First Listen: Ambridge Extra, BBC Radio 4 Extra

Archers lite fails to deliver the promise of anniversary shake-up
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The Independent Culture

Those who take the dum-de-dum of The Archers' theme tune as a signal to seek respite with another station will have made a mad dash when the jigs-and-reels rendering of "Barwick Green" by the contemporary folk band Bellowhead ushered in yesterday's premiere of The Archers Extra on BBC Radio4Extra.

The absence of thundering bass or an MC rapping may have assuaged the fears of middle England that the world's longest-running soap opera was, heaven forbid, going yoof. But those fears would surely have crept back by the close of the quarter hour instalment of Ambridge lite.

The first voice we heard had an American accent, of the Deep South persuasion (badly affected, in the great tradition of radio drama), recanting about the importance of marriage. Listeners were promised a trip out of the safety of Ambridge – but across the Atlantic? Perhaps not though – with the clunky insertion of a date, listeners old and new know they are hearing something that happened last year: "The Wedding March" and pealing bells quieten, and with the introduction of some unfamiliar voices, we are with Alice Carter, née Aldridge, and her Southampton University friends watching the DVD of her Las Vegas wedding to Christopher Carter – a source of great controversy in Ambridge at the time.

As a listener who is fond of – and fond of loathing – certain residents of Ambridge, it was grating to hear Jamie Perks, a textbook teenage, rebel without a cause, being given the oxygen of air time. Sadly, peer pressure, bragging, and money moans are standard teenage fare. A hint at the other side of characters is all very well, if the scriptwriters can provide something worth eavesdropping on.

Back in Southampton, Alice is out with her friends in a club, letting her hair down, when she gets hit on by someone called Sean. His rough, urban accent implies he is not to be trusted, as opposed to the gentle country bumpkin burr or Brummie twang of Ambridge's dodgier dealers. Housemate Chaz comes charging in to rescue Alice from the lower-class lothario. There is obviously some chemistry here; perhaps married life for young Alice will hit the rocks sooner rather than later. Her mother, unhappy with her match with working-class Christopher, will be pleased, but as the programme is meant to stand alone, how will this lack of knowledge be handled in Ambridge?

There were teasers for stories to come: a fun run, Jamie stealing alcohol from his own pub, but Archers fans – already let down by series editor Vanessa Whitburn's failed promise to "Shake Ambridge to the core" as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations – will have been distinctly underwhelmed. A moody teen and an undergraduate getting drunk at the end of term are hardly the revelations that Ambridge fans may have hoped for.

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