The Archers: Academics to delve into BBC Radio 4 soap's secrets at university conference

'The Archers in fact and fiction: Academic analyses of life in rural Borsetshire' will be held in London next year

Adam Sherwin
Media Correspondent
Friday 16 October 2015 15:41
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The Archers is more than simply 'an everyday story of country folk' for the organisers of the seminar
The Archers is more than simply 'an everyday story of country folk' for the organisers of the seminar

What does the River Am flood tell us about the hydrology of Borsetshire? Academia will embrace The Archers at a university conference devoted to unlocking the deeper truths within the rural soap.

The long-running Radio 4 drama is more than simply “an everyday story of country folk” for the Ambridge-obsessed organisers of “The Archers in fact and fiction: Academic analyses of life in rural Borsetshire”, a conference held at the University of Liverpool’s London campus next year.

More than 20 submissions have already been accepted for the seminar which promises to take “an academic perspective on life in Ambridge and Borsetshire, with papers from across disciplines.”

Topics up for discussion include “a sociological analysis of class dynamics in rural Britain through the lives of Archers’ characters”, the drama’s representation of “elderly care provision in the rural setting” and “rural and village economics, from the village store to agribusiness.”

Particular attention will be given to the great Am Vale flood last Spring, an event which prompted listener complaints when the BBC chose to accompany it with fake flood alerts, weather warnings, police appeals and breaking news of emergency rescues on its website.

The conference will debate the “hydrology of the Am valley following the recent flooding events” amid concerns that a repeat of the “weatherbomb” could wreak further damage on village life.

Cara Courage, a PhD student at the University of Brighton, Centre for Research and Development, said the conference was inspired by social media discussions. “We discovered a huge fan base of academics commenting on the omnibus episodes on Twitter. We began chatting about topics for an academic paper on The Archers could and it grew from there. The response has been overwhelming.”

The conference will take 'an academic perspective on life in Ambridge and Borsetshire'

Geographical questions will be resolved. “There have been lots of rows over the correct map of Ambridge and Borsetshire since the programme began,” said Ms Courage, a lifelong listener, who grew up on a Somerset farm. “One paper has been submitted from cartographer, who suggests it would have been topographically impossible for Borsetshire to have flooded.”

The conference will also debate the “statistical probability of no Ambridge residents listening to Radio 4 at 2:00pm or 7:00pm” and discuss The Archers’ representation of “working class” farm workers and immigration, following the seasonal influx of foreign workers to the countryside.

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Dr Peter Matthews, lecturer in Sociology & Criminology at the University of Stirling, said the Archers was a useful prism to debate issues of rural social policy. “We see the impact of huge agribusiness coming in and the village pub going out of business, these are huge rural issues,” he said. “The protests over the Route B bypass (cutting Brookfield in half) squared with our own research into middle-class activism.”

Dr Matthews praised The Archers’ realistic portrayal of poverty. “In Coronation Street when characters fall on hard times they still have enough money to buy a round in the Rovers Return.

“But Ed and Emma Grundy couldn’t pay for the basic things. The reality of poverty in the UK is mothers going hungry to feed their children. The writers do their research.”

The BBC has assisted the appeal for academic papers. But what would The Archers themselves make of all the fuss? Dr Matthews said: “Lynda Snell would think it’s the greatest ever thing to happen to her, she would be over the moon that Ambridge is getting the attention. The Grundys would roll their eyes and wonder what was happening.”

Participants at the seminar have been assured that the debate will be silenced and the radio switched as soon as the Barwick Green theme announces the latest episode.

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