Monday, December 27, 2010

The Archers: urban fantasy or just pie in the sky? Baby give birth to Elton John, plus the joy of self-delusion

Through an odd quirk of fate, one or two fans of The Archers might find their way to this blog to check up on whether I really do exist. Earlier tonight I was trying to help a colleague who was subbing what is referred to as ‘page eight’ (why page eight I really don’t know). In it, A.N. ‘Andrew’ Wilson did the business Mail style about The Archers and how it should be exciting but not too exciting, should contain ‘drama’ but no ‘melodrama’, and how, unfortunately, it had become a little too right-on for words. I was trying to find out when one of the characters (a Hindu solicitor called Usha Gupta who went on to marry the local Anglican vicar as our indigenous Hindus so often do in deepest rural Brtiain) first joined the list of folk in Ambridge engaged in their daily battle with a bad script.
My colleague said she had tried the BBC Archers website but couldn’t find the relevant page on the character (she should have tried a little harder) so as I already have an account with which to log onto BBC messageboards, I volunteered to post a question asking for an urgent reply. Well, for some reason that was a red rag to a bull (or rather a lot of them) and an excuse for a general slagging off of the Mail, newspapers, journalists and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Many, if not most, of the messages were pretty illiterate, many faux clever and almost all confirmed my suspicion that a great many Archers fans are a self-regarding bollockheads who are only too pleased to subscribe to an urban fantasy of rural life.
Although I work in London for four days a week, my home is in North Cornwall in a part of the country which could not get more rural, and believe me the rural life portrayed in The Archers is a kind of fantasy. It’s not that we don’t have gays – we had a gay publican – and it’s not that we don’t have drugs or any of the other problems portrayed in The Archers. But it's that we simply don’t have the sheer concentration of ‘issues’ aired in the soap. My brother-in-law is a beef farmer and another brother-in-law is a dairy farmer and both, although unlike in their interests (one is in the process of teaching himself the accordion) are pretty typical of farmers in our neck of the woods, and they are not interested in ‘cutting their carbon footprint’ and discovering ways of recycling. On the other hand this is exactly what libs up and down the country would like them to be interested in. What is so galling about The Archers is that quite apart from indulging itself and its listeners in a fantasy world, it runs a mile from the real world of rural life.
So, unfortunately, almost everyone I know is in favour of foxhunting whether they admit to having voted Tory or Lib Dem in the last election (and ironically I am not and also do wonder why so many people get their jollies by blasting shotguns at birds in the sky). But you do not hear that particular aspect of rural life aired in The Archers. So, dear Archers, fans in your urban towers, dream on.
In fact, given the recent spat with several Yanks on the IMDB message board, I am making something of a habit of upsetting idiots. It's all rather encouraging.

. . .

The breaking news of the day is that a baby in California has given birth to two men and that the three of them are destined to live happily ever after. The science of it all is still a
bit vague as there is no previous evidence of a baby giving birth to anything. (Strictly speaking, I should say previous reliable evidence as there is evidence that a baby born 2,000 years apparently ago gave birth to what, in time, became an overweening corporation worth billions of pounds which sold punters around the world the promise of everlasting life. That promise should not be mistaken for the pledges made by numerous lotions which claim to cure male pattern baldness, make your dick twice as long, or to make you irresistible to women – or men if that’s your bag – as they are apparently just a tad more respectable.)
The baby has announced it will call its offspring ‘Sir’ Elton John and David Furnish. There has already been a great deal of controversy over the news – quite apart from the unprecedented science involved – not least because the baby is denying completely that it was merely gaining two fashion

First picture of the baby's offspring (© Getty Images)

accessories which will be trotted out at showbiz parties and premieres. The three of them, the baby insists, will live as a ‘normal family’ and any suggestions to the contrary will be referred to its lawyers who will threaten such a legalistic shit storm if the allegations are not withdrawn that suicide by the guilty party would be the lesser evil.
In response to the news, forward-thinking organisations around the world (but not Nick Clegg apparently, who claims he has other things on his plate) insist it is every baby’s human right to give birth to two men if it so chooses and suggestions that it is merely an combination of consumerism and an unhealthy vanity which has taken a step too far belong in the Dark Ages.

. . .

The mutual shilly-shallying on The Archers messageboard reminded me once again how innocently prejudiced are many people who wouldn’t think of themselves as prejudiced in a million years. Many people bang on about the Mail being ‘full of hate’ and ‘racist’, yet, as I pointed out in one of my post on the messageboard, if you want the full Monty of hate-filled splenetic fury, just visit the Guardian messageboards where you will get more than you can handle. I remember once coming across a post hoping that ‘Thatcher will die of cancer’ and various observations along the lines of ‘Tories? Hanging’s too good for them. They should be dragged through the streets bollock naked, then hung drawn and quartered’. Yet I suspect that, if questioned, those who post such drivel would regard themselves are rather intelligent liberal types who see themselves as ‘broadminded’ and who ‘care’, though about what is rather vague. I suspect that, at the end of the day what they really care about is being thought well off by their peers.
If I were to write – and I think I have recently – that our capacity for self-delusion is infinite, the obvious riposte is ‘your capacity, too?’ and I would be obliged to agree. The trouble is that by its very nature quite in what ways I am deluding myself will always be rather hard for me to spot. To others it might be blindingly obvious from one hundred paces, but were they to tell me, I should imagine I would find it hard to believe I am guilty of what they suggest. If I had more integrity, I would undoubtedly spend the next ten to fifteen minutes reflecting on in what possible ways I am deluding myself. But, to be honest, I can’t be arsed. And I suppose admitting as much is a kind of integrity in itself. An example of self-delusion might well be how all the self-appointed great and good in Britain have, as one, united behind the cause of Julian Assange. Yet to my knowledge none of them has said a dicky bird about Bradley Manning, the young U.S. Army squaddie who made it all possible, but is now looking at 200 years in chokey for daring to upset the American establishment.


  1. Hi; I enjoyed your 'spat'. If you want accurate information about the Archers 9especially from the 1970's (when I started listening)you can contact me directly. By-the-way: when I am in the UK I take the Mail!
    At present living and working in Novosibirsk, Siberia a land free of political correctness!

  2. Why don't you post a link to the spat so we can all enjoy it?

  3. Well, as a resident of mustardland myself, I would say it's you that comes off badly in the thread you started - a peremptory demand for information in the next ten minutes, followed by ranting about the Guardian when no-one had mentioned it, and supercilious remarks about the people who bothered with your thread, which you have now made subject for your blogging too.

    If you mention that you're from the Daily Mail, you must surely expect some reflex comments about that paper - and if you say "what's Mustardland?" when you are in it asking for advice, you really do give yourself away as a user who has no time to understand the resource he is exploiting.


    The link to the spat should sort out who did what to whom.

  5. If Paul interprets my comments about the Guardian as a 'rant', he is probaly still only 9 years old and has yet to experience a real rant in its full force and fury. I didn't actually mention I was from the Mail. As for the 'supercilious remarks about people who bothered with my thread, well perhaps they will learn their lesson.' Anyway, my superciliousness was aimed at all the smartarses, not the two posters who were genuinely helpful.

  6. You can find it here

  7. What you actually said was "No, a piece is going into the Daily Mail tomorrow and we like to get things right. Please someone tell me so I can pass it on to a colleague."

    I'm so glad AN Wilson got his fact.

    I hope you've sobered up by now!

  8. I wasn't pissed. The tone of your message sounds vaguely censorious, but I thought the great and good of Britain who believe themselves to be on the side of the angels prided themselves on being broadminded. I'm confused. I take it you don't read the Mail, then. Which one is it?

  9. Does your marketing manager know you refer to readers you dislike as "bollockheads"? I can't imagine this does much to improve the paper's circulation.

  10. Not only that, but I suspect he agrees. It's all very well being sensitive about such issues, but we have to deal with them. A while ago, I recounted the anecdote of how Kelvin McKenzie, then editor of The Sun, got so few up with a reader who had rung up that he told him he was 'banned from reading The Sun'. Five minutes later, a call came throught from the reader's wife. She asked: "Does that mean I'm banned, too?" The one difference between Sun readers and - er, who's watching? - other readers is Sun readers are less pretentious.

  11. Thank you for your clarification. So I am to take it that one Daily Mail journalist thinks of his readers in terms of 'bollockheads' and that the marketing manager may well agree with him.
    Well in these hard times it's nice to know I can now save myself the cost of the Mail each week.
    I found your blog more or less by chance and had the curiosity to look at the Archers message board you refer to. A quick survey suggested that this is largely the work of a small number of people - most of whom seem to dislike the show - who find time hanging heavy on their hands.
    I couldn't quite follow how you managed to drag the Guardian into the discussion, .
    I do hope your contribution to the message board was not made during working hours

  12. It was made entirely during working hours. I have better things to do in my spare time. The Guardian was dragged in because some people write some truly appalling messages on its various messageboards which makes any of the alleged hate perpetuated by the Mail very small beer indeed. The irony - for me - is that all too often many on the left like to see themselves as men and women of reason and consideration for others. For the record all my life the left has thought me on the right, and the right has always regarded me as a dangerous pinko.

  13. I am sorry to hear that journalists on the Mail find time hanging heavy on their hands like the other contributors to the Archers message boards.
    I still don't see what the Guardian has to do with any of it. I soon lost patience with the messages and may have missed something.
    But you will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of transferring my affection to that paper. I tried it once for a week - never again.
    For the record I have listened on and off to the Archers since day one. I have never forgiven it for driving 'Dick Barton - Special Agent' off the air. Nowadays I listen more off than on, primarily this is because in my opinion it lost all contact with reality some years ago.
    I vaguely remember the current editor being quoted recently as saying that the story-lines arise out of character (or words to that effect) Clearly she suffers from an advanced capacity for self delusion - or possibly thinks her listeners are all idiots.
    Ambridge is the land of the character transplant, where personalities change at the click of a scriptwriter's keyboard to suit the exigencies of the plot.
    The plots themselves, apart from a few patronising 'comic' episodes at the expense of the peasants, seem always to be driven by ishues - often wimmins ishues which can then be discussed on Woman's Hour.
    The party line is, of course very PC. I can't off hand think of a single character in the show that I would like to pass the time of day with. The women are all feisty dynamic leaders - but sadly bitchy and lacking in intelligence; while the men are all downtrodden buffoons.
    Why do I still listen? Little more than habit - and only when I have nothing better to do.

  14. I agree with you entirely about The Archers party line and its issues-driven agenda, but it seems to me life in Britain goes in cycles and after the obscene and tacky loadsofmoney Eighties, we arrived at the caring Nineties and we are at the tail-end of that. What will come next I really don't know. I think we must reconcile ourselves to reading - in every paper - guides on how to make less go further, A Fun Guide To Thrift, Jamie Olivers' updated Woolton Pie and looking on the bright side of unemployment. Finally, there will be Burial On A Budget - You Don't Need A Big Send-off by Morag McTwee. As for your refusal to read the Mail, I shall inform call a meeting of all hacks working on the day when I am back next Sunday and announce your decision. I'm afraid there might well be tears.
    I'm just pleased someone reads this bloody blog. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: There's one thing worse than being read and that's not being read. Sleep well.

  15. I think there is a grave danger that we may finish up agreeing with each other, as long as you reserve such terms as 'bollockheads' for the more obsessive posters on the Archers message board. I've had another look this morning and - my oh my - obsessive is the word. I strongly suspect from internal evidence and my memory of some of the broadcasts that some of these people actually post comments before the night's broadcast has ended, which may explain why they don't always seem to know what has happened in the story!
    They are also inclined to lose it with each other and have to be reminded that it is after all a work of fiction they're getting so excited about. I wouldn't really see them (the Posters that is) as Guardianistas. Judging by their "Hang 'em and flog 'em (not necessarily in that order) attitude to the less popular characters, I imagine some of them are well to the right of Ghengis Khan. It has occurred to me that in olden times when Pat was Welsh - before she had the voice transplant - she used to read the Guardian . Make of that what you will.

    On your more general points I've found quite a bit on your blog that I agree with more or less. My own opinion of current trends is that you may well be right that we are in for a dose of 'Make do and Mend' Woolton Pie etc. I also think we are in for a dose of new puritanism to counter the 'evils' of the permissive society. The signs are that the forces of Government are massing for an attack on the demon drink to be followed by an increased vigilance about the True Briton's unhealthy taste for food. The forces of Lauranorder will continue to demand extra powers every time there is a demonstration of some sort.Having been avictim of crime on more than one occasion, I would quite like them to try using the powers they already have

  16. PS

    There is no need for your fellow hacks to become unbearably distressed, I expect when push comes to shove I shall carry on withthe Mail as I always have.