The Archers 'does not compete with EastEnders' for sensational storylines


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The Independent Culture

The Archers' outgoing editor Vanessa Whitburn has denied that the drama has been competing with soaps such as EastEnders for sensational storylines.

Ms Whitburn, the longest serving editor in the show's history, is stepping down at the end of this month after 22 years.

She told the Radio Times that the long-running Radio 4 rural drama, which has faced complaints about "sexed-up" stories, had become less melodramatic during her reign.

"Before my time as editor Grace was burnt to death, Tom Forrest was in court for killing a poacher and there was a diamond smuggler in the village, so we're possibly less melodramatic than we were then," she said.

"I don't think The Archers has to compete with TV soaps. Strong storylines such as Lilian's affair with Paul should be balanced with gentler stories of community life - the fete and the pantomime, or how they're going to raise money to repair the church organ."

Asked by a reader why The Archers, which recently achieved near record audience figures, was not reflecting events in agriculture such as lambs dying in the snow, she said financial constraints were partly to blame.

"The Archers does strong stories - sometimes connected with farming, like Pat and Tony selling the herd, and the Aldridges' mega dairy - sometimes not.

"But it's recorded a month to six weeks in advance. We do try to put in a topical insert if the weather is very severe, for instance. But they are expensive and we are on a budget."

She told the magazine it would be "a delight just to listen" when she has left the show and that she would love to guest star as busybody Lynda Snell.

Ms Whitburn said Jack Woolley would remain a silent character in The Archers, despite the recent death at 87 of Arnold Peters, the actor who played him.

Peters died after suffering from Alzheimer's, a disease which also affected his character.

She said: "We hadn't heard from Jack for two years because Arnold himself was ill. And so we made Jack silent. I think that Arnold has painted such a wonderful character that we can keep Jack as a silent character in the Laurels for some while to come."

Meanwhile, Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams defended complaints from some listeners that the BBC station was no longer suitable for children because its comedy programmes are "full of swearing, silly innuendo, and also to an increasing extent insulting to the elderly".

She responded: "Radio 4 has always been listened to by overwhelmingly adult audiences and we make decisions about the content with that in mind.

"This includes the 6.30pm comedy slot - although children are of course welcome to join us if their parents decide it is suitable."