Monday, April 18, 2016

Dum de Dum de Dum - The Archers and the joys of internet radio

You know you are becoming a crusty old bore, akin to the type of colonial relics that inhabit a Somerset Maugham short story, when you start talking about ‘When I first went overseas …………. “

In the heady days of the early 90s there was no internet or email so you wrote and received letters in the form of blue areogrammes that you folded up and sent off – it was a red letter day when a blue letter arrived and I used to skip up the steps to the various rented flats clutching one when they came.

Phone calls to overseas countries were accompanied with a timer and hissing of in-drawn breath – my parents-in-law only rang us a couple of times during our years overseas as it was regarded as prohibitively expensive. 

And if you wanted to listen to the BBC Radio 4 long running serial, The Archers you had to get your parents to make a recording and send it out to you.

I wasn’t actually such an Archers fan that these desperate measures were required but when we lived in Hong Kong in the early 90’s, I had a great friend, Laura, whose mother used to tape the omnibus edition every Sunday and then send said tape to Laura.  When I tell this story to anyone under the age of 30, I can see their eyes roll in complete incomprehension, whilst they mentally pause and wonder whether to ask for a translation.

I love having the internet, and email, but I also love my box of tattered areogrammes, mainly from my mother who wrote the most superb letters, but slightly irritating never dated them beyond the month.  I now realise I should have written the year on them when I received them as it is now a deduction process from the contents, and the address on the front, in terms of working out when it was actually written.

One of the things I love most about life now is that I can conjure up BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3 at the touch of a button on my computer, either live or as a podcast.  As I write now I have Essential Classics from Radio 3 playing in the background as I am someone who always needs noise around to work.  Most early evenings I will cook to the wake up call of the BBC Radio 4 flagship ‘Today’ programme which sets the tone for news and views each morning in the UK, and when ironing I will find a podcast from Woman’s Hour or The Life Scientific – both of which are the most fantastic programmes and I very rarely come away without having heard something that really interested me.   Desert Island Discs is a weekly treat and when I find one I love, I am on a one-woman mission to spread the word and all my friends find the link posted to their inboxes. 

‘The Archers’ is typically British institution, a radio soap opera that has been going since 1951, originally, and perhaps still, billed as the ‘everyday story of country folk’, I can remember listening to the after lunch slot in my primary school uniform and the theme tune is instantly recognisable to any Brit of my age. 

There is still a distinct rural flavour to it, and we are definitely talking village life, complete with established families, wealthy farmers, poor but honest (most of the time) tenant farmers and labourers, village shop, now run by worthy volunteers and a village green.  But no one could accuse The Archers of not being of their time – over the past couple of years the storylines have included a gay civil marriage, infidelity, donor insemination and the vicar marrying a Hindu and my personal favourite, one character, Emma, managing to marry not one, but two brothers in quick succession.  I have to come clean and admit I am now totally addicted and will listen to the 12 minutes slot whilst I cook most evenings.

In recent weeks the tension in The Archers community has ratcheted up as a domestic abuse storyline took over.  The build up was very dramatic and I was reduced to getting up and listening to the next episode whilst I ate my breakfast, furiously hushing any of my family who dared to interrupt the storyline.  When things came to a head – or to knifepoint – it was I think the story that stopped the nation.  The Today Programme had to utter a spoiler alert before they discussed the episode as one of their leading news stories of the day.

For anyone feeling nostalgic, here’s the theme tune, you only need the first few bars to be transported.

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