Review: Anarchy on the airwaves
Wednesday 21 January 1998
"To me, Ambridge is somewhere between Birmingham and heaven," said the man who had just spent the evening knocking spots off a room packed with Archers Anarchists.
He and his friends, the Cat and Fiddle Line Dancing Team, had won the 100-question quiz about life in The Archers' village by several lengths and some of us were concerned that one member of his team was a BBC journalist. Nobody but the saddest could score 19 out of 20 in the Recent History round, surely.
It had been an evening when all it took to slip out of reality was a climb up a flight of stairs into a packed room above a pub in London's Covent Garden.
The bar staff at The Sun Tavern had hours before given up trying to make sense of the 50-odd publishers, GPs, lawyers, writers and academics who were drinking them dry. "I never listen to The Archers," one of the barmen said. This was blasphemy at the high altar of soap, but what can an Anarchist do? No one's in charge, so action couldn't be taken.
The convention had opened with a one-second silence in memory of Mrs Barraclough, an old lady at the centre of a storyline last year in which the Ambridge doctor washed up at a tribunal charged with negligence.
That over, the second annual convention (the first was two years ago) got off with a hate session. "What would you like to get from the Anarchists?" asked founder Ian Sanderson.
"Ellie May on a spit," one shouted, cruelly dismissing a much-loved pedigree cow kept as a pet by the Archer family's youngest, Lizzie.
"Can we have a website, like the Archers Addicts have got," suggested a woman in a reasonable tone. "I think website, I see anorak," said founder Ian, managing to keep a straight face in a room with more anoraks than Milletts.
What he really wanted was some direct action. "We should raid bookshops and rip out pictures of the so-called cast in all the Archers' books," he suggested. But Ian is possibly a man ahead of his time. Anarchy for the present must come diluted. "Let's put leaflets in the books stating our point of view," one more lily-livered member said. Call this anarchy? They should be ashamed, I thought.
"Sling Vanessa Whitburn into the Tower and throw away the keys," said one referring to The Archers' editor largely credited with bringing a more politically correct attitude into Ambridge. "That's bordering on the harsh, she's never done us any harm," the meeting decided. So, Vanessa's safe for a while, she'll be relieved to know.
The convention was warming up, but nothing prepared the room for the following. "Who's really getting up your nose?' asked Ian. With one voice, the room rang with: "RUTH, RUTH, RUTH!"
Ruth is the Archers' Geordie daughter-in-law, married to the ghastly David Archer and an expert cowherd. But, my God, she's boring - suddenly the Anarchists and I had common ground. Except, of course, I know it's only a soap.
And so to Nelson Gabriel, my favourite character, sorry, villager. Nelson was an urbane, witty, acerbic wine bar owner and antiques dealer with a drop-dead-gorgeous voice. But the actor who played him, Jack May, died just before Christmas and the storyline has his alter ego on holiday out in Spain.
The BBC is in a tight corner over Nelson, but an Anarchist had the solution. "Just say he's having a throat operation, prepare us for his voice to change, and bring in a new actor," one said. Sorted, but at the cost of admitting at last that there is a cast.
Meanwhile, the London Pride bitter had run out at the bar and another Addict had come out of the woodwork, Mark Sutton. "I love The Archers," said this professor of music. "I'm a Sunday omnibus man, myself."
The Archers goes out twice every weekday, and gets squeezed into an hour's omnibus at 10.15am on Sundays. Trivia supremo Murray Craig, 36, is an omnibus man, too.
True anarchy, at last. Nineteenth century American anarchist Josiah Warren said that "every man should be his own government, his own law, his own church". Omnibus types know that Sunday is for the ritual sacrifice of reality.
The time was coming to walk back down those stairs and melt into real life again. But the age-old argument about cuts at the BBC was beginning; Anarchists must be ever-vigilant in case of any future threat to Ambridge. "Dropping The Archers would be the only true grounds for civil disobedience," said founder Ian, as he finally admitted that in what in real life he works at Conservative Party Central Office.
With anarchists like these, the status quo is safe and sound.
For details of the Archers Anarchists, write to: 15 Hewgate Court, Henley- on-Thames, Oxon, RG9 1BS
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