Sunday, April 03, 2016

Tum-ti-tum-ti tiddly no more

I used to love the Archers.  I'd listened all my life, initially unintentionally, because it was on in the kitchen in my childhood, and then gradually by choice.  I enjoyed the everyday story of farming folk, and it seemed to me to be fairly true to life - the occasional argument, the odd accident, the ebb and flow of normality and a window into a rural life where it was necessary to get up at 5 am for morning milking or do the night shift in the lambing shed.

I felt affectionate about the characters in the programme, and the way that they matured over time, the antics of Nigel the upper-class twit and tearaway in the local mansion gradually giving way to Nigel the responsible landowner and Nigel the family man.  It was easy to listen to, gentle and entertaining, on a Sunday morning over bacon and eggs, and seemed as English as afternoon tea.

It has to be admitted that the programme began dramatically with fires and disaster in the 1950s but it had settled into a very happy and beloved institution where things seemed normal... a balance of good and bad, nice and less nice, as you find in real life.  With added farming detail.

Then, they drafted in a producer from soaps and everything changed.  There started to be more dramatic events than normality.  Everything suddenly became fly-on-the-wall and first hand, instead of dramatic events being gossipped about over the counter in the village shop, or at the village pub.  Nastiness crept into relationships, and more and more drama was injected until there was nearly no-one in the village who didn't have a difficult relationship or difficult life.

Where the programme had been used throughout its run, sometimes a bit cackhandedly, as a way of informing the public or the farming community about government initiatives or  current concerns in farming, they didn't seem to want to use the dramatic storylines to inform the public in other ways.  Most of their social interest is skin deep nowadays.

The end really came for me when they cynically pushed Nigel off a rooftop, for dramatic effect, not because the actor wished to leave or the storyline called for it, but just in order to punch up the drama.  I hated that, and really I haven't been able to listen to it consistently since.  I felt they'd crossed a line into the type of soap on tv like Eastenders, where constant misery is an excuse for ever more dramatic events, usually centering around a celebration like Christmas or Easter.  Yay!  Happy Christmas, we just ran over/burned/decapitated a beloved character....

I've tried to come back, but instead of the easy, gentle listening experience which used to be the omnibus on Sunday morning, it's become a teeth-clenching, awkward, unhappy event.  I usually last five or ten minutes.  This morning it was two before I was driven to rant in my blog.

I'm sad that the programme has been taken in the direction of Eastenders.  I'd like the original programme back, but I've stopped listening.  It seems to me that Radio 4 has gone in pursuit of another type of audience, and I don't fit the bill any more.  Which makes me sad, because Radio 4 used to be everything I wanted from a radio station - and Radios 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 don't fit the bill for me, not at all.

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