The kiss of death in Ambridge

YOU could tell John Archer had it coming to him. It wasn't his affair with a single mother and a recently cranked-up social life - admittedly more spoken about than actually heard on air - that cursed him. Because it is not moral retribution Archers characters need worry about - it is moving centre stage that gets the Tippex hovering over their name on scripts.

The character of John has recently been ending the show moaning about the state of his life - and ending the show is always dangerous in Borcestershire. When a character is central to the main plot strand you can almost start humming the theme tune before it kicks in because you know they will be given some heavily portentous line to end the episode.

John and Tony Archer have for weeks been arguing about "fixing the tractor". Real Archers aficionados should have guessed that this would be the instrument of death. Although I suppose given the soap's setting he was unlikely to be hit by a Tube train.

The other angel of death on the show is Shula. You can almost guarantee that whoever soppy Shula is clinking glasses with and whispering sweet nothings to on New Year's Eve will not make it through the lambing season.

They don't always die like Mark Hebden of course, but they'll be off out of the series. In fact most of the women have the capacity to turn perfectly pleasant male characters into wife-beaters or bankrupt fraudsters.

This is why I love The Archers. The insufferably twee characters and the Identikit middle-class female voices are an irrelevance compared with the joy of the show's dangerous undercurrents. But this is an acquired taste. You can only learn to love its black heart by getting to know its rhythms and nuances.

For starters you have to get through the broadcasting world's most surreally unappealing pre-trailer. Only on Radio 4 could a continuity announcer try to tempt you to listen to a programme by saying, "And now. In the shop Pat is talking to Debbie ..."

Like televising archaeology - as in Time Team - this is all so British it hurts. And now that it is getting more exciting - "It used always to be about cows getting their udders stuck in a cattle grid," said the actor who played John - we have even more portentous lines to look forward to.

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