This week there has been a dark, rain-laden cloud hanging over Ambridge. Judgement has been reckoned on David Archer and the residents of Borsetshire.
Regular listeners to The Archers (BBC Radio 4) – who I realise are not generally students, are in a confused fury over the goings-on of this once sleepy ’shire. The new editor of the show, Sean O’Connor, has previously been involved in such ridiculously over-dramatic television shows as Hollyoaks and Eastenders, and replaces Vanessa Whitburn – who was involved in the show for the last 22 years. The Archers has been in need of a shake-up in pace, and O’Connor is ensuring that this happens. The current storyline is that of David Archer – the name hints at the centrality of his family to the programme. David had been offered seven million pounds to pack up the farm and move away in order to make way for a new road. He and his family were set to do so, until a ghostly Shakespearean visitation from his deceased father, who tells him to stay.
This gripping plot has been overtaken in thrill by the devastating flood that has hit Ambridge. Since O’Connor introduced this biblical punishment upon the people of the fictional Borsetshire, dedicated Archers followers have gone into twitter outrage. Regular listeners are used to the humdrum happenings of the pastoral vista. Such a dramatic story has created a torrent of hilarious ‘#TheArchers’ tweets, such as: “The flood was caused by the tears of thousands of disappointed Archers fans” (archerslistener), and “Negatives from #thearchers this week. Lots of sheep drowned, Scruff missing. Rob neither drowned nor missing” (Anne Liddon).
Despite the backlash to the new, sensational storylines, there is also praise. People are actually talking about it, which is good for any show, especially radio. And people are involved in the plot much more than previously possible when it consisted of drama surrounding the Flower and Produce Show and the Christmas panto. Whilst it may have lost a few older listeners used to the agricultural mundanity, it has gained some younger listeners, intrigued by the daily 15 minutes of social drama. O’Connor has kicked up a storm in the village politics of Ambridge through the raging flood. Asking what it is that makes a community and why these values are so important, the plot is taken from the real story of Oliver Surman whose own farm was flooded in 2007. The writers have highlighted the destruction that flooding causes, which is to homes and livelihoods alike, a fact that often neglected in the collective mind of the nation. The River Am breaking its banks has drowned lambs, a very disturbing thought (am I right Clarice?), and destroyed agricultural equipment and homes. Whilst seemingly sensational, this plot has actually just articulated reality for many.
The week’s episodes have been very well produced, ending consistently on tantalising cliff-hangers and including fantastic, fate-tempting lines such as, “it never floods”, and: “There is no point staring at the river, Pip”. This flood is washing the soap clean, and into a new era of gripping drama.
The social media for The Archers is very good considering the popular view of Radio 4 as the realm of the middle-aged middle-class. The website has a host of fake weather warnings and pictures of The Borsetshire Echo with the headline: “Ambridge Or-gone-ics? It’s pak choi or pack up for troubled village veg shop owners”. As well as this, it has a lively twitter account itself, one that is not afraid to make fun of The Archers’ stereotype.
Personally, I agree with those praising the new, water-logged path of The Archers. Yes, the stories may be dramatic and never-before-seen in Ambridge, but at least it is exciting; surely that is the point of a soap. Scruff is missing and Rob, the villain, is still hanging forebodingly about, thus the Sunday omnibus will be the most riveting ever heard in the history of radio.