Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Overdoing the Drama

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Overdoing the Drama

Article excerpt

What took them so long? For weeks and weeks he'd been limping into the farmhouse whining about how cold he is, how tired, how he's had enough of Tom gadding about Borsetshire selling his gruesome-sounding pork meatballs while he's stuck on the farm trimming leeks and getting up at the crack of dawn to do the milking. The clues were so obvious even Sergeant Lewis would have guessed that something bad must be waiting in the cowshed for Tony Archer.

Perhaps it was intentional, the scriptwriters of The Archers (Radio 4) calling our bluff to prove that they're in charge, and carefully manipulating our fears and premonitions to ensure that we keep on tuning in day-by-day. You might think you've secondguessed what's in the script for Tony. But we know best. His fate is actually under our control. You're just our puppet listeners. So we stopped worrying about Tony. The story moved on. He got through his birthday, the family rallied round, the quarrels about the Brookfield herd and the Home Farm superdairy took over.

I missed a few episodes, as you do, and tuned back in to hear Jennifer (Tony's sister, for the uninitiated) almost in tears after a sleepless night. 'I'm so worried about him, ' she tells her husband Brian over breakfast.

Who? For an awful moment, I thought it must be their son Adam who was in some kind of danger. That would have been the most brilliant bluff, hiding the real victim behind a duplicate storyline of father-son antagonisms. But of course it was Tony, who the evening before had collapsed in the milking parlour and been rushed off to hospital with a suspected heart attack.

Ambridge is beginning to resemble Holby City. More ambulance call-outs in a year than all the other villages in Borsetshire put together. Colin Skipp, who's been playing Tony for 45 years, did a brilliant job, puffing and wheezing and sounding so weak and helpless and frightened, even after he got home from hospital a few days later. As Skipp says, it's actually much easier to play out these dramatic highs. They make up for all those months when the only lines uttered by Skipp (aka Tony) are 'Can I have some more toast, Pat?' or 'Brrrrr, it's cold out there.'

The cast of The Archers are the real Oscar-winners for making those boring, bland, mundane conversations sound like real life and not play-acting. We can't see them. We can tell nothing about them from analysing the expressions on their faces. …

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