning with your questions and concerns.

Editor's note: Feedback is available to listen to online or to download and keep.

Archers and Ambridge Extra

Here at Feedback we have just had our largest postbag since the controversy over the coverage of the death of Lady Thatcher. This time it concerns a fictional death, that of Paul in The Archers and the revelation that his brother Matt knew all about his relationship with Matt’s lover, Lilian. A case of one woman, two brothers, two lovers.

Actually we had all twigged that Matt knew but that Lilian did not know that Matt knew, if you are still with me. The scene in which he revealed his knowledge to Lilian was an absolute cracker, brilliantly acted by the key participants. The problem was that you had to listen to another related programme, Ambridge Extra, to hear it. And for that you needed to be able to listen digitally.

The revelation was reported in the Archers on Radio 4 when Lilian told Jolene all about it, but that was like reading a newspaper report of a crucial sports match that you couldn’t attend, or the review of a play you hadn’t seen. One can understand the dilemma.

Ambridge Extra gives The Archers’ writers the opportunity to run storylines at greater length and to explore and develop newer or younger characters. And the digital channel has come a long way in recent years. Audiences have grown significantly, and the hope is that fresh story lines will attract even more Archers addicts over to 4 Extra.

However, as the present BBC Director of Radio, Helen Boaden, said this week “The BBC must not get ahead of its audience”. Many of our listeners feel that in this case the Corporation has.

The problem is that only 25% of overall listening is done on digital, and at least 50% of homes still do not have even one digital radio receiver.

Even those homes which have digital tend to have, in addition, several analogue radios and unlike when watching television, radio listeners tend to move from room to room or into the garden or the car while listening, and they expect to be able to hear the same programme wherever they are.

Much of the correspondence we received revealed real anger and upset amongst those who could not hear the Matt Lilian confrontation at first hand, and who fear they will be excluded from other crucial scenes in the future.

This week I talked to the person responsible for overseeing drama on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra, Commissioning Editor Jeremy Howe.

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Was it right to air a revelation in the digital-only Ambridge Extra and not The Archers?

By the way, next Tuesday the BBC Trust will publish the BBC’s Annual Report. It will then be available on the Trust’s website. This follows this Wednesday’s admission to Parliament by the Chairman, Lord Patten, that  he and his colleagues felt “shock and dismay” over some recent executive pay outs, and the new Director General Tony Hall’s statement that the BBC had “lost the plot” over executive pay in the recent past.

The report should make interesting reading and we hope to have one of the BBC leaders on next week’s Feedback. After all we are one of the key ways BBC “share holders” can attempt to hold the Corporation to account. Please help us to do so by writing to us or phoning with your questions and concerns.

Listen to Feedback

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The moment where Matt revealed all

Ambridge Extra

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    Comment number 1.

    Is Feedback to be renamed "Ambridge Extra Extra"! The excessive consideration given by Feedback to the Archers must stop. A few weeks ago Mr Bolton was love-bombed on this blog and it appears to have worked. I bet that "largest postbag" was from the same determined bunch of love-bombing activists who think they know how best to run Radio 4. Haven't they noticed that we are living in a digital age! Come on Feedback, how many times has the Archers featured on the programme in the past year? Or has the the hit woman who does the statistical hatchet jobs been retired?

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    Comment number 2.

    Tonight yet another BBC twerp would not acknowledge that the bulk of Archers listeners do so on Radio 4 and were disenfranchised by the loony decision to air the Matt & Lillian climax on 4 Extra. I have listened to the Archers since I was a child, I am now a busy career person who likes her Archers on radio 4 where I can fit it in to my life. I DON'T like being pressured in to Radio 4 extra when digital Radio is as unreliable as I currently find it.
    This is condescending and unacceptable, it was notable that these persons made it clear that they didn't need to apologise for their cock up and felt they could do it again in the name of 'challenging' their listeners! As far as I am concerned they are the 'challenged 'ones in that they do not have a clue who their customers are and what they want. We need an apology and an airing of the Matt & Lillian scenes on radio 4 which is well publicised in advance

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    From your interviews with squirming BBC producers it is clear that the Archers team is determined to take the programme down a path that will alienate most of its traditional audience. Radio 4 listeners are discerning people who know the difference between realism and fantasy. The appeal of the Archers has been that, unlike the TV soaps, it still had characters and plots that were believable as a depiction of real life. Yes, dramatic incidents do occur in real life and should be represented in radio drama but once they become the rule rather than the exception the sense of realism is lost. Even some of the recent storylines in the mainstream Archers have pushed credibility to the limit - the Brookfield fire, for instance. Would David and Ruth, worried sick about their children's safety really have let Josh go out alone in the night to check on a cow? The Ambridge Extra issue is not just about whether people can access digital radio. I suspect that many Archers listeners do not want to listen to Ambridge Extra because its unbelievable plots destroy the credibility of the whole Archers concept. While it is therefore unfair that listeners should be forced to listen to the digital channel if they are not to miss important scenes, the idea that the two programmes are to be even more closely linked in future is even more disturbing.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    I have listened to the Archers since I was 7 years old. I am now 55, fully computer literate, a senior professional and so on. The main joy of the Archers is knowing that I can carry round a little radio and hear the programme, whatever else I'm doing and regardless of internet access. Not all of us live all the time in urban areas, surely, that is the point of the programme? Archers Extra seems to be a misdirected venture, which is vaguely entertaining, but entirely not about the point of listening to the programme. How on earth did this go so wrong? Don't lose your core followers and don't try to be too clever whilst telling us we don't know what we want!

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    Comment number 5.

    I just thought I'd give Archers extra another chance. However, it seems I can listen to episodes 1 and 3, but not episode 2 (not available yet). Don't try to fix something that isn't broken, especially if you don't get the 'fix' right. Time to listen to your audience!!

 

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