Hong Kong's farewell to the Archers ... from Pete and Dud

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The Independent Online
Every weekday evening the few Hong Kong residents who care to do so can forget that they are living on the edge of the world's largest nation and bask in the comfort of following the trials and tribulations of life in Ambridge. Not only are The Archers on offer but it remains possible to follow Britain's Top 40 and hear Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

This link with the radio waves of the mother country is supposed to be for the exclusive benefit of the British garrison, now numbering some 1,000 personnel, but the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) is serving a wider audience. It has, for example, received the accolade of best radio station from no lesser body than the American Wives Association. There is even evidence that some US expatriates have learned to love The Archers. But the station's core audience is supposed to be men and women in uniform who are used to hearing BFBS wherever they serve, be it in the Falkland Islands or in Germany.

The Hong Kong service started in 1971 with Nepali broadcasts for the Gurkhas based near the Chinese border. Employing the time honoured wisdom of the armed services, it was decided that listening to The Archers would help the Gurkhas learn English. After Dan and Doris Archer secured a foot in the door, English was steadily introduced throughout the service.

Rory Higgins, the station manager of what is officially called The Services Sound and Vision Corporation, an invention of the Thatcherite bring-government- into-business days, is candid about the micro-audience he serves. He says the number of people is small "but it means a lot to them".

It means so much that some serving officers have tried their hand at becoming broadcasters. Major John Hunt is still fondly remembered for his country music show and even at this late stage Mr Higgins is training up a member of the Black Watch who wandered into the studio seeking a chance to get on air.

BFBS's Hong Kong operation can hardly be described as lavish. It consists of four full time staff and 10 freelancers. Working out of harbour-front offices in the Prince of Wales Barracks, they churn out 12 hours of broadcasting per day and fill the other 12 hours with a feed from London.

The broadcasting kit will be whisked away before midnight on 30 June.

It is hard to know what the local Chinese population make of BFBS but anecdotal evidence suggests that Britpop has found a respectable audience. The links between the records may be obscure but a break from the ubiquitous Cantopop is welcome.

On 17 May the radio station suffers the indignity of moving into a container; which is not quite as bad as it sounds because the container is the shape of things to come. BFBS has been ordered to be more mobile and rely less on fixed stations. The commander of British forces wanted the forces radio to arrive with his troops during the Gulf War and was frustrated when he discovered that BFBS was less mobile than the Army. This led to the new strategy of creating ready-to-go stations. The Hong Kong unit may well end up somewhere like Bosnia.

Before it goes it will do its last outside broadcast from the balcony of the Prince of Wales barracks overlooking the parade ground where the Union flag will be lowered. As soon as that is completed Mr Higgins and the engineer will rush up 28 floors to the roof of the barracks and take down the transmitter, and the station will be no more.

Thought is still being given to the music which will signal the end of broadcasting. The actor Barry Humphries suggested"Goodbye" by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

"We'll pick some music, say goodbye and try to be jolly about it," says Mr Higgins, showing yet again that one things the British are really good at doing is leaving.