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Sunday, 28 February 2010

I’ve got a Brand New Combine Harvester

This is a blog on behalf of the Ambridge Appreciation Society (AAS).

“The Archers”, a bucolic soap which is broadcast 6 days a week on the Beeb’s Radio 4, is a freak show! It has been running continuously since 1950 and is loved by millions. Many of us (me included) have spent our whole lives listening to the goings on in the fictional village of Ambridge and its collection of well rounded ( if slightly dotty) characters.

The tapestry (it’s not a soap; more the Bayeux tapestry in sound) is built around a farm owning, tradition loving, long living family called the Archers. Centred on this family is the village of Ambridge, its characters and its institutions. The Church ( C of E of course), the church hall, “The Bull” public house and the village shop are the settings for much of the drama played out during the 13 minutes of air time every day for 60 years.

The Archers were there at Suez, the assassination of JFK, the World Cup in 1966 – when we got revenge for 1066, decimalisation (possibly the greatest shock to Middle Earth (sorry Middle England) since 1066), Margaret Thatcher, The Falkland’s War, the death of Di, Iraq and John Terry. Listen to the Archers and you’re listening to the heart of England - myocardial infarctions and all.

You won’t find Ambridge on any map except a map on the Archer’s website. It bears the same relationship to reality as does the map of the Shire in the Hobbit; without the dragons, if you don’t count Linda Snell. But in the minds of us members of the AAS it’s as real as a summer’s evening or an echo of “Jerusalem”, caught on the breeze in late September.

Recently Phil Archer died quietly in his chair at home aged 81. Phil had been around for a very long time. Having witnessed the death of his first wife, Grace, in a fire in September 1955 he married Jill two years later. This week’s episodes chronicled the family’s and villagers’ reaction to his death and his funeral.

Call me an old softy, but I was in tears during his funeral, it was so moving. And Jill breaking down at the end of the episode, after holding it all together for Phil and the family, had me gulping down my emotions.

It’s weird: on another BBC programme “Any Questions” someone asked the panel whether Radio 4 was sacrosanct. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, in answer said that he’d march on Westminster to save the Archers. He also thought the treatment of Phil’s death was perfect.

Today, on the Radio 4 programme (I’m sorry I’m such a woss), “Desert Island Discs”, the guest castaway was June Spencer who plays the character Peggy Archer . She is the only remaining member of the cast from the first episode in 1950. She’s 90 years old!!! And is still working.

Art imitates life. Her character Peggy is married to Jack Whooley who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Over the past few years’ Peggy has had to witness Jack decline and cope with it. June’s own husband died in 2001 after many years of suffering from the disease.

Next week we’ll be discussing “Just a Minute” and Nicholas Parson’s secret of eternal youth.

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