Archives for September 2011

Ambridge Extra returns

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 17:41 UK time, Tuesday, 27 September 2011

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The Archers spin-off Ambridge Extra returns for another series, starting Tuesday 4 October. Sara Conkey and Rosie Boulton share the production duties (they are not the young actors pictured above, by the way). They write about their steep learning curve.

When asked to join Ambridge Extra to produce the second series, we were excited and terrified in equal measure. We come from a documentary background, making factual programmes in our base in Birmingham. The world of The Archers, while just a few metres down the corridor, might as well have been in another universe.

We often see the actors chatting in the green room, but never thought that one day we would be part of Ambridge. We have both had experience making drama-documentaries over the years, but 26 episodes of a twice-weekly series was another thing altogether.

Having said that, we were excited to think of what we could bring to Ambridge, as well as daunted by all we would have to learn.

The first script meeting we attended was a revelation. Eight episodes are story-lined in one intense day. The depth of knowledge of characters and inventive versatility of the writers and the editor, Vanessa Whitburn, are impressive. We were busy swotting up on our Who's Who in The Archers.

Although the main Archers programme has storylines planned for sometimes years in advance, Ambridge Extra is much more on the hoof. It makes for dynamic and very vocal script meetings, where ideas are thrashed out, wrestled with and sometimes thrown out in a short space of time.

Another surprise was the sheer speed of how the drama is recorded. In the case of Ambridge Extra, we have two hours to record 13 and a half minutes of drama. With a drama-documentary, we could take two days to record 20 minutes of drama. So an Ambridge Extra studio feels like it goes at the speed of light.

Sizzling stories

Having said that, the Ambridge family is hugely welcoming and supportive; the writers are talented and the storylines for the second series are sizzling. We hope that listeners can enjoy hearing some silent characters for the first time, and also see favourite characters being tested in ways they never have been before.

The well-oiled machine of the production process is so smooth we can just fit right in. The only problem is carrying the heavy responsibility of keeping such great storylines secret. Friends and family are suddenly far more interested in what we do!

Rosie Boulton and Sara Conkey are distinguished radio producers, mainly for BBC Radio 4.

Among numerous awards, Sara received Sony Golds for Between Ourselves and Stuck In the Middle; a Silver for Between Ourselves; and a Bronze for the Radio 3 drama-documentary A Love Song To The Buses.

Rosie won a Sony Gold for The Club that Scott Built; and a Gold and a Silver Prix Marulic (with Peter Wild) for drama documentaries In Form and The Language of Flowers. Her production of Soul Music (on Tallis's Spem in Allium) won a Jerusalem Award.

They were jointly nominated for the Prix Italia for a drama documentary Signs of Life.

  • The new series of Ambridge Extra is on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2.15pm, with an omnibus edition on Sundays at at 11.15am.
  • It will also be available as a podcast (free download)
  • Picture shows Louis Hamblett (Daniel Hebden Lloyd) and Gemma Lawrence (new charcter Erin Hayes), who feature in the series.

Autumn Hunting

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 13:14 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

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hedgeline with tree

There has been some concern among listeners about Freddie Pargetter's keenness to follow in his father's hoofsteps and to go 'autumn hunting'. Some people have suggested that we are portraying - even encouraging - an illegal activity.

I'm happy to be able to assure listeners that we aren't.

In years past, 'cubbing' or cub hunting took place before the formal opening of the hunting season in late October or early November. It was a way of training new hounds to scent and chase foxes, and to work as a pack. This activity became known as 'autumn hunting' some time before the Hunting Act 2004 made it illegal, along with mainstream fox hunting.

The hunting that we portray in The Archers is all legal within the act. So in the autumn hunting that Freddie is keen to join, the hounds and riders follow scented trails, not foxes. Nonetheless, hunts keep up the traditions of autumn hunting They go out in early morning or late afternoon, sporting not the hunting 'pink' (actually red), but the more informal mode of dress known as 'ratcatcher'. And the trail is usually laid through woodland rather than open countryside.

We are very aware that hunting is an emotive issue on both sides of the debate, and we always ensure that, over time, a range of views on this topic are aired in The Archers. Jill has already expressed her reservations about her grandson's enthusiam for hunting.

Keri Davies is an Archers (and Ambridge Extra) scriptwriter and web producer.


Everyday stories of university folk

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 10:27 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

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Spot effects demonstration

One of the activities marking this anniversary year of The Archers is an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. Called Everyday Stories of Country Folk, it marks both our 60th anniversary and that of MERL itself.

The museum is part of the University of Reading, which had a stand at the grandly named Royal County of Berkshire Show this past weekend. Archers editor Vanessa Whitburn went along for a question and answer session with listeners.

Vanessa present a prize

While there, she was invited to present a prize in the grand ring. Coincidentally this champion bull came from a farm in Devon, Vanessa's own home county.

The Everyday Stories of Country Folk exhibition is free of charge. You can visit it until 22 December 2011.

Keri Davies is an Archers (and Ambridge Extra) scriptwriter and web producer.

  • View a photo gallery of the exhibition
  • Read about the exhibition Everyday Stories of Country Folk
  • Main picture shows the sound effects table. (l-r) museum director Kate Arnold Foster, Vanessa Whitburn and curator of the exhibition Mark Mason
  • Second picture shows Archers editor Vanessa Whitburn presenting the prize. Images are used with permission

Super dairies

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Steve Peacock | 15:19 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

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Dairy cow

As Debbie brings proposals for a dairy unit housing 1000 cows or more, Archers agricultural advisor Steve Peacock looks at the emergence of the 'super dairy'.

In the white heat of the 1960s, when Dan was in charge at Brookfield and Phil challenging for top dog status, you could sell food by getting an actor to dress up as a lab technician and talk about science and innovation.

These days you'd be better off with a smock, or at least a tweed jacket. We seem to need reassurance about our food and farming. Consumers prefer images of contented animals, green fields, woodland and rolling pasture, however tenuous the link may be with the actual means of production.

It is no surprise, then, that plans for large-scale, intensive dairy farms prove to be controversial, even among people living far away from the site. We may not know a lot about how food is produced but we know what we like. And we like cows to be in fields, chewing the cud, not in sheds being fed by computers.

Debbie's scheme

Debbie Aldridge's latest wheeze is for her father Brian and the Borchester Land board to invest in a high-tech, intensive dairy unit on the Estate. This is nowhere near the scale of the Nocton Dairies plan that caused such a storm of protest in Lincolnshire. That was withdrawn earlier this year after objections from the Environment Agency. But it is on a grand scale for dairy farming in Britain.

The average herd size is growing, as almost one farmer a day gives up dairying and herds are amalgamated. But it's still not much over 120. The percentage of farms where herds are housed all year round is very small. But unless campaigns like 'Not In My Cuppa' get up a real head of steam it will grow. That sector will account for a disproportionately large percentage of the country's milk production.

Units like Debbie's are not The Future but they have proved profitable in the USA and mainland Europe. They are likely to be an increasingly important part of the dairy farming landscape.

She needn't expect many people to like them though. The idea of 1,000 or 1,500 milkers living under cover all year round, fed 'total mixed rations' instead of grazing the meadows, will be controversial for the forseeable future.

Phil Archer might have approved. After all, he ran an intensive pig unit in his time. But Dan and Doris wouldn't have no more than David and Ruth would. (Although as an National Farmers Union branch chair, David has to be even-handed when discussing controversial issues).

In fact, the NFU would argue that there is plenty to be even-handed about. They point to the high welfare standards enjoyed by the cattle living in these units: the constant attention of highly-qualified herdspeople and vets; clean and comfortable bedding; well-designed, easily digested food; no need to trudge around muddy fields in all weathers.

Open the doors and give them the choice, enthusiasts say, and the cows choose the five-star hotel. They also make the point - and no doubt you'll hear Brian on the subject before long - that in this country most dairy cattle spend nearly half the year under cover, often in less comfortable and welfare-friendly conditions than you will find in a modern dairy unit.

My bet is it'll cut little ice - not until you see a shed on a packet of cheese.

Steve Peacock is The Archers agricultural advisor.


Peggy's stroke

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 12:05 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

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June Spencer (Peggy Woolley)

Jack's stroke has brought back unpleasant memories of Peggy's stroke in 2008, which caused a lot of upset as the family tried to do what they thought was best for Jack.

You can read the story (and many other storylines) via our Timeline page.

Keri Davies is an Archers (and Ambridge Extra) scriptwriter and web producer


Mousey - and The Archers archive

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 11:05 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

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The old Archers archive cards, and the archive computer system

So Ruairi is regretting not taking 'Mousey' to his new boarding school. But who or what is Mousey?

A search through our programme archive turned up details from the episode broadcast on 6 May 2007. Ruairi's mother Siobhan Hathaway, in the final stages of her illness, was desperate that Brian should know as much about possible about his son, including his favourite soft toy.

Siobhan died two weeks later, but Ruairi's preferences survive, thanks to the archive.

This is the entry:

"Ruairi likes his books "Three little pigs" and "Where the Wild Things are" and when he's watching The Jungle Book he needs a cuddle when Baloo dies. In summer he likes to eat outdoors and his favourite food is hot dogs made with bratwurst. Mousey is his comforter Siobhan bought a duplicate in case the original got lost, but Brian would need to dirty it up a bit."

(As an aside, this brought back memories for me, as I wrote that episode, and based some of Ruairi's preferences on those of my own three sons - not the bratwurst, though, which came from Ruairi's time with Siobhan in Germany.)

Computerised now

As you'd expect, the archive is computerised, and has been since the the early 1990s. It contains a vast array of information, including every episode synopsis since then - the same ones as you can read on our programme pages.

But before computerisation, and right back to the start of The Archers in 1951, details were typed onto file index cards (over 20,000 of them). Our archivist Camilla Fisher still turns to them when we need some information from the dim and distant.

Back in the present, Camilla categorises events so that they can be tracked and recorded by storyline, rather than with a painstaking search through perhaps years of individual episodes.

She also trawls the scripts for important details that haven't got into the synopsis, but which still need to be recorded.

Camilla is invaluable to The Archers writers, in big ways and small. The big includes providing us with detailed backstories that are relevant to current and future events in Ambridge. The storylines that you can access through our timeline are based on information she provides.

And the small? Well, I recently wanted a reason for Brian to have left Lilian and Matt's dinner table. Perhaps he didn't care for the dessert? Camilla confirmed that if Jennifer said Brian doesn't really like meringue it didn't conflict with anything in the archive.

Archers listeners care about these things. And quite right, too.

Keri Davies is an Archers (and Ambridge Extra) scriptwriter and web producer.

Clarrie's sister, Rosie Mabbott

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 10:23 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

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Rosalind Adams (Clarrie Grundy)


On her recent trip to Borchester, when she wasn't locating lost children Clarrie Grundy (Rosalind Adams, pictured) was buying birthday presents for father-in-law Joe and sister Rosie Mabbott.

Although Rosie has never spoken in the programme, we hear about her from time to time. You can discover what we know about her in her Who's Who's entry.

Keri Davies is an Archers (and Ambridge Extra) scriptwriter and web producer.


'Change your brand name, Bridge Farm' - listener discussions to 23 August

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Tayler Cresswell Tayler Cresswell | 11:12 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

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Twitter post

In the market for some marketing? Apparently not. As the younger residents of Ambridge caught the corporate buzzwords bug, many listeners wondered whether Lord Sugar might be paying a visit.

But all this talk of branding provided some of the finest moments of the week as Brenda got the sharp end of Pat's tongue and Jennifer turned up her nose at own-label anchovies.

Here's our pick of listener discussions on The Archers message board, Twitter and Facebook for the episodes between 21st and 23rd August.


We all know that Brenda has a degree in marketing but it seems she's got some competition in that area as Pip, Tom and Alice move in on her specialist area.

I'm sick of hearing about marketing strategies and brand nonsense. I here enough of that utter drivel at work. (Simon Clew on Facebook)

#TheArchers. Change your brand name, Bridge Farm, and stop wasting our time with new media 'marketing advice'. (@AndyCowin on Twitter)

I think of Tom and Brenda and Helen as being like a home for retired farmhorses: they are a home for retired buzz-words. (Chris Ghoti)

I sat through the discussion of marketing yesterday, and listened to Alice banging on about 'adding value' to strawberries, and wondered why the Ambridge economy is so heavily dominated by the private sector. (Ageingnicely)

Oh Brenda, words cannot express how little I want to hear about your marketing strategy #thearchers (@archelina on Twitter)

Find out what other listeners are saying on the messageboard in Its What I do do. Marketing is me and Marketing strategies or find out what Nancy Banks-Smith thought of the whole business in her review of A Month in Ambridge.


Pip's had her critics recently, as we heard in the last listener discussions blog post, but it was the same know-it-all attitude that's been bugging many listeners that brought about a wake-up call for Brenda.

Loved Pip being a right royal pain in #thearchers Followed by Brenda getting it in the neck from Pat! Perfect listening. (@BroughtonLass on Twitter)

Yay! Brenda's going to kill Pip! #thearchers (@stevenperkins on Twitter)

Yes, Pip lecturing Helen, that was wonderful. And then Brenda, too. Even better, it was Brenda's precious afternoon off and Tom deserted her and left her all alone with Pip! Then to get an earful from Pat too. Best episode in ages! (JustJanie - Fairweather Freda)

Yes, it was very good, I loved hearing Brenda needling away at Peep, oblivious to it all, assuming Brenda would be as enthusiastic at doing something for BF as she was (no chance of that). (Old Cath)

Oh, I loved tonight's episode. Do you think Brenda is really deluded enough to think that is In Marketing, when we know she is Mistress of the Paper Clips in a business that employs, er, one other person. (JoLean)

Not sure anything pip does is fab but I enjoyed Brenda getting narked and Pat snapping at her. (Anna kist)

Catch up on the many discussions that got started following this scene in Poor Brenda, pathetic, Brenda and Who agrees with Pat? or have a read of an ode to Brenda in The Bapper's Lament.


Inspired by the talk about online marketing, a messageboard within a messageboard has appeared:

Where happy customers start lively new discussions praising the new improved strawberry yoghurt and swap recipes for the vanilla ice cream and debate how exactly to pronounce QUINOA. (Tadpole)

Read more in the A messageboard. That's what Bridge Farm needs thread.


Finally, it was branding - or the lack of it - that gave listeners a treat as Jennifer and Susan got the opportunity to discuss food-shopping preferences when Alice and Christopher invited them over to dinner.

#TheArchers I can't believe what a snooty old trout Jennifer has turned into! No wonder Brian has a wandering eye (123thegardener on Twitter)

Yes, but the scene where she was utterly horrified by cheap anchovies was brilliant. She seemed more upset by cheap food than she was by the appearance of Ruauri. (JoLean)

Whenever JD is forced to socialise with Radio, the scenes are usually pretty funny. It was a great idea of the SWs to make JD a relation of the Horrobins. (NotsoTinyTim)

Ber-illinat. Just heard a conversaton on #thearchers about the pros and cons of low budget anchovies. Jennifer was not amused. (Harve78 on Twitter)

Jennifer: Can't stop thinking about Clarries quiche. I bet she used ASDA eggs too. I feel quite bilious. #thearchers (AlternateArcher on Twitter)

The very thought of Jennifer perusing the nice price bog rolls in Aldi gave me a fit of the giggles! #thearchers (BorsetshireEcho on Twitter)

Share your thoughts on the grocery shopping habits of the Ambridge set in Can Jenny darling get any worse? and Shopping at Lidl/Aldi threads.


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