Archers scriptwriter Mary Cutler writes:

It is exciting but frightening to look at the schedule for the year and discover that you are writing the week of one of our big anniversaries. And in this case, because of the way the schedule worked out, the following week, too. Of course we are all aware that the programme will get even more attention than usual round such times and expectations will be high. And some people will be disappointed - I think every big story The Archers has ever done has been greeted by some people as too shocking/not shocking enough. But this is not our focus.

So what is our focus? I'm a Brummie, and Birmingham is a city that constantly reinvents itself, so I have lived all my life with the phenomenon that is the ever-changing Birmingham skyline. Mourning as a beloved building falls, and then being fascinated by the beauty of the landscape behind - the new perspective and fascinating possibilities.

This is what we try to do with our big stories. We want something from which the ripples will spread outwards not just for weeks and months but for years, because that is what we can do on The Archers. Of course we mourn Nigel. I have felt writing the week after the accident, and next week including the funeral, as one often does after a bereavement - possessed by his spirit.

My own father died when I was seven so writing for Elizabeth and the children has been particularly painful and moving. What will it do them? To David? To the whole Archer family? To the ecology of the village? The great, and I think unique, thing about The Archers is that we shall find out, properly, in real time. This is not just a headline grabbing two week wonder.

The advantage - one of many - to writing The Archers for such a long time (32 years this April and counting) is that I know the power of these stories, and I know once this initial shock has worn off, their infinite possibilities will start to work through.

We killed Mark Hebden leaving poor Shula a widow and subsequently a single mother, splitting up, in collateral damage, Caroline and then Vicar Robin Stokes. It seemed a terrible thing to do to Shula, and The Archers. But eventually it led, among other things, to Shula being torn between two lovers and feuding with Usha and all the hours of fun we've had from that. And if she hadn't met Alistair we should never have met Jim - the ramifications are endless.

Many of the big stories got mixed reactions. Susan Carter going to prison, Kathy being raped, all the triangles - David and Ruth and Sam, Jennifer and Brian and Siobhan... Mixed reactions among the script writers here with a sizeable minority wanting the guilty couple to run away to Hungary and start a new life.

New characters similarly often have a rough ride. Marjorie Antrobus and Lynda Snell may well have ended up as national treasures but that certainly wasn't what some of the audience thought to start with. So there is hope for Helen yet, and indeed the traumatic circumstances of Henry's birth and her absolute joy in motherhood will change her profoundly. Watch, or rather listen, to this space.

So why do our big stories provoke such strong reactions? I have two ideas. One is that it is the result of having such an intelligent and creative listenership. I mean that quite sincerely. I have lost count of the number times over the years that friends of mine speculating over current plotlines lines have come up with brilliant suggestions. Playing alternative Archers is a great game. Indeed there are still conspiracy theories circulating as to who was driving the car that frightened the horse that Mark Hebden swerved to avoid.

But it is a game, and writing - and running - The Archers is work. Very enviable work, but like all work it is constrained by realities: which actors are available, when and for how long, financial implications, the impact of events in the real world and maybe most importantly how much life and drama you can credibly squeeze into an hour and a quarter a week.

But I think there is something else our audience have in common. They are attracted to The Archers because it describes the enduring beauty of the English countryside and celebrates the never-ending joys and sorrows of life in a community. It's not that nothing dreadful happens - of course it does - but the trials and tribulations will be met with courage and love and humour and friendship - those eternal truths.

Which is a long way round to say that if you're an Archers listener it's possible you don't like change much. I don't myself, and I'm a listener, too - for even longer, if that's imaginable, than I've been a writer. Much longer; I was six when Phil Archer's wife Grace famously died in a fire, and I remember it distinctly. They can't do that! I thought indignantly. But what if they hadn't? No Jill. No Shula Kenton David Elizabeth. No Daniel Meriel Pip Josh Ben Freddie Lily. In fact - no Archers.

So keep listening, and bear with us. It will all come right in another sixty years.

Mary Cutler is the longest serving Archers scriptwriter.

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  • Comment number 122. Posted by zzigy

    on 27 Mar 2011 12:55

    Where are the rest of the comments?

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  • Comment number 121. Posted by Will Scarlet

    on 14 Jan 2011 04:01

    I also think its interesting that Mary has (if indeed she had the power) chosen to use one of the most powerful experiences of her life, the death of her own father when she was seven, as she says above, as inspiration in trying o write a powerful episode for 60th anniversary episode. However, just because it was a powerful event in Mary's life, does not make it a good or appropriate choice for the 60th anniversary.

    I also dontth ink Mary should go, we need long term script writers who know what makes sense for the characters, but this episode was a mistake.

    Sadly it seems the production team got so carried away with the idea of shocking Ambridge to the core, that noone managed to steer them back from the brink of ruining the show for many listeners.

    Its really quite obvious - its a celebration - give us something dramatic, yes but happy too. Couldnt we have had a crazed Chalky cutting Matt's ear off or something? Some sense of a slow buildup?

    Drama doesnt mean you have to widow yet another Archer (hmmm Shula, Gill, Lizzie, let alone Jolene). Losing one husband is unfortunate, losing three looks like careless scriptwriting.

    The production team already broke the wall between the characters and the actors/production team. We have had our noses rubbed in the fact that this is just a fictional storyline which was going to have a dramatic episode for months. We know that Graham wanted to stay and he was upset, feels personally bereaved so much so that he cannot listen to the show either any more. Considering the overwhelming majority who love this show are furious that this gentle story is being ruined by melodrama it makes sense to write Nigel back in.

    One episode of the production team swallowing their pride would give us twenty or more years potentially of watching Nigel and his lovely family age gracefully and happily.

    Perhaps an upcoming episode of the archers opens in a script meeting, they are planning the anniversary episode. They go up to the roof of Beeb house to have a surreptitious ciggie, and a large gust of wind catches the writer holding the script unawares, for a moment, she stumbles, it looks hairy, but while she fortunately regains her footing, she drops the handwritten script, and the loose pages scatter in the wind.

    Well, probably a good thing one says to the other, no point crying over spilt milk - not as if it was your best work.

    Yes, completely clumsy and unbelievable, and the listeners would have been furious. I'll work on something a little bit more uplifting....

    ....dum de dum de dum de dumm....

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  • Comment number 120. Posted by Will Scarlet

    on 14 Jan 2011 03:03

    I completely agree with the following message. I also consider that it seems misery and death is all too quickly resorted to. I listened to the funeral today, and all I could think about was the actors saying goodbye to Graham Seed. The whole "shake the archers to the core" publicity by the BBC in the press just focused all of us on the unreality as regolofic says so well.

    "29. At 5:11pm on 07 Jan 2011, regolofic wrote:

    Just as an extra point ... I think one of the reasons that Nigel's death has made us all stop so much in our tracks is because although we did know it was scripted and they were all actors, to become engaged in a long running soap one has to believe the characters are real otherwise there is no point in listening. We have to close off that part of our minds which says they are just reading a script, they are not really farmers or shopkeepers or whatever. To do that the stories have to ring true, the characters have to be scripted true to their natures. When they are not we shake our heads and say "but he would never have done that" and at that moment we realise they are just puppets, they do not exist, they are at the mercy of their creators.

    This whole debacle has brought into focus the NON reality of it all. Nigel dies at the same time as the actor who plays him is in a studio saying he wishes he could still be in the show, and the scriptwriter is trying to explain why she so callously and needlessly pushed him off the roof. This reminds us over and over again that the characters have no power over their own destinies, they are in the hands of writers and hey presto they cease to have any depth - they cease to be real.

    And for me that is what killed TA. I can only visualise actors at the mikes now reading their lines. Somehow all the characters died last week."

    Having said goodbye to Graham / Nigel at the funeral, I really cant think why I want to listen to The Archers any more. Maybe if it gets back to being a lighthearted saga of the life of country folk, and I hear this on the grapevine I will return again, but the last few years seems to have had too many sensational silly story lines that put me off listening for months at a time.
    I listened in the run up to the the roof debacle, hoping the 60th anniversary story lines were going to be entertaining, engaging and enjoyable. Instead they were infuriating. To think that such a lovely character and actor who I have grown up with was thrown out of the show in a way that he could never return, when he was happy to continue in The Archers is unforgiveable. We lose too many characters through attrition and death of actors in real life that such a long running show cannot afford to be so wasteful. We have Kate off in Africa, Debbie has been off to Hungary, Adam went off to Africa, etc etc, so why not leave a possible return path? The desire to get some column inches and stir up the audience base for a week or two is a sorry excuse.

    Don't the scriptwriters realise that many of us have too much real heartache in our lives, I have several close relatives and friends that have died in the last few years, and I am not old. We dont need a continual drip of it in our ear courtesy of the BBC. If I want that I can watch Eastenders or Silent Witness.

    If the archers turns itself into a grey miserable show full of widows and death, or perhaps worse, full of merry widows who seem to forget about their recent tragedy at the drop of a hat as soon as the village fete comes round, it loses all sense of enjoyment for the listener. The only answer is to not keep bumping off characters as if Inspector Barnaby has just moved to the area. Are we in Borsetshire or Midsomer? It was the scriptwriters who dunnit. WE have them bang to rights!

    We dont want mirrors to the tragedy of real life, we want some gentle agricultual escapism.

    Until I get some idea from other listeners (assuming any of my friends continue listening) the that the Archers has returned to its raison d'etre, then I will be taking a long walk out of Ambridge, and out of Borsetshire, and as it was when Ruth had that ridiculous affair, it may be some time before I come this way again.

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  • Comment number 119. Posted by halftidy

    on 13 Jan 2011 16:20

    Ms Cutler

    Firstly I do wonder if you are reading these posts. There has been no reaction whatever that I can find from the production team to acknowledge this outpouring of views.

    I find it patronising that just because I listen to the Archers you consider I am averse to change.

    You state there have been mixed reactions to this ludicrous storyline - I reckon the reactions have been overwhelmingly negative.

    You would be wrong to assume that only those who dislike the 'celebration' script have bothered to post - I have a number of friends who have listened for years, hate the storyline, and dont even know the blogs/message boards etc etc exist.

    So now we have lost the only character with a sense of humour and a sense of honour. At what point does someone at the Beeb hold up their hands and say "we wos wrong"?

    PS My 60th birthday is fast approaching - should I be worried?

    PPS I am actually going to see Take That live as my present - and I am a huge supporter of the Royal Court Theatre - please don't pigeon hole your audience.

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  • Comment number 118. Posted by Baz

    on 13 Jan 2011 15:28

    None of this really addresses the fact that the episode was frankly rubbish. Far fetched at time comical and like listening to a Victorian music hall melodrama.

    I will miss Nigel but the thing that irritated me most was the factually incorrect approach to pre-eclampsia Helen should have been in danger after the birth and could have died (pity she didn't) now acting in her usually nauseating drippy manner.

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  • Comment number 117. Posted by Icecream Addict

    on 11 Jan 2011 11:57

    Post 110 - Sean - it's the first time I've laughed since reading about this whole sorry debacle - thank you. With a plotline like that, at this rate you'll be offered a job as an Archers' SW!

    Meanwhile I DO hope the Editorial Team (AND the Beeb bosses) are taking heed to the avalanche of negative comments this current pathetic plotline has induced; and a long, hard look at how they can quietly write Nigel's character back into the show, ASAP.

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  • Comment number 116. Posted by ooergosh

    on 10 Jan 2011 21:33

    Post 110 - may scarily be almost exactly what our esteemed editor has in mind, perhaps with a bit of death by swine flu thrown in for they younger wimmin.

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  • Comment number 115. Posted by Gill

    on 10 Jan 2011 20:16

    HAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA Love it!!!!!! Thank you so much. :)

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  • Comment number 114. Posted by Ambridgediaspora

    on 10 Jan 2011 19:27

    Post 110 ! Brilliant ! Say it with satire !

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  • Comment number 113. Posted by Katiecatherine

    on 10 Jan 2011 17:44

    Sean - thanks so much. laughed out loud...

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