Simon Kelner: Liking the Archers is a simple question of heredity

Kelner's view

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The Independent Online

I have appeared on Richard Bacon's afternoon show on Radio 5 quite a few times, and find him to be a tricky customer. Unlike many interviewers, he has no shame in feigning ignorance of his subject, and asking a question that, while seeming naive, gets right to the point in a way that can throw his interviewee off balance.

I was invited on to his programme in the summer for my comments on the phone-hacking scandal in the wake of the Milly Dowler revelations. "I have heard a rumour," said Bacon, "that Rupert Murdoch is considering closing down the News of the World."

"I wouldn't be so sure," I said, in the role of all-knowing media sage. "Murdoch wouldn't be so influenced by public opinion as to shut a newspaper that still makes a healthy profit."

Two hours later, the media world – but not the well-connected Mr Bacon – was stunned when Murdoch indeed announced the closure of Britain's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper.

Every time I have been on Bacon's programme since, he has re-played that clip to introduce me. It is light-hearted banter, of course, which means I can sound like an idiot even before I start speaking. Bacon has a keener interest than most in the modus operandi of the tabloid press, having been the subject of a NOTW exposé concerning some colourful extra-curricular behaviour when he was a Blue Peter presenter.

He's back in the news again today, but for an altogether more prosaic reason. He dared to criticise The Archers. In an interview for Radio Times, he said the Radio 4 soap opera was "like queuing for the till at a farm shop and accidentally overhearing two locals who don't know each other very well having a half-hearted chit-chat behind you".

Having queued at farm shops myself, I have to take issue with Bacon. If only The Archers was that good. Predictably, a Daily Telegraph editorial dismisses Bacon as a metropolitan smartarse (I paraphrase), and I would have to plead guilty to the same charge. An interest in The Archers is a question of heredity, and, thankfully, the only time my mother switched the radio off in our household when The Archers theme music struck up. So I have grown up blissfully unaware of the precise relationship between Shula and Brian, or Jack and Ruth. They might all be farm animals for all I care. Thinking about it, perhaps they are.

Grey Gables could be turned into a bordello, and the Felpersham department store Underwoods – hold on a minute, you say, does he know a little too much for someone who claims disinterest? – may be burnt to the ground, and it wouldn't move me. I know there are five million Britons who do find this everyday saga of country folk gripping. And I'm aware that the scriptwriters strain to inject contemporary issues into the storyline – I believe there was a black person in Ambridge once – and to tackle rural issues. But I am in sympathy with Bacon. The Archers is homely, anachronistic and serves only to perpetuate myths and prejudices about life in the British countryside. Long may it continue!

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