Magazine article The Spectator

Ambridge Addiction

Magazine article The Spectator

Ambridge Addiction

Article excerpt

Radio

About 15 years ago while doing a stint at BBC television news I was summoned to the newsdesk and asked, apologetically, if I would mind covering a story for which no one else was available. It meant travelling to Newbury to interview members of the cast of The Archers on Radio Four who were appearing at the Watermill Theatre. It became apparent that this was somehow considered to be beneath me. I came out of the radio closet: `Nothing would give me greater pleasure,' I said, `as I am addicted to The Archers.'

Arriving at this delightful theatre I discovered that the actors looked roughly how I had imagined them to be in the series: Sid Perks, the landlord of the Bull; Jill Archer, Phil's wife; Lizzie Archer, and Brian Aldridge, the squirearchical and politically incorrect villain of the series, though I find myself almost always agreeing with his views. With television, of course, interviews aren't enough. You need, what they call in the trade, wallpaper and set-up shots; that is, people doing things for the camera so that you can speak over the pictures. Their rehearsing on the stage was not enough, so I decided to turn the theatre bar into the Bull with Sid Perks pulling a pint of Shires for Aldridge and another character. To my surprise, I found myself directing them from behind the camera: `Brian walks up to the bar and, while Sid draws the beer, chats to the other character, just as you would in The Archers.'

So, it is one of my small achievements in life to have briefly directed members of the drama's cast. Many reading this might be thinking, how sad, and might add, as my daughter would, `Get a life!' I suspect they are right but it cannot be helped. As with most addictions, you half want to give them up but so great is the satisfaction - plus the bloody-mindedness that goes with it that you cannot and will not. Archers fans are like smokers; we find ourselves gravitating towards each other at parties and huddling in corners indulging our vice. At the beginning of this month The Archers celebrated its 50th anniversary, the longestrunning drama series in the world. Radio Four broadcast clips of dramatic moments from the past, devoted an Archive Hour to it, invited Norman Painting, who has played Phil from the start, on to Desert Island Discs, Patricia Greene (Jill) on to Woman's Hour, and gave five people 15-- minute talks on Book of the Week: Letters from Ambridge. …

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