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The Archers


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archers

Nigel and Elizabeth Pargetter with their (fictional) children. Nigel fell from a roof and was killed.

The music which you have just heard is a signature tune. A signature tune is the music which you hear at the beginning of a radio or TV programme. This signature tune is the signature tune of a radio soap opera called The Archers. The BBC describe The Archers as “an everyday story of country folk”. It is about the lives of a farming family, the Archers, and their friends and neighbours in the fictional village of Ambridge, somewhere in the middle of England.

The Archers is the most popular radio programme in Britain, except for some news programmes. It has been running since 1950, which means that it is the longest-running soap opera in the world. Originally, the programme tried to bring new ideas in agriculture to farmers. But it developed into a soap opera which appealed to townspeople as well as to country folk. Indeed, you could say that the Archers signature tune is one of the authentic sounds of urban, middle-class Britain. At 7 o’clock every evening, all over the country, people switch on their radios to listen to a news summary, followed by the Archers. It is a very special time of day. Never, ever, telephone an Archers fan between 7 and 7.15 in the evening.

The Archers is not normally an exciting programme. Its characters are just ordinary people doing ordinary things. Of course, there have been some extraordinary moments. Older listeners still talk about the time in 1955 when Grace Archer died in a fire. And people of my generation remember when a pregnant Elizabeth Archer was abandoned by her awful boyfriend Cameron Fraser in 1992. But most of the time, the Archers characters are just people living their lives in parallel to our own lives. Their problems are like our problems. They are interesting because they are ordinary, not because they are extraordinary. Many of the actors in the Archers stay with the programme for years . They grow old with their characters, and we feel as if we know them.

Last week the Archers celebrated its 60th birthday. The BBC told us that something special would happen. It would be something which would “shake Ambridge to the core". For weeks, the internet forums and chatrooms for Archers fans were abuzz with rumours. People assumed that one of the characters would die – or perhaps more than one character. After all, only a few weeks earlier, the TV soap opera Coronation Street had killed off several of its characters in a spectacular tram crash. People made lists of which characters they would most like to go, and how they would like them to die.

So, what actually happened? First, Helen Carter had a baby. And second, Nigel Pargetter fell off a roof and was killed. A lot of Archers fans are not happy. Helen Carter is an odious egotist who was on most people’s “death list” of Archers characters. And Nigel Pargetter was a really nice man and we shall all miss him. But most of all, Archers fans complained that this is small stuff – we were promised something which would shake Ambridge to the core, and all we got was poor Nigel falling off a roof. Coronation Street killed three characters in a tram crash. Surely the Archers could do better.

Well, we have to wait until we see what happens next. Helen Carter is still an odious egotist. Probably the new baby will make her even worse. And we, the listeners, know why Nigel Pargetter was on the roof. He was there because David Archer persuaded him to climb the roof to remove a “Happy New Year” banner. And David Archer is the brother of Nigel’s widow, Elizabeth (yes, the same one who was dumped by Cameron Fraser in 1992). Elizabeth is a strong-minded woman. When she finds out why Nigel was on the roof, what will she do?

You are now well on the way to becoming an Archers expert. The BBC have an Archers website for you to explore, and you can listen to the Archers on the BBC World Service(*) or download the Archers podcasts from the BBC website. Happy listening!

(*)Sorry, this is wrong. The Archers is not on the BBC World Service.

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