A baffled listener's guide to Ambridge

According to new research, Radio 4's best-loved soap is incomprehensible to first-time listeners. Even the station's controller admits she's often non-plussed. Here, Nicholas Lezard offers a lifeline to those who would love to love 'The Archers'
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The Independent Online

According to the latest research, new listeners to radio's favourite and, indeed only soap opera, The Archers, are baffled by the similarity of the characters and the rudimentary nature of the sound effects. We can do little to help you with the latter but, given that people who live in the countryside do tend to be intimidatingly homogeneous, we present a cut-out-and-keep guide to the major players in the series, with a summary of some of the key plot points you should be keeping an ear on. Stick it on the wall next to the radio. Then go to the pub.

According to the latest research, new listeners to radio's favourite and, indeed only soap opera, The Archers, are baffled by the similarity of the characters and the rudimentary nature of the sound effects. We can do little to help you with the latter but, given that people who live in the countryside do tend to be intimidatingly homogeneous, we present a cut-out-and-keep guide to the major players in the series, with a summary of some of the key plot points you should be keeping an ear on. Stick it on the wall next to the radio. Then go to the pub.

PHIL ARCHER: Ancient head of the family. Can not only deliver aborted calves to increasingly decrepit and infectious herd, but plays piano and organ for musicals and church respectively. Like his wife, JILL, comes from era when radio characters had to be upstanding and dull. Is certainly dull. As is his wife. But not as dull as daughter SHULA, who need not concern us here.

TONY ARCHER: Sensible organic farmer, son of above. Even duller than his parents, if that is possible, although used to drink heavily in late 1970s. Married to vaguely feminist PAT. Had son, JOHN, who was crushed by antique Massey-Ferguson tractor after family row. Younger son TOM, who speaks with rebarbative adenoidal whine, became cause célÿbre in GM trial after trashing BRIAN ALDRIDGE's ( qv) crop of Frankenstein oilseed rape.

DAVID ARCHER: Younger brother of above. Stupidest member of family, which is quite an achievement. Married to highly irritating Geordie RUTH, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Have spawned PIP, seven, a nauseating child of no discernible character.

KENTON ARCHER: Ne'er-do-well brother of above, who has at least had good sense to move to Australia. Comes back every year or so to sponge cash, throw spanner in works and muck up family inheritance plans, in cahoots with:

ELIZABETH ARCHER: Completely insane, grasping cow, m. NIGEL PARGETTER, brainless inheritor of enormous Elizabethan stately home, Lower Loxley Hall, which she has transformed into conference centre and bouncy castle in order to keep cash rolling in. Nevertheless, wants to diddle family out of notional profits from Brookfield Farm, the family money pit. Mother of absolutely unbelievably irritating twins. Worth keeping an ear out for her, as she is causing some really splendid family rows at the moment, which makes your own venal and fractious family look almost like saints by comparison.

CLARRIE GRUNDY: Long-suffering materfamilias of Ambridge tenant farmers and comedy family the GRUNDYS, m. EDDIE GRUNDY, feckless yokel and deviser of hare-brained, backfiring short-term fixes to get loot. He in turn is son of JOE, ancient, skinflint drunkard and would-be conman, although were his brains fertiliser he would not have enough to compost a patch of radishes. CLARRIE is only member of cast upon whom undiluted sympathy accrues, although she did get a bit weepy when the family were turfed out of their farm; a small matter of endless incompetence, mismanagement, and heroic non-payment of rent. Now living beyond their means in Keeper's Cottage, owned by JACK WOOLLEY ( qv).

 

SID PERKS: Homophobic, narcissistic landlord of The Bull, now Ambridge's only hostelry. Has recently given his termagant and now horribly embittered wife KATHY the push in favour of buxom, up-for-anything local Country and Western singer and Line Dance fanatic JOLENE ROGERS, whose embonpoint makes her popular with the (male) locals, although this is largely lost on the radio audience. SID has irritating son by KATHY called JAMIE. About to be torn asunder in divorce proceedings.

LINDA SNELL: Snobbish, arriviste would-be grande dame who throws herself into communal village events when most villagers would rather she threw herself into the Am, instead. Obsessed with every absurd middle-class fad that comes along, currently feng shui. Directing village production of The Mikado, in the teeth of intractable cretinism and talentlessness of entire local populace.

PEGGY WOOLLEY: née Archer, hidebound grandmother and overall matriarch to Archer clan. M. (in later life) JACK, moronic Brummie businessman who has mystifyingly achieved great wealth by running Grey Gables, fantastically overpriced hotel and restaurant. Their incontinent and prehistoric cat, SAMMY, died this week, which was very sad, really.

THIS LEAVES several characters unaccounted for, but we think that to give you too much information at this stage would prevent you from tuning in. So here, instead, are some Great Moments from the show, which you can drop into your conversation should you wish, for whatever reason, to give the impression that you actually listen to the show.

JOE GRUNDY manoeuvring LINDA SNELL into giving him an aromatherapy massage. Bearing in mind that JOE has had about four baths in the course of his long life, and is hardly a fitness buff, this was one best left to the imagination. Someone else's imagination, ideally.

BRIAN and JENNIFER ALDRIDGE being given cannabis-saturated soup (I think it was soup) by their hippie daughter KATE. This scene's role in the fight for legalisation has been judged to be ambivalent, to put it mildly.

GRACE ARCHER, PHIL's glamorous new wife, was murdered by unscrupulous BBC bosses. This happened in 1955 but you are all meant to know about it, anyway. More interesting than JOHN ARCHER's death under the Massey Ferguson, which we didn't even get to hear. ("Rumble, squelch. Aargh!").

SID and JOLENE having "sex" in the shower. Well, that was how the publicity department flagged it, and we all tuned in, hoping to hear Jane Birkin-type oohs and aahs. Instead we got "Oh, Jolene!" "C'mere, Sid." About as erotic as one of the Bull's overpriced, curly ham sandwiches.

A pregnant ELIZABETH being dumped by her then boyfriend, the caddish Scots landlord CAMERON FRASER, at a service station on the M40 while ostensibly en route for a holiday. (At the time there were no services on the M40, so she really should have been more suspicious.) FRASER may have dripped sex appeal, but he is dead meat if he ever shows his face in Ambridge again.

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