Kate Chisholm

The man who killed The Archers

Plus: the World Service’s answer to In Our Time dives into the deep and the Guardian launches a new podcast series Camera Off

Such a hoo-ha about The Archers this week as Helen faces trial by jury — and, much worse, has to confront her horrid husband Rob face-to-face for the first time since she tried to stab him with a knife in the kitchen of Blossom Hill Cottage. Whatever the decision of the court (and of Sean O’Connor, the horrid editor who is supposed to have left his job at the Radio 4 soap but who in a recent interview threatened us with a worst-case scenario that would free Helen but hand custody of the children over to Rob), it’s curtains for life in Ambridge as we know it. The soap has been well and truly done over, every halfway believable character cast off, every spot of light relief (Jazzer, Lilian, Lynda) subsumed into the desperate desire to crank up the ratings (that desperation proved by the decision to start the trial on Sunday night, hooking listeners in before the week begins). Even the farmers have gone awol, Helen’s brother Tom, formerly a pigs-and-sausage man, contemplating a future as an organic babyfood retailer.

The twice-daily series now bills itself as ‘contemporary drama in a rural setting’, but Ambridge is as far from either ‘contemporary’ or ‘rural’ as the moon. Name a multiracial character, a disabled or in other ways afflicted character, a Pole or Albanian, a family on benefit. We’ve had all these, but mysteriously they’ve disappeared, as if reality has no place in Borsetshire, which of course it never did have (in spite of all those references to bovine flu, badger culls and the price of a pint in the Bull). Until, that is, Rob Titchener came on the scene, or rather Mr O’Connor.

The domestic-abuse storyline was gripping to begin with, and a worthy attempt to make Ambridge relevant, but of course in reality abuse is too raw, too monotonously awful, too dull for O’Connor and his team, who have turned the storyline into cheap melodrama, one terrible event being pursued by another like the hounds of hell.

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