For me, the arrival of September usually brings with it a touch of wistfulness for the departing summer. This year, however, is different.
For September, as Archers listeners well know, is Trial Month. Twinges of melancholy have been displaced by the distinctly jolly prospect of Rob Titchener finally – finally – finding himself on the receiving end of the courtroom drubbing he so richly deserves.
We’ve longed for it; we’ve prayed for it; we deserve it – as, indeed, does he. Just one thing is amiss: the wrong person is in the dock. This is Helen’s trial and not, alas, Rob’s.
When the new, and apparently eligible, dairy manager at Berrow Farm first breezed into Borsetshire back in 2013, the hearts of a considerable cohort of ArchersOmnibus tweet-alongers beat a little faster: “Ooh,” we cooed, thrilled to bits, “hello Rob!” (hashtag #dish).
But I terminated my membership of the Rob Titchener Fan Club fairly early on. There was something about him that wasn’t quite right. It was nothing overt, just something in the way he swept into Helen’s life seemed a bit off-kilter.
And Helen, for all her apparent independence, was very susceptible to being swept. When it turned out he was married and their affair stalled, I breathed a sigh of relief.
But by New Year’s Eve, Rob had Helen firmly back in his sights and my heart sank. Jess Titchener (unaware of any extramarital shenanigans) eventually joined her husband in Blossom Hill Cottage and there was a housewarming party at which we got our first real hint of Rob’s true nature.
A whole dressed salmon was his excuse for a nasty marital row (#salmongate). Then Helen spent a ridiculous amount of time lovingly preparing a meal for him, which he said he couldn’t eat because it contained tuna (#tunagate).
When he told Helen he was divorcing Jess, a lot of us thought he was very fishy indeed, although to our disgust Helen swallowed this guff hook, line and sinker. Rob’s prompt flourishing of a magnificent engagement ring (emeralds, platinum #ringgate) sealed the deal and she was lost.
By the time the Borsetshire Hunt Ball rolled around and Rob insisted she change her elegant, low-cut gown for something only marginally more indiscreet than a nun’s habit (#frockgate) we, the ArchersOmnibus tweetalongers, were unanimously on to him.
There is a reason I had Rob clocked as a wrong ’un so early – I have some experience of this type of man myself and, as we listeners tentatively admit to each other over Twitter, so do a great many others. That Rob gives us all the creeps is a perfect demonstration of the beauty and power of radio.
“Rob” arrives in my kitchen with no visual prompts, which means radio can do something television seldom does – it makes me use my imagination. Rob is chilling because, like all the best monsters, it’s not what you know but what you imagine.
It would be impossible to overstate the impact of Helen and Rob’s story. Played out in real time – over three years now – the writing and the acting have illustrated perfectly the way control and coercion work in an abusive relationship.
It may at times be difficult to listen to, but in my view that’s a small price to pay for the very real difference it’s made to the lives of so many women who aren’t quite sure how or why they got there and perhaps, and more importantly, haven’t told anyone yet.
In July The Archers’ influence extended as far as Clarence House, where the Duchess of Cornwall hosted a reception for workers in the field of, and survivors of, domestic abuse. “Thanks to The Archers’, millions of people now have some understanding of what living with relentless coercive behaviour is really like,” she said. Louiza Patikas, who plays Helen, and executive Sean O’Connor were in the audience.
It makes me hopeful that surely we must be able to wring something good from so much heartache. There is encouraging proof of that already in the Helen Titchener Rescue Fund, set up by Archers listener Paul Trueman, and now topping £160,000. The Fund’s JustGiving page is as remarkable for the comments left by supporters as it is for the staggering total.
In the meantime, Helen languishes in prison with baby Jack – the result of a marital rape. She’s separated from family and friends, but is perversely calm because, although she’s locked up, she feels safe knowing Rob is locked out.
It’s been a harrowing experience for all of us suffering along with her. The whole litany of abuse and coercion must surely come out at Helen’s trial, as well as the truth about that evening the kitchen knife Rob had just forced into his wife’s hand clattered to the floor after he told her, “It’s the only way I’m ever letting you go.”
I hope that when it comes to it, Helen will spill the whole dirty shedload of Rob beans at the feet of a compassionate, informed judge and jury. And then Jess, Adam, Charlie, Shula, Kirsty, Stefan and everyone else he’s shown his naked nastiness to must do the same, with great big gilded knobs on.
I’m afraid nothing less than a total acquittal will do, and after that – well, then we can look forward to round two of the Crown v Titchener.