An Ambridge too far? An everyday tale of rebranding for The Archers

'Archers' fans are agog for the new youth-oriented version of their favourite series, which starts today. Paul Vallely reports

Five million Archers addicts will find out at 10 o'clock this morning whether the dumpty-dumpty-dumpty-dum signature tune of the world's longest running drama can survive in the wild. The BBC's most popular radio soap opera is spilling outside the safe sanctuary of Radio 4 with a spin-off series which will bring to centre-stage some of the peripheral personalities from the main programme. Even some non-speaking characters will find their voice.

But as for the signature tune, like so much else about the new series, Ambridge Extra, the BBC has played its cards fairly close to its collective chest.

That's not surprising given the massive anti-climax of The Archers' last great venture into the wider consciousness. To mark its 60th anniversary in January, the programme's editor, Vanessa Whitburn, announced that Ambridge would be "shaken to the core" by a traumatic development – which turned out to be the unconvincing slip from the roof of his stately home by the series' loveable toff, Nigel Pargetter.

But the death of the great man was a bit of a publicity disaster, with Ms Whitburn herself letting slip the secret in a radio interview – and with the listenership divided between those who regarded it as melodramatic hokum and those who were outraged by the unnecessary PR-driven death of a much-loved character. Internet groups sprang up with devotees declaring their intent to boycott the programme.

So this morning Ambridge Extra begins on the old BBC Radio 7, which has been re-branded as Radio 4 Extra in an attempt to tempt stalwart listeners across to the new digital station. The BBC's head of radio, Tim Davie, has made no secret of the fact that he wants to boost the uptake of digital among the vast sections of the population who do not own a DAB radio.

Only a third of adults do at present, and the figure is particularly low among under-25 year-olds – which may explain why Ambridge Extra will be focusing on The Archers' younger characters. The opening episode will focus on the antics of Alice Carter, "in a romantic mood" away from her young husband Chris, at university. It will also reveal the activities of the cider-swigging teenager Jamie behind his mother's back.

The script has been designed, writer Tim Stimpson says, so that it can be followed by listeners unfamiliar with the main storyline. But it will offer "an extra little treat" for Archers addicts.

The new programme will be broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am, but it will have strategically-timed repeats so that Archers listeners on Radio 4 can switch across straight after the lunchtime broadcast, doubling their daily dose.

Ambridge Extra will have an initial series of 13 episodes, each 15 minutes long, with another series in the autumn. "You can continue to listen to The Archers without missing anything essential," says the show's other writer, Keri Davies. "But if you follow both, then you'll get a deeper insight into what's going on in our characters' lives." She says the spin-off will be faster, pacier and punchier. "It zips along quite fast, so it should be a lively listen."

Traditionalists may feel that there has been a little too much zipping already in recent times. The unhurried appeal of The Archers was always that it was "an everyday story of country folk". But lately there seems to be rather more happening than most of us would find comfortable in our everyday round. Something a little less event-filled and more character-driven might better fit the bill.

There are other risks too. We may also discover that the programme's silent characters were silent for the good reason that they did not have much worth saying. And it may well be that what happens on-stage in the new series complicates the back-story of the characters in the main programme to such a degree that some plotlines may become even more sketchy and unconvincing.

Times change, even in rural Borsetshire – although we must hope not too much. Alice's new university housemate turns out to be a character named Chaz, who comes from a well-to-do family, likes cocktails and a good night out but dislikes oiks and being bored.

Readers who are longer in the tooth may recall that the late-lamented Nigel would once have merited pretty much that description. In his younger days his idea of a good time invariably involved a gorilla suit and several bottles of champagne.

Yet even Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, shed a tear when the middle-aged Nigel slid from the roof of Lower Loxley, as she disclosed when she made a guest appearance on The Archers to mark its diamond jubilee last month.

She, and we, may warm to young Chaz yet.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence