Eddie Mair: How I got hooked on The Archers

"If you’d said to me three years ago that I’d be a regular listener to The Archers, I would have told you I’d rather slam the car door on my fingers"

I am sitting in the car with tears in my eyes. What is the cause? Did I:


A) Slam the car door on my fingers?

B) Just read the small print on my contract?

C) Just find the peeled onion I keep in the car for use in heart-rendering interviews?

In fact, the answer is (d) none of the above. I am listening to Peggy on The Archers on the day her husband, Jack, died.

If you’d said to me three years ago that I’d be a regular listener to The Archers, I would have told you I’d rather slam the car door on my fingers. Not that I had anything against the show; I just wasn’t into it. I’d tried but, despite my best efforts to concentrate, it was just a confusing load of voices, like an overcrowded restaurant, or Today.

Then, on a US driving holiday with Archers- fan friends, I found myself trapped in a moving vehicle while they listened to weeks of podcasts on the car stereo. I know my protests got on their nerves, as I spent much of the journey across Texas tied up in the boot. After I’d solemnly promised to keep my opinions to myself, I was allowed into the back seat again and, despite myself, slowly became hooked. When I got back to the UK, I began downloading the programme every day. It was around the time of the E coli scare that Pat and Tony went through. I think it left Tony a changed man.

When you ask people whether they listen to The Archers, there are three responses: (a) to paraphrase The Thick of It, they adopt a face like Dot Cotton licking urine off a nettle; (b) they immediately launch into an enthusiastic discussion about a current storyline; (c) they immediately launch into a vituperative attack on some aspect of the show – a storyline, an actor, or perhaps a sound effect.

I casually asked a mild-mannered colleague recently whether he listened, and was treated to a five-minute diatribe about how one character couldn’t possibly be a real farmer and how another actor’s accent was way over the top.

I prefer when (b) is the response and I can have a gossipy catch-up with a fellow listener. It’s such a rare treat nowadays, when TV viewing is so fractured that none of us is watching the same thing on the same day any more.

Mind you, have to be careful even with The Archers. The new editor, Sean O’Connor, paid us a visit on PM recently and mentioned to me before going live that Jack had died. I looked startled. In fact, he’d passed the previous night, and I had yet to hear the podcast. He mentioned the death on air, too. I worried that people waiting for the Sunday omnibus had just had a major plotline revealed.

We got a few angry emails, but Sean’s candour didn’t spoil my enjoyment. Hence the tears as I listened in the car to Peggy’s tenderly played scenes. Maybe we’re too sensitive about giving away plot developments. Isn’t our enjoyment down to the script and the acting?

Having said that, I gulped slightly last week when, in their hilarious introduction to the Golden Globes, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey gave away a big part of the plot of the film Gravity. (GRAVITY SPOILER ALERT!): “It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die, than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

Eddie Mair presents PM, Mon—Fri 5pm, and iPM, Sat 5.45am, 5.30pm, both Radio 4