No improper sex please, we're the Archers

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The Independent Online
AMBRIDGE needs to get back to basics. Last month we had someone saying 'bloody'; now we're about to get not one but three homosexuals. Which, as The Archers' 90-year-old creator Godfrey Baseley points out, is completely unbelievable, because 'people in The Archers have the example of nature to follow all around them, and wouldn't get mixed up like this'.

Mr Baseley is not at all happy about the current editor's decision to 'out' Shane, who works in the wine bar, and Jean-Paul, the chef at the country club, in preparation for the introduction of a 'more overtly' homosexual character next year. It would be difficult to be less overt than Shane, who has never been known to speak, or Jean-Paul, who recently sounded pretty keen on Clarrie Grundy.

Trendies will no doubt object that The Archers' history has been one long tale of fusty traditionalists complaining that the programme is not what it was, but my sympathies lie with Mr Baseley. 'It is disgusting,' he says of the introduction of homosexuals. 'It is distasteful because being gay is such a minority interest. Country folk don't do that kind of thing. They have sex the proper way.'

Quite so, and I hope that Vanessa Whitburn, the editor, will soon come to her senses. She should perhaps bear in mind other more or less futile attempts to introduce relevance. There is the Asian solicitor, who has nothing very Asian to do in Ambridge, and is reduced to giving talks to the WI about curries, prompting fascinating dialogue about different foodstuffs. Most tellingly, there was the saga of Kenton Archer's disease. Kenton is another mystery man: for years no one mentioned him, despite his being the twin of one of the most prominent characters. Then one day it was decided he should stop being a merchant seaman and return with a rare and unpleasant disease, which, it gradually emerged, had all the symptoms of Aids. Two editors came and went in rapid succession, and Kenton's affliction was finally explained, with magnificent vagueness, as 'glandular'. He is much better now.

I COULD hardly be more pleased that Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, the husband-and-wife team who present ITV's This Morning, have won a new pounds 1m deal which makes them the highest paid couple on television. I think about Richard and Judy a lot - so as far as I'm concerned, they're worth every penny. The big Richard and Judy question, it seems to me, is are they really like that at home? For anyone who does a proper day's work rather than slobbing about in front of the television, I should perhaps explain that Richard and Judy are prized by their producers for bringing 'sexual chemistry' and 'family feeling' to the small screen. There is a prurient thrill to be had from watching their endearing little spats about topical issues, which sound as if they're just picking up from where they left off over the cornflakes. When Richard confides that they sing along together in the car on the way to work, you get the impression of a seamless progress from bathroom to studio without going through make-up.

I do hope this is not really the case. Richard, though younger and better looking, is much the more bad-tempered; Judy's on-screen role is to help him over his grumpy moments. Suggesting that viewers write in for a factsheet about the royals last week, Richard said rudely: 'I don't know why you should.' Then he thought for a minute, and added: 'We'll do a factsheet on anything.' Judy smooths over such moments by asking their guests an emollient question, or smiling indulgently at her husband. She is very good at it, but I like to think that their home life is quite different. Perhaps when he offers to do his Mr Bean as Mr Blobby impression at home, she doesn't simper, but tells him to go outside. And when he examines his nails when she's talking, I like to think that she picks up her cornflakes and tips them down his neck.

THE Rev Wilbert Awdry has made pounds 7m from the televising of his Thomas The Tank Engine books, but complains that the screen versions mangle his carefully prepared text. As a parent, I am extremely relieved about the mangling. The Thomas The Tank Engine books have a bewildering lack of plot, and an even more bewildering range of references to bits of train. Most of my children's most profound moments of disillusionment with me have come over Thomas The Tank Engine. 'Mummy, what is a tank engine?' they would lisp at two. Later, as I stumbled over sentences like 'Sometimes their brakes would slip 'on' and sometimes their axles would 'run hot',' they would ask what all that meant, and I would just have to stare back at them blankly. Thomas The Tank Engine is impossible to read meaningfully unless you are a trainspotter.

Trainspotting is just not a girly thing to do, which may have some bearing on the fact that the Rev Awdry has confined his female characters to coaches and trucks. Even the big, macho engines are not what you'd call developed characters, having a range of emotions largely confined to technological competitiveness. But it can get awfully annoying that all the coaches ever do is complain. I was relieved when my children's exasperation with the opacities of Mixed-Traffic Engines and brake pipes reached a level at which I could, in good conscience, shove Thomas down the back of the bookcase.

HARPERS & Queen has a more than usually silly article in its latest issue, on the 'social importance of the school run', with pictures of glossy grown-ups driving immaculate children halfway across the country to prep school. 'A Buddha-like calm is essential on a serious school run,' explains the text. A serious school run? This is presumably in contrast to a joke school run, which is what we have, which explains why my children flatly refuse to wash some mornings, or have hysterics because their shoes aren't tied tightly enough, or poke each other and screech. And, no doubt, why the school run isn't a big networking opportunity for us. Next term, school runs are getting serious.