Rob Titchener has to die. I don’t care how it happens, but it needs to happen soon. OK, so that’s not entirely true because I have considered a number of ways in which Rob could meet his maker: trampled under Bartleby’s hooves, poisoned by a rogue scotch egg at the farm shop, held face down in Lilian’s hot tub, crushed by falling scenery during one of Lynda’s theatrical extravaganzas. Just anything – ANYTHING! – to stop him from breathily saying “darling” and “good girl” while coercing, manipulating and belittling his long-suffering wife Helen.
Now, I’m not one of these Archers fans who believes that Ambridge should be an oasis of calm studded solely by mild concerns about milk yields and village fetes. In fact, I marvel at its ability to make me feel peculiar (Sid and Jolene’s shower scene), nauseous (Tom heavily petting supermarket buyer Tamsin) and downright lusty (whenever Fallon has a line of dialogue). I was even a fan of those controversial menace-fuelled months in 2012 that culminated in the blaze at Brookfield. But, honestly, people, my nerves are currently shredded finer than a batch of Borsetshire Blue in one of Wayne Tucsons’ sourdough sandwiches. And it’s all the fault of the terrifying Titchener.
The Archers podcast traditionally lasts me from the train station back to my front door. Now, I have to take an extended route around the block a few times just to exorcise the Rob-shaped demons and allow the nail marks on my palms to fade. There’s no way I’d consider a catch-up under the duvet before lights-out for fear of nightmares in which I was cut off from friends and confined to the bedroom while my children were given lessons in obedience and packed off to prep school.
It’s all credit to actor Timothy Watson that – in the space of a few short years – Rob Titchener has become one of the all-time-great soap villains. More loathsome than Ambridge’s own Owen King, nastier than Corrie’s serial killer Richard Hillman or EastEnders’s original bad boy Nick Cotton. Mainly because his evil has been drip-fed, his psychological abuse creeping up insidiously on both the listener and Helen, to the point where each Rob-centric episode of The Archers is now a theatre of tension and pain. Each of his showdowns with Helen make me sweat and worry in the same way as I do while watching Goldberg and McCann browbeat Stanley in Pinter’s The Birthday Party. It’s chilling, unrelenting and claustrophobic – but made all the worse by the visuals unfolding in my own imagination.
Yet surely Rob has to get his comeuppance soon? Continuing dramas do, of course, thrive when they reflect the audience’s experiences back at them and raise awareness of issues. Indeed, a Just Giving page inspired by The Archers has already raised over £68,000 for Refuge in support of real-life Helens. But, as regular listeners, we also demand catharsis. We need Rob to face justice (or a grisly demise), even if it means having to spend more airtime in the company of the interchangeable Fairbrother siblings or Pip Archer as a result.
Last night’s second marital rape has to be the tipping point. We’d already had one sexual assault, homophobia, domestic violence and general snobbery to contend with, but Wednesday’s cliffhanger made me long for a day when Kirsty Miller kicks down the door of Blossom Hill Cottage and puts her boot to Titchener’s throat. And this from a normally peaceable person who could even tolerate such horrors as a guide to pork production from Tom or a lecture in Latin from Jim. But if Helen isn’t liberated soon, I’m going to turn from even-tempered critic to crazed vigilante and rock up at Hollerton Junction with murder in mind. Just look at what you’ve done to me, Rob Titchener. Just look!