Brian Aldridge (Charles Collingwood)


Borchester Land

As Brian faces a hostile takeover, here’s a potted history of the company which has done its best to change the face of Ambridge – Borchester Land.

In July 1997, a consortium of business people formed Borchester Land (BL). The company was a vehicle to buy the Berrow Estate, which was being sold by Simon Pemberton.

The estate comprised 1020 acres of Ambridge farmland, two tenanted holdings: Bridge Farm and Grange Farm, and a set of business units converted from buildings at the former Sawyer’s Farm.

Brian Aldridge was soon revealed to be a member of the consortium. But the remainder were urban types who knew little about farming. The company was chaired by lairy Matt Crawford, originally from Peckham, who initially didn’t much like the countryside because it was too quiet.

Kim Durham (Matt Crawford)

Leisure complex

One of Matt’s first proposals was to build a leisure complex on Estate land. Appalled Brian’s objections were vindicated when an accountant’s report pointed out the capital gains losses they would have to sustain.

Grange Farm

Matt had little patience with the Grundy family, who chaotically ran the ramshackle Grange Farm. In 2000, they were evicted for non-payment of rent. The farmhouse and 50 acres were sold to the much more acceptable Oliver Sterling.

Grange Spinney

Matt’s big guns were back in 2001. After a change to the council’s Local Plan, BL applied for planning permission to build a large housing development on some of their land near the historic church of St Stephen’s: 30 four- and five-bedroom houses and eight low-cost homes. A few local businesses and young people were in favour. But most of the village was outraged. Brian, as the local face of BL, was in great discomfort.

Brenda Tucker, then working for Radio Borsetshire, unearthed indications of corrupt links between BL director Andrew Eagleton and district councillor Stephen Chalkman. But she handled it badly, accusing Chalkman live on air and nearly losing her job. Despite the disgrace, she eventually brought undeclared evidence to Brian that Chalkman’s wife would benefit from the development.

When confronted, Matt blustered, then tried to bribe Brian, and finally caved. They would reduce their proposals. After further negotiation, in 2003 six low-cost dwellings and 12 luxury homes were built: Grange Spinney.

Arable contract

Brian had negotiated a five-year contract to farm the ‘in-hand land’. But by 2001, he was sweating, as the Estate had not delivered the farming income he had projected. Unsympathetic to Brian’s excuses of a market slump, rising fuel costs and poor weather, the board appointed new contractors.

It was 2006 before Home Farm won the contract back. Brian’s step-daughter Debbie Aldridge would manage the contract from Hungary while his step-son Adam Macy would carry out the work.

The shoot

Although not a natural countryman, Matt did like shooting, especially as a means of entertaining business contacts. He was soon interfering in the shoot, driving up numbers to the detriment of the wild native birds.

The Home Farm and Estate shoots were run in conjunction with the shooting in Grey Gables Country Park. When fading Jack Woolley sold the hotel in 2006, Borchester Land bought the park to consolidate the shoot. It also bought the adjoining land land used by Ambridge Golf Club.

Skylarks

Matt doesn’t have much of a green agenda. In 2008, he forced Adam to plough up set-aside land at Quarry Bank. Pip Archer was appalled at the destruction of a rare skylark habitat. It was a newcomer to the board, their former solicitor Annabelle Schrivener, who encouraged Matt to take a cannier line and be a little more accommodating with local environmentalists.

Matt eventually received praise in the local press when he agreed that Adam could install skylark plots in the adjacent Forty Acre.

Bridge Farm

In May 2008, Pat and Tony Archer were dumbstruck. Their landlord (BL) had applied for planning permission to convert the barn they used as their vegetable packhouse into a four-bedroom house. This caused huge family friction, as Matt had by now shacked up with Tony’s sister Lilian Bellamy. Tony’s brother-in-law Brian protested that the decision had slipped through without him noticing.

Pat and Tony mobilised a protest campaign. Brian’s daughter Alice touted their petition around the family. At a planning committee meeting in July, Pat spoke convincingly of the importance of the building to Bridge Farm’s business, and the proposal was rejected.

But it hardened Pat and Tony’s determination to throw off the yoke of their landlord. Matt drove such a hard bargain that they nearly gave up. But pushed by their offspring Helen and Tom, they just scraped together enough finance for the agreed price of £825K.

Matt is ousted

Matt’s control of BL ended in 2009, when he was prosecuted for fraud conducted by an investment company he jointly owned with Stephen Chalkman (yes, him again). Annabelle choreographed his demise, and his replacement. Not only did Brian take over the chair, but Home Farm managed to retain their farming contract. Brian was riding high.

Borchester Livestock Market

Because of traffic problems, South Borsetshire District Council had long been keen to move the livestock market from its potentially lucrative site in Borchester. In 2010, Brian conceived an ambitious plan. He negotiated the tricky purchase of 25 acres of farmland on the by-pass. BL put forward plans for a new market fit for the 21st century.

Things were looking good until September, when Matt revealed that he had bought a small ‘ransom strip’ – land that was essential for access to the site. As well as an exorbitant sum, Matt demanded BL shares and a seat on the board for Lilian. After difficult arguments with the board, Brian eventually offered Lilian a directorship of the operating company – Borchester Market Developments (BMD). And Matt still made a pile of cash out of the deal.

In 2011 as work progressed, the council received a bid for the old market site from a supermarket. BMD agreed to speed up the construction, against Brian’s better judgement because of severe penalty clauses if they missed the deadline. When the diggers turned up a vast cache of bones from a former Foot and Mouth Disease burial site, it nearly jeopardised the whole project.

Despite this setback, the market opened on time, with only a few teething troubles, at the beginning of December.

The ‘mega dairy’

The market was a walk in the park compared with Brian’s next scheme. In September 2011, Debbie proposed setting up a large-scale dairy operation. 1500 cattle would be kept permanently indoors, and their slurry would feed an anaerobic digester supplying power to the grid.

Brian put the plans to the board. But when Adam learned of them, he refused to cooperate, as it was anathema to his philosophy of farming. Brian was forced to tread a difficult path, contracting other farmers to supply feed and silage for the cattle.

Meanwhile, public anger quickly grew. Many people were disgusted at the prospect of cows who would never see daylight or fresh grass. Brian was at odds with members of his extended family. BL countered a difficult public meeting, rowdy demonstrations at their market and critical press coverage with a PR campaign and a glossy DVD.

In April 2012 the council approved the application. But it still wasn’t plain sailing. When one of the contracted farmers pulled out, Brian unilaterally decided that Home Farm would have to step in. Adam came close to throwing it all up and moving away but he and Brian eventually reached a shaky détente.

Building work began in September. In January 2013, highly qualified Rob Titchener started as herd manager, and the first heifers arrived in August. In a bid to belie the vast industrial nature of the buildings, Brian and Rob named the enterprise Berrow Farm, to the scorn of its critics.

Julia Hills (Annabelle Schrivener)

Damara Capital

But Brian’s success with the market and dairy were short-lived. He was aghast when in 2014 aggressive Damara Capital became majority shareholders of BL. Brian tried to cling to control. But he was replaced as Chair, ironically by his former kingmaker Annabelle Schrivener.

Keri Davies is an Archers scriptwriter and web producer.

Learn more about Brian, Matt, Oliver, Lilian, Adam, Brenda, Pat, Tony, Helen, Tom, Alice, Annabelle, Rob – and the actors who play them – in our Who’s Who.

Comments

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  • Comment number 42. Posted by cath

    on 20 Apr 2014 15:47

    Not to worry, I know that facts can sometimes be quite uncomfortable, particularly on 'fan' MBs.

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  • Comment number 41. Posted by thelatejulia

    on 20 Apr 2014 09:21

    Oh Cath, you haven't changed! As someone said on another website, there comes a point where it just not worth arguing.

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  • Comment number 40. Posted by cath

    on 19 Apr 2014 20:42

    Um twas you who brought up the issue of caring for animals. I merely pointed out that what the charities are quite rightly trying to stop is irresponsible people expecting other people to take on the care of animals without being consulted.

    That's exactly what Will did with Nic and it could have ended in disaster. So the TA SL demonstrated very clearly the issues that you claimed you wanted them to pick them up.

    I'm not sure what you mean about Holly being in a cage all day. The whole point about the chewing SL was that she wasn't in a cage at all although some said she should have been. And Em had arranged to take Holly for training but unfortunately Holly then went to be cared for by Nic who, not unreasonably, didn't have time or inclination for any of that.

    Which is why it's a good job for the poor puppy that she was restored to a home where all the adults were prepared to look after her and train her. The SL picked up on all the issues that needed to be picked up on and you really can't complain about the SL just because it showed a character you happen to like in a bad light.

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  • Comment number 39. Posted by thelatejulia

    on 19 Apr 2014 12:52

    I don't believe this. How on earth is Will getting all the blame for the puppy story? Ed deliberately shot a puppy and when he realised it was Baz and George was distraught obtained a replacement for all the wrong reasons and by very dubious means. Holly was foisted on an entirely unsuitable home and left in a cage for vast tracts of the day, no attempt was made at training her and when she made a mess Ed uttered the immortal line 'she's not my puppy' indicating that someone else should clear it up.

    Ed and Emma asked Will to take the puppy for very spurious reasons but at least she got some house training while she was there. When Will said that she would be better off at his house he was totally speaking the truth. When Ed and Emma decided they wanted her back (after some vicious stirring by Clarrie and then Eddie) Nic willingly returned her.

    No doubt Holly has miraculously become a completely house trained dog and will never be heard of again as the old Ed/Will feud was needlessly stoked up and so she has served her purpose.

    From start to finish it was Ed who was at fault here and the 'Will didn't consult Nic' element was entirely a sideline. Incidentally, where is the replacement dog which Will should have been given long before now? Wasn't Ed lucky that neither Will nor Brian did what they are required to do by law and report him for shooting a licensed animal on private land?

    Still, I suppose it is easier to blame Will for it all and this will no doubt become part of the Grundy folklore in years to come.

    It was an utterly irresponsible story from the beginning and the writers should have known better.

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  • Comment number 38. Posted by cath

    on 18 Apr 2014 17:06

    On the company point I thought it was OK. I doubt BL is traded on the market so the takeover rules wouldn't apply to it - Brian was in any case offered the chance to sell his shares but refused.

    I thought the Holly SL was fine and covered all the issues. The point about the don't buy a puppy for Christmas is to make sure people don't go off and buy a puppy (or kitten or any other animal) as a surprise for someone who will not accept the commitment to care for the animal for the rest of its life. In this SL we had all the adults concerned agreeing to take on a puppy and two visits to see it and all the other checks you're meant to do.

    We also saw what can happen if people are irresponsible and don't make sure everyone in the household agrees to the commitment. Will very selfishly insisted on keeping Holly but didn't consult Nic although he expected her to look after the puppy all day. We heard Nic being driven mad by the puppy and really struggling to manage. What would have happened if Emma hadn't approached her to suggest returning the puppy? That could have been really horrible and that's the scenario the don't buy a puppy message is seeking to avoid.

    However amid all the hot air, even if the SL were wrong, I would be rather surprised if any listeners would base their behaviour on what they hear on TA. That would be a bit hair raising.

    There will always be some inaccurate SLs but that's something I'm happy to live with. Knowing Mr Bennett might have been able to stop that entail doesn't make me moan about Pride and Prejudice being rubbish. Hearing Tony reminisce the other day about the packhouse development made me laugh as it was a SL that was so silly but it was clearly designed to prompt P&T to buy the freehold of BF. Twas ever thus and carping on about old wounds feels pretty pointless to me.

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  • Comment number 37. Posted by thelatejulia

    on 17 Apr 2014 10:45

    'We have taken advice from Solicitors on this storyline'

    In the same way you took advice from animal charities on the 'buy the puppy for Christmas' (now dropped) storyline? Or the advice from the person on the 'what problem does Darrell have today' guessathon? It's one thing asking for advice; what you do with it is what matters. Time and time again you sacrifice plausibility at the altar of drama. When will you see that this devalues what you are trying to do?

    May I also mention my favourite which was Tracey getting Bert Horribin to sign a letter she had drafted which guaranteed her joint tenancy of his house meaning that she would inherit it when he dies. The message board had pages of responses from Housing Officers confirming that this just could not happen under current legislation.

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by Keri Davies

    on 17 Apr 2014 10:31

    That's done. it's chuntering through the system now.

  • Comment number 35. Posted by Keri Davies

    on 17 Apr 2014 10:25

    >Adam arrived in the country from Africa in March, 2003, and Debbie didn't go to Hungary until May 2005. Which year ought it to be instead of 2001, or how ought that to be re-written to fit what was broadcast on air, please?

    Ah, that's my fault, for which I apologise. I retroactively applied the current arrangements to the start of the contract. I'll amend the post.

  • Comment number 34. Posted by Organoleptic Icon

    on 17 Apr 2014 10:19

    Why is there no option to view posts "Newest First" - which is surely the most wanted choice?

    And, at risk of going slightly off topic, is John son of John invited to the big wedding of his uncle?

    That's the Great Grandson Peggoi seems to have forgotten exists!

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by byondajokenow

    on 17 Apr 2014 09:14

    'We have taken advice from Solicitors on this storyline'

    In the same way you took advice from animal charities on the 'buy the puppy for Christmas' (now dropped) storyline? Or the advice from the person on the 'what problem does Darrell have today' guessathon? It's one thing asking for advice; what you do with it is what matters. Time and time again you sacrifice plausibility at the altar of drama. When will you see that this devalues what you are trying to do?

    You can't even accept you made a factual mistake, proffering instead a lame excuse 'We are assuming that the letter/email informing Brian of the EGM went astray' which, if you'd actually listened to what was broadcast, you'd realise did not work with the dialogue broadcast.

    Fictional characters may have character transplants, properties may move location and fluctuate in size to suit plots; ideally you'd maintain integrity with the fictional history you've created but if you choose to write about real life matters then at least get those right.

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