Dum de dum de dum de dum, dum de dum de dum dum
It's just an everyday tale of simple country folk, but Mercury editor Anne Edwards explains why she's hooked on The Archers
DUM de dum de dum de dum… ah, The Archers theme tune, and one which has me cutting off from the rest of the world for a sweet 15 minutes every evening.
A ringing telephone isn’t answered, a knock at the door is ignored, any interruption from the husband is met with a deep sigh and a loud ssshhhhh.
Yes, I will stand up and announce to the world I am an Archers Addict. So much so, on a fortnight’s holiday I have withdrawal symptons for the first couple of days.
I’ve been listening to the Radio 4 favourite since 1974 when I got married. Not having cooked even a boiled egg before marriage, I found Sunday mornings preparing the roast dinner took up rather a lot of time, and so my beloved transistor radio occupied the window-sill to distract me.
Fiddling about with the knobs I happened upon “talk” instead of music and I was hooked on the omnibus, and that hour and a quarter every week became sacrosanct.
Over the years, I have followed the goings-on at Ambridge on the car radio as I travelled home and more latterly, each evening from just after 7pm. The husband and I eat in separate rooms if we are dining late – me in the dining room where the radio is and husband in the kitchen watching Emmerdale. So we do have something in common – we like everyday tales of farming and country folk.
What is it about The Archers I find so fascinating and riveting?
I think it’s a bit like reading a good book; I have visualised what every character looks like and I know the layout of the village, so every character is familiar.
I’ve cried when people have died – when Shula Archer’s husband Mark was killed in a car crash, when Phil Archer passed peacefully away in his armchair earlier this year – I had to stifle a sob.
I’ve grinned like a Cheshire cat at happier moments: the birth of the twins to Lizzie Archer and her husband Nigel Pargeter, the antics of old Joe Grundy and, before that, Walter Gabriel and his gravelling voice.
I’ve winced as the Grundy boys continue their long-held feud with each other – how did two brothers come to hate each other so much? Or what about Pip Archer’s appalling boyfriend? We all knew it would come to nothing and he was taking her for a ride.
I’ve had butterflies in my stomach as Cathy faced her rapist in court; silently pleading please, please let him be jailed. We know he did it. We heard it! And what about when David and Ruth Archer’s marriage nearly came to an end, and tuberculosis threatened to close down the farm forever?
And the 60th anniversary programme on Sunday evening was horrific. I’m still in shock! Nigel Pargeter dead! How will Lizzie cope with their stately home business and bring up the twins? Oo-er, it’s riveting!
So what’s the attraction? It’s probably because it truly does reflect all walks of life. Unlike some of the soaps on TV such as Coronation Street and EastEnders, The Archers goes for the whole gamut – from landed gentry and wealthy landowners to tenant farmers; from the people “at the Hall” to the council house tenants; from the pub landlord to the local doctor or vet – and the cricket team with regular spring-summer episodes featuring practice at the nets and who’s not putting enough effort in because of spring lambing. Funnily enough, there is no football team at the moment.
People in the Archers have ordinary jobs and normal day-to-day lives, and we’re enthralled if the wheat’s looking a bit iffy or the strawberry pickers from an eastern European country haven’t turned up and the crop is going to be ruined (sob!).
And, unlike most TV soaps, there are families with pets… cats, dogs and even llamas. More recently we’ve been introduced to Joe Grundy’s Bartleby, a lovable pony.
These pets are talked about, their likes and dislikes, and if they go missing or are sick, horrors! TV soaps only seem to have token animals.
The Archers is ingrained in British tradition, like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Stilton cheese and pork pies. It even featured in one of comedian Billy Connolly’s shows – oops, I’m giggling already! He suggested it would be more upbeat as a National Anthem than our current God Save the Queen, and it would be easier for immigrants to learn as there were no words, only dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum (blast, music’s going around in my head now, and will be there for the rest of the day and night).
Can you imagine our armed forces marching along quick time to The Archers theme tune?
The radio soap’s actors also regularly appear on other radio shows or on television programmes.
On the radio? Well, I’m ok with that. I can still see them in my mind as I have always envisaged – their voice tells me who they are. But on the TV? That’s a real no-no – it would ruin it forever.
I made the mistake once of tuning in to a chat show on TV when the actor playing Eddie Grundy was on, wearing his cowhorn hat. What a mistake. He’s nothing like I imagine. His character has now been ruined for me.
And what a trauma it was when I discovered snobby landowner/farmer Brian Aldridge was married in real life to the sweet and butter-wouldn’t melt Shula Hebden-Lloyd nee Archer. Yuk! He’s probably old enough to be her father! Actually no, actor Judy Bennett, who plays Shula, is not as young as she sounds.
Through the years, The Archers has kept up with the life and times of what’s going on in the country, from foot and mouth disease, to cattle catching TB from badgers; from a mysterious disease killing our honey bees to gambling addiction; from bankruptcy to fraud and a subsequent jail term.
A couple of the characters have been to jail: but such is the stoicism of the listeners there was no call to “Free the Archers One” from behind bars. Actually, they were guilty: we knew that. It was British justice at its best and the characters accepted it with a stuff upper lip.
Perhaps the most poignant was the gradual decline of the strong-willed Jack Woolley character, and who we heard over the months and years sink into dementia – at first forgetting where he’s put things in the house, until beginning to forget faces of people who knew and loved him. But he always remembered Captain, his faithful terrier who always woofed or barked when he was called to rejoin his master as they walked around their country estate. Ahhh.
I remember discussing Jack’s dementia symptons with my mum, who feared my dad was going down the same road. “They aren’t real people,” my husband would shout from the next room as he overheard our conversation. “I know, but they know what they’re talking about!” I would yell back. Strangely, there are characters who have never been heard, but we know what they look like and if they’re cantankerous or a joy to be with: the obnoxious and interfering Derek Fletcher and Eddie’s dodgy mate, Fat Paul. Where else but radio would you get away with that? It is the most British of British. The best of British, and one which is listened to throughout the world.
It’s a gentle world with normal problems always overcome. A world which wouldn’t be the same without The Archers and that familiar theme tune.