Did you hear those bloodcurdling screams from Kirsty? Those long-drawn-out wails that echoed horrifically through the ancient walls of St Stephen’s Church last Thursday — in a strange, unwelcome echo of Nigel’s unfortunate descent from the roof of Lower Loxley in 2011? They were enough to make every woman’s blood run cold. Kirsty, the bride-to-be, was not just dumped by Tom on her way to the altar but also left dangling in all her finery at the church gate while Tom (what a waster of an Archer) sobbed his heart out in the vestry.
Did you see it coming? (I didn’t.) It was a bit puzzling that sparky Kirsty should have gone so doolally about the bridal thing, buying not just one but two hyperinflated dresses in her efforts to ‘look beautiful for Tom’ (pass the sick bucket). Tom, too, was even more annoyingly self-obsessed than usual, constantly arguing with his Dad and putting money down on a new-build house that’s not even in Ambridge. But who would have guessed he would bottle out at the very last minute, letting Kirsty parade herself through the village in her wedding get-up before telling her it was all off? What a gruesome Ambridge moment. It was as if Kirsty was being chastised, medieval style. And for what? Audience figures? To save the soap from becoming too bland, too safe, too ordinary?
No doubt Kirsty’s screams were given an added charge by her (or rather Annabelle Dowler’s) realisation that it’s curtains for her as an Archers character/actress (just as Nigel’s screams were Graham Seed’s final, memorable contribution after 28 years). Sure enough, Dowler’s name doesn’t appear in this week’s cast list in Radio Times. In a way that must be a relief — for Kirsty and Dowler. Who would want to stick around in Ambridge after such a humiliation to be turned into a Miss Havisham?
Ask any cleric whether they’ve ever had to cope with a bride who’s been stood up at the altar (or vice versa) and they’ll tell you, quite simply, ‘No.’ It does happen, of course, but so rarely, and certainly not in an everyday country village like Ambridge, and definitely not just as the bride arrives at the church to walk up the aisle watched by all her family and friends. It was such a dreadful romantic cliché. Even Dickens restrained himself from putting us through such an ordeal (and a misogynist one at that). He gives us not the bride but the aftermath.
On Feedback last Friday, the editor Sean O’Connor, who’s still a relative new boy after years of working in TV (including, you guessed it, EastEnders), explained that it was all about ‘turning a boy into a man’. He continued, ‘We have to know whether Tom Archer is worthy to take on the mantle of Bridge Farm.’ Believe that, if you must.
If you want dialogue that fizzes and drama that nails you to your chair, because it’s so true, so closely tied to reality, Roy Williams’s The Interrogation is back on Radio 4 for its third series. This week on Thursday DC Sean Armitage (Alex Lanipekun) met up with Kellie, an old friend from the estate, and was drawn into an investigation, with dangerous repercussions.
Kellie tells us from the outset that she’s difficult (‘I had a fire in me...a temper’), and she’s had a difficult life (mum dies, she falls out with her stepmum, her dad tells her it’s the army or the street, she joins up, loves the army, but has now left for reasons unknown). ‘It’s the look in her eye,’ Sean explains to his boss DS Max Matthews (Kenneth Cranham) when Max wonders why he’s worried about her.
The writing is so sharp. Heightened, yes, with a terrible cliffhanger at the end (for which we won’t know the outcome until the next series), but utterly believable because it sounds like real people speaking. It’s not at all descriptive. We have no idea what any of the characters look like. And yet we do, because of the way they speak, the words they use, the jumpy staccato of Kellie compared with Max’s gravelly drawl and Sean’s earnest, impatient-for-answers estuary English. The deceptively simple design of each interrogation (two cops, a criminal and a victim) is matched by the spare production (by Jessica Dromgoole and Mary Peate) to powerful effect.
Sunday’s Radio 4 Appeal caught my ear because it was dedicated to the Prison Radio Association, which broadcasts its own radio station, National Prison Radio, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with all the programmes made by, and presented by, prisoners. Jon Snow, the Channel 4 anchorman, shared the appeal with Lyn Knapton, a former prisoner who’s now studying for a PhD thanks to prison radio. It ‘saved my life’ she says, not by giving prisoners non-stop entertainment but by challenging them, helping them to face up to what they have done, yet also motivating them, giving them something to do with their time.