The Archers abuse storyline is “absolutely not” about chasing ratings

Editor Sean O'Connor says the story of Helen and Rob is about "getting to the heart of Helen Archer's character" and that "we never talk about ratings in the office"

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The Archers’ abuse storyline that has captivated listeners new and old is “absolutely not” about chasing ratings, says editor Sean O’Connor.

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The man overseeing the story of Helen and Rob explained in a live Facebook Q&A that his motive for pursuing the plot was all about trying to deconstruct Helen’s character, and not an attempt to win over new listeners.

“This was all about trying to understand or get to the heart of Helen Archer’s character who is a character who both the audience and some of the writers have found hard to grasp over time,” he said.

“We wanted to explore or examine her and see who she is. It’s a story about her. This is completely honest – we never talk about ratings in the office.”

However, O’Connor added that the storyline had had a significant impact when it came to the numbers of people coming forward to discuss their own abusive relationships.

“We know from talking to Refuge and Women’s Aid that discussing the story is having a profound effect on abused women choosing to pick up the phone and talk about their situation,” he said. “That has gone up 20 per cent since January 2016.

“We know two women a week are murdered by their partners or ex partners in the UK. Reporting of violence against women in the home has gone up by 30 per cent in the past two years. Dramatising the issue is having a profound effect. Helen being on trial – 5 million of us know Helen is the victim. The issue here is despite our knowledge, Helen is now facing the law and that is something that we want to explore in the next phase of the storyline.”

At the beginning of April, BBC Director General Tony Hall said that the story of Helen stabbing Rob had pushed The Archers to its highest ever audience appreciation ratings, and that the storyline would continue to run for another year.

Editor O’Connor is set to leave The Archers to take over as executive producer of EastEnders, but promised in the Facebook session that he would be back in Ambridge one day. 

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“I fully intend to return!” he said.