He’s currently one of the most despised characters in Ambridge, with his shady relationship with Helen and her son Henry causing ruptures all through The Archers. But editor Sean O’Connor has revealed that Rob Titchener wasn’t originally conceived to be so controversial.
When Rob arrived in Ambridge in 2013, O’Connor says that the plan was for him to follow in the footsteps of long-serving character Brian Aldridge, played by Charles Collingwood since March 1975.
It was only when editor O’Connor heard Rob (played by Timothy Watson) and Helen Archer (Louiza Patikas) together on air that he wondered whether he could take their story in a more challenging direction.
“Interestingly, Rob was brought in as a character just before I arrived. He was brought in to be the new Brian, and was going to be just a middle class, moneyed, respectable rué, and that was the idea,” O’Connor told interviewer Eddie Mair at the Radio Times Festival.
“But when I heard Louiza and Tim on air before I arrived, they ignited something in my mind and the writers’ minds that we might be able to take it a little further on.”
“A little further on”, turned out to mean Rob having an affair with Helen, leaving his wife Jess, marrying in secret, and pressing Helen to allow him to adopt her son Henry.
Now, after last week’s stories, serious questions have been raised about his sexual relations with Helen.
At the Radio Times Festival, Mair challenged O’Connor to explain what exactly is going on in their relationship, and whether Rob’s behaviour could be classed as “sexual coercion”.
“It could be that, yes. We don’t want to nail our colours to the mast and say what we know it to be,” O’Connor replied.
“Helen has always been a very interesting character for me,” he added. “People have never quite got her. She had anorexia, her boyfriend killed himself. She thought that she was so worthless that she had to have a child by insemination. She has been a much misunderstood character, but in Louiza’s hands I’ve always thought that there’s almost been an Ibsenian heroine in her: very complicated, flinty.
“Now you’re bringing this guy she’s read about in Bronte and Mills and Boon, this tall, dark, handsome man. Now she gets one – and it’s Rob Titchener.”
O’Connor added that he and the writers consulted various charities and professionals in relationship abuse when exploring Helen and Rob’s relationship.
“Part of the next stage of the story is about Helen understanding what is happening to her,” he said. “Obviously with a story of this delicate nature, we’re advised by brilliant professional bodies and charities.
“People have been advising me and the writers and Louiza. We won’t tell you who they are, but part of the story is about how a woman like Helen – middle-class, educated – comes to terms and is able to first of all identify what she thinks might be happening to her, and then to articulate it.”