Janet Street-Porter: Ambridge - a beacon of real tolerance

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I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a closet Archers fan - especially as this week the world's longest-running radio soap has notched up two important firsts.

Yesterday, another radio soap, the Today programme, tried (and failed dismally) to celebrate the fact that two Archers characters, Ian and Adam, the chef and the farmer, are approaching their third anniversary together, making them the most permanent gay couple in any British soap on television or the radio.

Of course, when the presenter John Humphrys had to acknowledge that we are indebted to the latest issue of Gay Times for this fascinating fact, the ensuing discussion was as fumbling and uninspiring as the regular Today items featuring the hapless Sarah Montague talking about the arts.

In last Sunday's episode of The Archers, Ian discovered that his old friend Madds has decided not to have the surrogate baby he has yearned for as she has fallen in love with a work mate. For months now the Archers has run a story line in which the pros and cons of surrogate parenthood have been acted out in emotional detail. Adam, the more conservative of the two chaps, has been through jealousy, resentment and now anger at how his partner has been let down.

When Ian and Adam first met, their relationship kicked off with a kiss in a polytunnel. It was on same day in the spring of 2004 that I'd been to a lunchtime reception at Buckingham Palace and, knowing that the Queen is a huge Archers fan, I could imagine her sitting down at 7pm (as I drove back to a film set in Wales) and being part of this radio first!

This is also British Fashion Week, and yesterday the legendary designer Zandra Rhodes (a fan of The Archers since 1955) showed her first collection in London for more than a decade. Like Celia Birtwell, one of her Sixties contemporaries, Zandra has found her exotic prints are in high demand once more. Ms Birtwell recently produced a collection for Topshop which sold out in a matter of days, and now plans another. Tomorrow Zandra makes an appearance on The Archers as the celebrity guest at a local charity fashion show.

The effortless ease with which The Archers' programme editor, Vanessa Whitburn, touches on storylines which reflect current events and subtle changes in social values is to be commended. The programme is more popular than ever, attracting more than five million listeners, figures that most of the main terrestrial television channels would be more than happy with. Importantly, the Ian and Adam storyline in the Archers has reflected all the stresses and strains in any relationship, gay or straight, where both people work really long hours in demanding jobs.

It's worth also remembering all the countries in the world where not only is homosexuality not discussed on any of the radio or television stations, but it is illegal. Take Uzbekistan, for example, the former Soviet Republic, which has an appalling record of torturing and imprisoning anyone who fails to toe the official line. This country of 23 million people has banned homosexuality, and in 2003, Ruslan Sharipov, a gay human rights campaigner, was arrested and accused of sex with minors and homosexual acts.

Sharipov pleaded guilty (the legal system in Uzbekistan has an almost 100 per cent conviction rate) - but letters smuggled out of prison revealed that he had been tortured and threatened with rape by his interrogators. He appeared at his appeal with injuries to his face.

In October 2004, Sharipov was smuggled out of prison and sought asylum in the US, ironically, another country in which Ian and Adam's relationship would not be aired in certain southern states, and where the Christian right seeks to ban abortion and deny homosexuals equality. For once, Ambridge is leading the way.

Our most subversive artist

Is Banksy the new Rodin? At the Royal Academy it's impossible not to be moved byThe Burghers of Calais by Rodin, each figure, with its oversize head, hands and feet, powerfully expressing human vulnerability and heroism - a political statement celebrating the human condition.

In the US, Banksy, Britain's most subversive artist, hit the headlines by smuggling an inflatable doll dressed in the orange overalls of a Guantanamo Bay detainee into the Rocky Mountain rollercoaster ride at Disneyworld, where it remained for an hour and was filmed.

His Los Angeles exhibition featuring doctored CD covers of Paris Hilton, left, not only attracted A-listers such as Brad Pitt to the opening, but more than 10,000 people a day queued to see the show.

* A friend of mine adopted the tactics employed by Chris Tarrant's wife, Ingrid, and employed a private detective to follow his spouse, suspecting her of conducting an affair with one of his best friends.

In the end he found a petrol receipt in her purse from a garage near the cad's country cottage, dated when she was supposed to be at work. His wife confessed, and they split up. Mrs Tarrant has had a similar experience - although she spent thousands of pounds on private detectives, no evidence was revealed of an affair between Mr Tarrant and the blonde his wife was convinced was her love rival.

Having been a serial divorcer, I am something of an expert - it's never a good idea to admit to anything - but now that Mr Tarrant has decided to confess, he'll be splitting his £35m fortune with his long-suffering wife.

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