The Third Leader: Soap dodger

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The Independent Online

As the celebrations for 15,000 episodes of The Archers reach their - forgive me, Ruth - climax, could I make an appeal on behalf of those who have given up soap operas, or never even tried them? It's tough enough without the passive soaping caused by the attention given to these anniversaries, but the strain becomes intolerable when the spell of the lather contrives to turn even Ruth into a sex goddess. Apparently.

Although never an Archers fan, it has been impossible over the years to avoid the odd few minutes or entertaining resume. So Grace Archer's tragic death is as vivid a backdrop to my early childhood as Suez, even if I fully grasped neither. And I get by, just, on Ruth, Lynda and Brian, but have always struggled with the Grundys and Kenton.

Being soapless compares with belonging to an ethnic or religious minority, or trying to talk to a teenager. And there is no social or intellectual kudos in it, either: being soapwise has been used to indicate unstuffiness ever since Betjeman came out for Coronation Street. Even Tony Blair has been known to take an interest.

Coronation Street is what did it for me. I loved it until I had a job working on it, charged with getting the actors on set on time, and failing so badly that I still wake crying, "Where's Ena?", with the director's anger still ringing. For me, soaps were never the same again; I had let the light in on the magic. Spare a thought, then, at seven o'clock tonight, for those of us listening to country music on Radio 2.

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