Ambridge exposed as a den of political subversion

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The Independent Online
IT IS supposed to be an everyday story of country folk set in Ambridge, a sleepy village. But according to the Tories, it is a hotbed of leftie propaganda. Conservative Central Office is writing to the BBC to complain about bias in The Archers.

The Tories plan to make a formal protest to Ann Sloman, the BBC's chief political adviser, that Radio 4's most popular drama series has "gone mad" and become dominated by "political correctness" in recent weeks.

They intend to highlight several recent storylines which they claim demonstrate that the producers are increasingly following the Labour Party's agenda and are presenting Tory values in a bad light. They are also concerned that a fan club called Socialists in Ambridge has recently been set up.

The characters in The Archers, normally detached from party politics, have become increasingly exercised by political issues in recent weeks. Alastair, the vet, has made several vicious attacks on private education during discussions with his wife Shula about where she should send her son to school.

Marjorie Antrobus was so supportive of the Government's handling of the National Health Service that she was delighted that the waiting list to have her cataracts removed was "only" eight months long.

The village has become obsessed by Jubilee 2000, the campaign for the relief of Third World debt, with people queuing up to take part in a sponsored walk. And the Tories believe listeners up and down the country could get ideas from the Archers' plan to hold a parish referendum on whether or not there should be a trial of genetically modified crops in their area.

The Archers, followed avidly by many a Tory voter up and down the country, has recently become the topic of increasingly angry debate at Conservative Central Office.

"There is undoubtedly a left- wing political agenda intruding into what is supposed to be a drama programme," one senior Tory said. "This creeping politicisation does not just lead to intrusive political correctness, it also debases the integrity of the characters. The situation is becoming more and more ridiculous."

The Government has openly used soap operas in the past to get its messages across - David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, persuaded the Brookside scriptwriters to include a line about adult literacy. Tony Blair also threw his weight behind the campaign to "free" Coronation Street's Deirdre Rachid after she was imprisoned for fraud.

The Archers began life in 1950 as a vehicle for the Ministry of Agriculture to promote farming in the aftermath of the Second World War. However, the Tories suspect that today's producers have also been influenced by No10 to broadcast propaganda. They plan to write to the BBC saying it is "utterly implausible" that the mild-mannered residents of Ambridge have suddenly become political warriors.

Ian Sanderson, Tory campaign director for the south-east and director of the fan club, Archers Anarchists, agrees that the programme has become "rather peculiar" in the past few weeks. "It's getting particularly politically correct and that is rather insidious," he said. "They may put two sides of the argument but it is always the characters nobody likes who take the Tory line."