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The Archers

From Academic Kids

The Archers was also a film production company responsible for many classic British films in the 1940s and '50s.

The Archers, a British soap opera which is broadcast on the BBC's main spoken word national radio station, Radio 4. It is the world's longest running radio soap, and was traditionally billed as an "everyday story of countryfolk", but despite its rural flavour, it is actually recorded in the heart of the major city of Birmingham.

Contents

Outline

There are now six episodes a week. The Sunday to Thursday episodes are re-broadcast the following day; the Friday evening one is not; they are all repeated in an omnibus edition on Sunday morning. The programme is set in the fictional Midlands village of Ambridge close to Borchester, the county town of Borsetshire, an imaginary shire situated between the (actually contiguous) real counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, south of Birmingham in the West Midlands. Ambridge itself is sometimes said to be based upon the village of Inkberrow in Worcestershire, but the basis for this is only that the village pub - The Old Bull - was the model for the fictional pub The Bull in Ambridge. Other locations often referred to in the stories include local landmark Lakey Hill, the neighbouring village of Penny Hassett and the cathedral city of Felpersham.

Unlike television soaps - and partly as a consequence of the lower fees for radio work - Archers actors are not held on retainers, so most do other acting work and can disappear for periods if they are working on long term projects such as films or television series. Because of this, and by the nature of the storylines focussing on particular groups of characters, in any given week the series comprises 20-30 speaking characters out of a regular cast of about 60. In addition, there are dozens of silent characters who have never spoken, but are referred to by others.

History

In 1950, a pilot series was broadcast to the English Midlands. Since 1 January 1951, a fifteen-minute episode (in recent years thirteen minutes) has been transmitted across the UK each weekday, at first on the BBC Light Programme and subsequently on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4).

Originally produced with collaborative input from the Ministry of Agriculture, it was conceived as a means of disseminating information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-war years of rationing and food shortages. The programme was hugely successful; at the height of its popularity it was estimated that 60% of adult Britons were regular listeners. It also served a purpose at the time as a propaganda mechanism to reinforce notions of Englishness, and to foster and inculcate notions of rebuilding in post-war Britain.

The actor Norman Painting has played the character of Phil Archer continuously ever since the first trial series in 1950. He was also a member of the scriptwriting team at one time and wrote around 1,200 episodes under the pseudonym of "Bruno Milna". The decision by the scriptwriters to schedule an episode in which Phil's first wife, Grace, was killed in a fire on the launch day of ITV was widely seen as a "spoiling" operation by the BBC. The emotional response of listeners to news of Grace's death inspired an episode of the comedy programme Hancock's Half Hour on television that featured a fictional soap, The Bowmans, parodying the series.

Vanessa Whitburn has been programme editor since 1992.

Themes

A recurring theme over the years has been the resentment of the working-class Grundy family towards the middle-class Archers, but the series has moved inexorably with the times and now deals with a wide range of contemporary issues including illicit affairs, drug abuse, homosexuality and recently rape. However one of the show's enduring charms is its ability to make absorbing stories out of everyday, small scale concerns, such as the possible closure of the village shop, rather than the large scale and rather improbable events that form the plots of many soap operas.

Main Characters

Phil Archer is the current patriarch of the Archer family and a leading member of the village. His first wife Grace was killed in a fire and, over four decades later, he has never entirely got over the trauma. His second wife Jill was trapped in a burning house in 2004 and this brought back many feelings. Phil handed responsibility for the family farm Brookfield to second son David three years ago but still remains involved in the farm's affairs. Phil has had a number of health scares in recent years but is still a keen pianist and plays organ for church services and the music for the annual village Christmas play. He has one living sibling, Christine, recently widowed, and one deceased brother, Jack, an alcoholic who ran the Bull public house.

Jill Archer is the second wife of Phil Archer and matriarch of the family. Some ten years younger than her husband, she is more active in village life and makes herself available to support her children with caring for their families. Jill is an active member of the Women's Institiute, opened up a holiday cottage business, and is teaching her grand-daugher Pip how to raise bees.

Shula Archer is the oldest daughter of Phil and Jill and twin sister of Kenton. Her first husband was killed in a road accident that also involved her best friend Caroline Pemberton. Her son Daniel was born after the death of his father. Despite being a devout Christian and a member of the local Parish Council, Shula had an affair with the village doctor. Shula has been married for five years to the village vet and now owns and runs a stable. She tends to be condescending, which her family criticises.

Kenton Archer is portrayed as the 'waster' of the Archer family. Having turned his back on the farm, Kenton tried his hand at a number of ventures, including selling antiques and running a wine bar. Kenton disappeared to Australia and New Zealand for several years and was married, had a child and divorced before returning home. More recently, Kenton has been working as the manager of Jaxx cafe in Felpersham.

David Archer is the second son of Phil and Jill and has assumed responsibility for Brookfield. The farm has suffered in recent years from TB alerts, which has led David to question his wisdom in staying in farming. David is married to Ruth, who survived breast cancer. They have three children. Played by Tim Bentinck.

Elizabeth Archer is the youngest daughter and, along with Kenton, rejected village life, attempting a career in publicity in London. She returned to Ambridge but endured a disasterous relationship with a local business man before snaring the owner of a local manor house, Lower Loxley, with whom she had twins. Elizabeth and Nigel have developed the stately home as a conference venue. Elizabeth is highly critical of the way David manages the Brookfield estate.

Peggy Archer, the widow of Jack Archer (the slightly disreputable brother of Phil Archer), is married to local grandee Jack Woolley, a self-made man originally from Birmingham, who owns a local hotel, the village shop, the cafe where Kenton works, and the area's newspaper. Peggy has two daughters, Jennifer and Lillian, and a son, Tony, by her first husband, and is indulgent of her grandchildren. Jack has started to suffer from early stages of Alzheimers, leading Peggy to take more responsibility for the day to day operations of his businesses. Peggy is the former owner of "The Bull".

Jennifer Archer is the oldest daughter of Peggy Archer. Early on her character was the hippy of the Archer family, her first child Adam being the result of a fling with a cowman. She married a travelling businessman in the late 1960s and had a daughter Debbie. She then divorced and married Brian Aldridge, who has become a major character. With Brian she had two daughters, Kate and Alice. Kate inherited her mother's hippy tendency, giving birth to a daughter, Phoebe, by a local piece of rough, Roy Tucker, before disappearing to South Africa. Jennifer has had to endure Brian having a series of affairs, including one which has produced a child.

The Grundy family are a well established local family who often provide comic relief. Joe Grundy maintained for many years that the Archer family had robbed them of their estate. After years attempting to maintain the family farm they were made bankrupt in 2000 and ended up living in a caravan. They now rent a cottage in the village and own a smallholding. Joe's son Eddie and his wife Clarrie are contrasting characters, as are their two sons. The elder William is now a game keeper and married the social climbing Emma Carter. What has yet to be revealed is that Emma had an affair with William's younger brother Edward and has just had his child.

Former Principal Characters

Over the years some of the original cast members have died, left the show or retired and their characters have had to be replaced or killed off by the scriptwriters.

Dan Archer was the first owner of Brookfield and the patriarch of the Archer family. The character survived the deaths of four actors before finally being killed off.

Doris Archer was Dan's wife and mother of Phil Archer, was played by one actor for all of her time on the show.

Grace Archer was Phil Archer's first wife and the first major character to be killed off by the scriptwriters.

Tom Forrest was Doris Archer's brother and a gamekeeper. He was a major character for many years and used to introduce the omnibus edition on Sunday mornings.

Overseas Parallels

In 1994, the BBC World Service in Afghanistan began broadcasting Naway Kor, Naway Jwand ("New Home, New Life"), an everyday story of countryfolk with built-in bits of useful information. Although the useful information was more likely to concern unexploded landmines than the latest modern farming techniques, the inspiration and model of Naway Kor, Naway Jwand was essentially The Archers.[1] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361,579231,00.html)

In Rwanda, the BBC World Service's Kinyarwanda-Kirundi service has been broadcasting the Archers-inspired soap opera Urunana since 1999.[2] (http://www.developments.org.uk/data/Issue24/country-life.htm)

The Archers was also the model for the Russian radio soap opera Dom 7, Podyezd 4.[3] (http://www.internews.ru/media_developments/eng/issue_12/12_0e.html)

Theme tune

The Archer's widely recognised theme tune is called Barwick Green. It is a "maypole dance" from the suite My Native Heath, written in 1924 by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood. Interestingly the very first note is never played. Comedian Billy Connolly has said that this tune should replace God Save the Queen as the national anthem of the United Kingdom.

See also

Mrs Dale's Diary

External links

  • The Archers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers) (official BBC site)
  • Archers Addicts (http://www.thearchers.co.uk) (BBC-approved fan club)
  • Archers Anarchists (http://www.archersanarchists.co.uk) ("anti-castist" BBC-free fan club)
  • uk.media.radio.archers, the Archers newsgroup: locally (news:uk.media.radio.archers) or via Google (http://groups.google.com/groups?group=uk.media.radio.archers)de:The Archers

The Archers were also a contemporary Christian music group of the late 70's, the lead singer being Steve Archer, who later put out a couple of solo albums. Their hits include "Stand Up", "It Wouldn't Be Enough", and "Little Flowers".

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