Though I’ve listened to Radio 4 every since I was in my teens I’ve never paid any attention to The Archers.
For me The Archers has never been anything more than a happy opportunity to go and brew a nice cup of tea until the next programme comes on.
I know, however, that plenty of people are hooked on The Archers – including (as has become apparent in recent weeks) lots of surprising people who I’d never have expected to be Archers fans.
And I’d have to have been away on holiday to Proxima Centauri not to be aware that a remarkable number of people were glued to their radios last Sunday for the much-hyped one-hour trial special broadcast and that many of them apparently sobbed with joy when Helen was cleared of attempting to murder nasty, abusive Rob by the jury of famous actors.
I would have continued ignoring it but I saw the following tweet from the Salisbury Review/Spectator
‘s Jane Kelly
That got my interest. Was Jane right? Could it really be that the BBC would use the ‘biggest’ Archers episode ever to promote an anti-Brexit worldview? Would Radio 4 be that shameless?
Well, I’ve now listened to the famous episode
– my first ever episode of The Archers
(the longest episode of The Archers
in the history of the programme).
I can’t say I’ve been converted though. All those star-name jurors still couldn’t convince me that the script was anything other than wooden and the emotional ending made me laugh. The word ‘melodrama’ popped into my head near the very end.
And, yes, Jane was right.
Another Twitter user quipped: Bloody hell it’s like Brecht wrote the worst episode of Columbo during a drunken Brexit dinner party.
That Brecht reference struck me as a telling one – especially as it occurred to me too. Brecht had strong propagandist designs on his audience. The committee who wrote this Archers script seemed to have propagandist designs too.
(The comparison isn’t spot-on though. Unlike Brecht – who liked his audiences to stay emotionally detached – the Archers‘ scriptwriters were clearly trying to pull on their audience’s emotional levers at every stage).
There were certainly quite a lot of ‘agitprop’ bits.
I will simply post my notes on what I heard below, unedited – except from an embarrassingly misplaced apostrophe. (The quotes are exact). See if you can spot any agendas being pushed:
18.04 An unpleasant pro-Rob juror rants in Brexitspeak.
22.29 “I’ve been meaning to say, Parveen, that’s a beautiful headscarf you’re wearing. Very elegant”, says the nice, wise character played by Eileen Atkins. (You couldn’t make it up!!!)
23.25 Nice, dopey-sounding girl with no strong opinions: “It was all the stuff around Brexit…..What if we get the verdict wrong? It’s going to effect so many lives…. It feels like way too important a decision to be left up to us”. (!!!!!!)
25.04 “She’s just a sort of bigoted woman”. (A good juror about guilty-supporting Lisa).
26.14 Nice chap (Tristan) says to nice girl (Holly): “I’m more than upset. I’m ashamed. This is meant to be a cross-section of British society but (guilty-supporting) Dennis and Lisa haven’t got a clue”.
28.44 (Jackie, Eileen Atkins’s character): “Yes, an old post-grad student of mine has been up at Bradford for years in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Anyway, we were chatting over the summer. He’s terribly worried where his funding is going to come from now. So much of his research is in partnership with other universities across Europe. For once I’m glad I’m retired!”
Obviously Muslim Parveen is leaning towards not guilty, therefore good. Love how the nice ones want Helen freed and the not nice ones want her convicted. It’s so Brechtian!
33.37 (Jackie) “The whole reason we have a jury system is because some decisions are too important to be passed by a simple majority.”
38.48 (Nasty juror, Dennis, Nigel Havers, delivers a Brexiter-style ‘rant’): “You are kidding me! So-called experts without the slightest clue what it’s like to live in the real world thinking they know best about how the rest of us should be governed! Well, at least in this room ordinary folks get to make the decisions”.
(Nice juror, Tristan) “Give me a break! It drives me insane. People going on about the real world. Who doesn’t live in the real world? Just because you don’t like the fact some people might be more educated than you and actually know what they’re talking about!”
40.17 (Nasty ‘bigoted’ juror Lisa to Parveen): “What do you know? Aren’t you supposed to obey your husband?”
Squabble at around 43.30, with Brexit slogans being yelled by the baddies. Holly calls a halt and Jackie takes over. Nigel Havers puts the bad side. Eileen Atkins puts the good side.
Our sub-Brechtian Archers writers made the ‘good jurors’ into Remain/Helen supporters and the ‘bad jurors’ into Leave/Rob supporters, with the in-betweeners going on a journey towards the (Remain/Helen) light. It was very schematic.
Plus, the specific messages the Archers scriptwriters sent out about the Brexit vote were pretty clear, weren’t they? That is, that the result was a result of ill-informed people having a say and that it should have been left in the hands of people who know what they’re actually talking about (parliament?) Plus that our EU membership was too important a decision to be passed by a simple majority in a referendum. (Parliament to overrule the result?) Plus that racism and bigotry played a part in the campaign.
Add the Archers scriptwriters obvious intent to also make a point about Muslims and ‘Islamophobia’ and the agenda-pushing all becomes a bit heavy-handed.
Of course, serious Archers fans may have been so wrapped up in the outcome of the trial that they missed these political messages but, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, I very much doubt it.
To end, here’s a representative sample of Twitter reaction to all the Brexit references:
Wow! One of #thearchers jurors slates ‘the experts’. #Brexit allegory goes into overdrive. Will 48% of them find Helen not guilty?
Just so we are all on the same page – does everyone have the words brexit, referendum & political metaphor in their #TheArchers notepad?
Correct decision pulled from morass of biased idiocy: it’s not-Brexit #thearchers #freehelen
it’s all going a bit #brexit #thearchers
‘Experts’ – it’s Brexit bingo! #TheArchers
Thank you #TheArchers for mentioning the problem of university funding and EU links post-Brexit in their biggest ever episode.
Given they have turned #TheArchers into a Brexit allegory, Helen is surely screwed.
I THOUGHT IT WAS ABOUT THE ARCHERS BUT ITS ACTUALLY ABOUT BREXIT
‘Bigoted woman’ Brexit’ is this a kind of political bingo game? #thearchers
Helen’s trial as a metaphor for Brexit. Discuss. #thearchers
Remember: not all Brexit supporters are pro-Rob #thearchers
#thearchers hating this jury, getting flashbacks to #Brexit. Do I know my own country? Aaargh democracy…
“Well thank you Dennis. I’m sure a lot of us #BrExit fans feel it’s got very unfair for rapists” #TheArchers
HOW EXACTLY DID BREXIT BECOME A THING IN THIS?! #TheArchers
This is worse than I ever imagined. Helen = Brexit. Come on! Nigel #thearchers
#thearchers this jury is a great example of how we got the Brexit vote we got
*winces at this jury* cf Brexit #thearchers
Cheeky #Brexit reference in #TheArchers. Let’s hope Helen #Remains at Blossom Hill and Rob #Leaves Ambridge for good.
On no! The jury’s made up of people who couldn’t decide on the #EURef … & probably voted #Brexit #thearchers
#thearchers Are we having the #Brexit debate NOW!?
Brexit reference! #thearchers