Can you hear that mewing sound? It’s a ragged chorus of millions of kittens who’ve just been born to fans of The Archers. They’ve given birth upon hearing the news that you are the new editor of their favourite radio programme – their reason for living (I know it’s mine) – and that you have come from TELEVISION.
Oh no! Television! The drooling predatory beast that stalks the sylvan byways and bosky glades of Ambridge, ready to pounce and turn The Archers into a TV-type soap, a sweaty Gomorrah drenched in sex-romps, rude words and people in too much eyeliner shouting at one another in the street. Not that you can see eyeliner on radio, but you get my drift.
I’m surprised you haven’t already been hauled into a wicker man on Lakey Hill as Archers fans dance around you in white sheets with boxes of matches, because not only do you come from TV, but also, specifically, from EastEnders, Family Affairs, Hollyoaks and (gulp) Footballers’ Wives. This can mean only one thing; within minutes of your arrival, gay couple Adam and Ian will be having threesomes in their hot tub with a newly turned Ed Grundy, as Fallon and Kirsty discover they are lesbians. I hope so, imagine Peggy Woolley’s face.
But, seriously, I am thrilled you have such a strong television soap background, because you are just what The Archers needs. John Yorke, former EastEnders executive producer, was just what The Archers needed when he briefly filled in for your predecessor Vanessa Whitburn last year. It was Yorke’s declared intent to make sure that something happened in every episode, a very good guiding soap principle. Sadly, he wasn’t allowed to burn David and Ruth Archer to human kebabs in a Brookfield Farm barn fire, but never mind that now, there’s still time.
We both know you will be confronted by the impossible in your new job, because we both know that The Archers must change, yet it has to stay the same. But maybe the impossible can be done. So, in a spirit of fellowship, may I make a few suggestions?
1. A BUS CRASH/A ONE-OFF DISASTER
…to get rid of the drears, the bores, the halfwits, all at once. Kill off Pip Archer, Vicky Tucker, Mike Tucker, Will Grundy, Nic Grundy, Rhys the barman, Roy Tucker, Darrell the pinbrained handyman, Alastair Lloyd, Bert Fry, Helen Archer… that’s enough to be going on with. But clear a special place in Soap Hell for porcine bore Tom Archer, let him drown in a vat of his own piquant sausage casserole.
2. HAVE COURAGE!
Believe in your stories, see them through to proper conclusions. Too many Archers plots end too quickly and neatly. It’s unsatisfying. Remember when Emma was poor? The Happy Ending Fairy waved her wand and all was well. Somewhere to live, a job for her husband. Sorted.
And when David Archer was subjected to a campaign of terror by hoodlums, ending in the burning of a barn at Brookfield, it was a perfect chance to kill off a character. But no. The miscreant was sent down “off screen”, so to speak, and we heard nothing more. Over, just like that.
3. DROP AMBRIDGE EXTRA
Actually, let me qualify this. If the only place for truly terrible stories like the hideous nonsense of the old geezers – Jim, Bert et al – delivering some dead bloke’s ashes to Liverpool is in Ambridge Extra, fair enough, keep it. But I stress only as a repository for offcuts that have nowhere else to go. DO NOT resolve in Ambridge Extra huge stories that have dominated The Archers for months. The Lilian and Matt infidelity story, for example, reached its peak in AmEx, which was unforgivable, leaving listeners to the proper Archers feeling cheated.
Please don’t think you’re doing us a favour by pointing us in the direction of Ambridge Extra, we really don’t want to go there, it’s awful.
4. THE ARCHERS ISN’T ABOUT ISSUES, IT’S ABOUT CHARACTERS
Issues are death to storytelling. They sound pompous and pious and they smother drama like a fire blanket. Take Vicky Tucker’s pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby with Down’s syndrome. Nothing to complain about there, it’s a perfectly legitimate plotline. But the story was presented like a factsheet from a Down’s charity. It was all light and no, or very little, shade. Really? Not one overtly rude remark in a small village? No chance. Don’t be afraid to offend.
5. STOP THE POINTLESS PERSONALITY CHANGES
Teenage wannabe farmer Pip Archer was always a prig. Until, for a few weeks, she was a godawful nightmare, an entitled, flouncing little jerk. Then she wasn’t. She was Pip the Prig again. Why do this? It’s a waste of time.
6. RESIST THE SIREN CALL TO MAKE THE ARCHERS ABOUT FARMING AS IT WAS BACK IN 1950
Proper farming stories presented as proper farming stories are dull. Like the mega-dairy. Yawn. What makes farming stories interesting is how they mesh with characters. Keep the farming in the background. And it’s not 1950. But you know that.