15,000th Night: The Archers, BBC Radio 4

How Ruth bottled out of her champagne date
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The Independent Online

And so after all the sighing and agonising, the pledges and endearments, the will-yous and the I-can't-do-this-to-Davids,not to mention the listeners' swelling chorus of oh-get-on-with-its - at long last, Ruth Archer set off yesterday evening for her illicit hotel-room assignation with Sam the cowman.

Would she go through with it, betraying not just her husband but 50 years of tradition that says other characters can do adultery and divorce, but not people who are farming at Brookfield, the navel of the Archers universe? Or would common sense and family values win in the end?

No prizes for guessing the outcome: this must have been one of the most keenly anticipated non-consummations in the history of popular culture. While other long-running serials have thrived on the audience's desire to get leading characters into bed with one another - think Ross and Rachel in Friends, Sam and Diane in Cheers - The Archers fanbase has been largely united in its desire to see Ruth shun temptation and get back to the hearth.

This is in line with precedent: though The Archers occasionally makes headlines with a risqué storyline - a gay kiss or a nude shower - they are risqué only by comparison with the staid, everyday tenor of Ambridge life; swingers, you gather, stick to the fleshpots of Felpersham. This everyday story of country folk has always had a prudish side. Listeners tend to get embarrassed by the squishy sounds and the mmms and aaahs that radio actors make when they're mimicking ecstasy; and so every kiss on The Archers is a little bit risqué, a little bit too much information.

Last night's episode - the 15,000th - strained to keep the tension going right up to the last minute. On her way to meet Sam, Ruth got stuck for hours in a traffic jam, unable to get on to the Oxford ring road.

Listeners have had their doubts about the plausibility of Ruth's attraction to Sam. They have complained that it is completely out of character, though the production team has defended the affair as a natural outcome of the low self-esteem Ruth has suffered following her mastectomy and David's flirtation with his glamorous ex-girlfriend Sophie Barlow.

But anybody who has tried to drive round the Headington roundabout in recent months will tell you that this particular plot-device was ice-cold realism.

The realistic tone was kept up back home in Ambridge as David - apparently convinced that Ruth had gone off to visit an unnamed and hitherto unheard-of old friend - struggled to cook their children an onion-free spaghetti bolognese.

Eventually, having made it to the hotel, from where the apparently priapic Sam had been plaguing her with seductive phone-calls, Ruth broke the news that she would be heading home to David and the children at Brookfield, chastity unchallenged.

Decency prevailed, and isn't it nice when that happens sometimes?

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