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Handbags at Dawn: Archers fans go to war on Facebook

November 8, 2016 Arts, TV Comments Off on Handbags at Dawn: Archers fans go to war on Facebook

Call me middle class, but accept that I’m from working class stock.

Call me middle England, but accept that I read the Daily Mail. Indeed, I work for its sister partner, The Mail on Sunday (please don’t hold it against me).

But you will not deflate me. I LOVE the BBC Radio 4 series The Archers with a passion. Now and forever more. The calling card of Middle Englanders.

I’ve flirted with The Archers for the past 30 years, enjoying some of its more memorable highlights  – the imprisonment of Susan Carter in 1993, the birth of Brian Aldridge’s love child (2002), Nigel Pargetter’s death plunge from the roof of the family home (2011) and the sedate demise of Phil Archer (2010) sitting at home in his armchair.

But in the past four years, since I was forced to move out of the family home because of one too many indiscretions, it has become more than a flirtation. More like an obsession. I haven’t missed a single episode.

The Archers has become my comfort blanket after a hard day’s work or a hard night’s partying. Irrespective of where I have been, how much prosecco I have quaffed and how tired I am, I can’t go to sleep until I’ve had my fill of Ambridge life. It’s my faithful bed partner and rarely leaves me unfulfilled.

Like many listeners, I’ve been gripped by the audacity, nastiness and downright villainy of Rob Titchener. Despite the despicable deeds he’s committed against Helen Archer, I’m secretly delighted that this nasty piece of work continues to prowl the cafés, fields, pubs and streets of Ambridge. Evil. Pure evil.

I want him to get his comeuppance (and get mowed down by Adam’s tractor). But not yet.

Then there’s the Fairbrothers – chalk and cheese, cad (Toby) and crushing bore (Rex) –  Lillian Bellamy’s love of life (and Justin Elliott) and of course the wonderful Grundys and their perpetual battle against eviction and poverty.

Better than sex. If I were dumped on Roy Plomley’s desert island, I would ask Kirsty Young if I could have a radio that only switched on once a week at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning so I could tune into the omnibus edition of The Archers. Nothing more. Forget Shakespeare, sun block, the bible and clothes. Just give me The Archers until my last breath.

Of course, I’m not alone. There are millions of us out there who need our daily fix of The Archers.

Yet although we may be homogenous – middle class, middle England – we digest the programme in different ways.

The ArchersSome treat it as audio sensory Turkish delight (I sit in that camp). Others allow it to take on a real life persona.

So, when Helen was being abused by Big Bad Rob, listener Paul Trueman set up the Helen Titchener (née Archer) Rescue Fund on the justgiving charity donation website. The money poured in – more than £170,000 – providing much needed funds for charity Refuge. Brilliant.

The programme also produces feuds. Go on Facebook and you will find a number of groups with an interest in The Archers – the Ambridge Recovering Addicts, Ambridge Addicts and Archers Appreciation.

Ambridge Recovering Addicts appears to have been formed because of misgivings about editor Sean O’Connor. But since he’s now gone – replaced by Huw Kennair-Jones – its purpose is questionable. As one member of the group said recently: “Has anyone found themselves sneaking back for a listen since Sean O’Connor left as editor?”

Ambridge Addicts is a conservative group, designed for die-hards of the series. It implores members to be civil, keep posts related to The Archers and stay away from verbal aggro. Swearing is forbidden, spoilers are a ‘no-no’ and hunting (despite Shula Hebden-Lloyd’s love of it – and Rob’s) is a subject that cannot be broached.

Archers Appreciation appears more liberal. It is not interested in ‘sycophantic fawning’ – it welcomes comments that are either idolising or ridiculing. Indeed, posts can be made on any subject, not just Ambridge. For example, the High Court ruling on the Brexit process and best winter coats to buy. Some of the posts relating to The Archers are witty and, it must be said, occasionally close to the knuckle.

Rob is referred to as ‘Titchyknob’ while suggestions for his future demise include being shot at the local shoot or being choked to death by Lillian’s fag ash. Someone suggests he should just f… o… To the point but naughty. Indeed, Ambridge Addicts and Archers Appreciation are so polls apart that they are now feuding like the Grundy brothers, Ed and Will.

Some people who joined Archers Appreciation are being prevented from joining Ambridge Addicts on the grounds (presumably) they are not respectful enough to the good people of Borchester. Others have been booted out of Ambridge Addicts for saying horrible things about certain characters.

One fan of The Archers describes the feud as indicative of the “darned murky world” that swirls around the 65-year-old radio series.

You couldn’t make it up. Drama from hell. Just like The Archers.

By Jeff Prestridge

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