Radio Review

Click to follow
All the best soap operas have spin-offs - Dynasty had The Colbys, Dallas had Knots Landing. But The Archers has never had anything. The opportunities ought to be limitless, given the size of the Ambridge diaspora - vicars, policemen, disreputable relatives are constantly disappearing into the sunset, every one of them awash with story potential; but so far, the potential has remained unrealised.

Now, however, Archers fans in search of a fix can turn to Legal Affairs, which follows Usha Gupta's adventures on leaving Ambridge to join a firm of solicitors in the Warwickshire town of Stourbury. Sharp listeners will have already spotted the hitch in this scenario - that Usha hasn't left Ambridge; and if we're being literal-minded about this, I suppose it's not really about Usha at all. Vanessa Whitburn, the Archers producer who created this series, has dreamt up an entirely different Asian woman solicitor practising in a small town in the west Midlands - different name, different actor, and an entirely different set of dilemmas to do with being a solicitor who's Asian and a woman.

About the same level of creativity has gone into the various story-lines introduced in yesterday's opening episode, and the way that they are dramatised. A man accused of reckless driving after an accident turns out to be covering up for his alcoholic wife - "What would you do?" he demands, confronted with the truth: "Let her go to jail?" A grateful client becomes a little over-enthusiastic in his attentions towards Natasha - maybe they could have dinner sometime he suggests, over a set of chords taken straight from the soundtrack of Cracker (the televisual equivalent of this would be to have a large red arrow pointing at him and the word "Nutter" flashing on the screen). Sharp City solicitor Helen Shepherd arrives to shake up the business. "I don't just want to save this firm, Colin," she tells the fuddy-duddy senior partner. "I want to put it on the map."

But it's not all drama - there's humour, too. Natasha and her boyfriend go out to an Italian restaurant: "Did you know we're in a PR world now?" she asks. "I thought we were in the Firenze," he jokes.

Legal Affairs isn't as bad as all that - or rather, it is, but it all seems so familiar that it's hard to get worked up about it. All it leaves you with is a sense of mild disappointment that anybody bothered to produce a programme of such blatantly limited ambition - the ambition being to fill up 45 minutes of a Wednesday afternoon without offending the ear. There ought to be a law against it.