The Archers, Radio 4

Not that I care, you understand, but this baby plot sent me ga-ga
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The Independent Culture

It is time for this column to turn its attention, once more, to The Archers. The week before last, in a development which occurred too late for it to make my deadline, Hayley started giving birth some months before she was due. There's nothing like a difficult pregnancy to give the audience the willies. I would guess that the collective heart rate of Middle England, or that portion of it which listens to The Archers (in other words, Middle England, for how is it defined but by listening to The Archers?) went up to dangerous levels. It was all I could do to stop myself from rushing around boiling water and getting hot towels and shoelaces. (Apparently you need shoelaces for emergency births. Don't ask me why.) As with their best storylines, Archers writers turn us all into lunatics unable to distinguish between reality and fiction.

It is almost like cheating. When the new parents started cooing at their baby in her incubator, I tried to keep a perspective on matters by muttering to myself: what an outrageous bid for the audience's sympathy. Have they no shame? Meanwhile, I found my eyeballs getting rather wet. Perhaps it was because I was listening out of doors and there was a nip in the air. That must be it.

But the great thing about The Archers at the moment is that there is another Big Story going on: Brian, the wealthy not-exactly-a-gentleman farmer, is intending to change his will so that his little bastard (I am using the term correctly, for once) Ruairi might inherit a portion of the farm when he comes of age. The boy is his only male offspring, you see. His wife, Jennifer, doesn't like this one bit and has threatened to divorce him if he proceeds.

There are few more enjoyable spectacles on the radio – you can have spectacles on the radio – than for this simpering doormat to lose the plot and/or assert herself. In her situation, the threat of divorce is not so much a statement of principle as an announcement that she has finally lost her marbles. Visitors to the BBC Archers website are asked to vote in a poll asking whether this divorce should go ahead. I voted "yes" purely for the sake of mischief but found, to my astonishment, that something like 67 per cent of listeners feel the same, and I suspect not all of them are being ironic as I am. What's going on out there?