It’s been in my life longer than I can remember – always just there, like the many types of tea in the cupboard (English Breakfast; Earl Grey; Earl Grey with rose; Assam; Lady Grey; green…), or the innate love of all things equine. Everything about it is homely and comforting, a reassurance that – come what may – the world is still turning, and everything is in its rightful place.
Personally, I blame my parents. Their love affair with it started – obviously, dur – many years before mine did, and it’s something they’ve passed on to me.
In Familial Home Blonde, life stops between 7.02pm and 7.15pm, six nights a week. If supper’s on the table, the conversation will die away to nothing; the phone will be left to ring; and the cats’ squabbles and demands for food and incapability of deciding which side of the kitchen door they’d like to be on will go ignored until the final theme’s played out.
Because in Family Blonde, The Archers is something of a religion.
It’s an odd choice of deity for a household that doesn’t just discourage, but actively proscribes all television soaps. Coronation Street is prohibited, and Eastenders verboten, but the quaint radio soap about a tiny, fictional village set deep in the English countryside in which escaped cattle and the local cider club reign supreme over the storylines is somehow held sacrosanct. Quite why, I don’t know, but that’s the way it is, and it’s the way it’ll always be.
It’s not obvious listening habitat for a 20-something living in London, working in PR, and (I like to think) relatively on top of what’s going on in the world at large. At first glance, it seems rather the antithesis of a media diet that consists largely of Slates and Atlantics and 99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t Ones, with a few XOJanes and Financial Timeses and New Yorkers thrown in for good measure.
But The Archers is something more than a soap: it’s an aural comfort blanket. It harks to a time and a place that, even if it isn’t quite completely believable (death by plunge from stately-home roof, anyone?!), is so recognisable as being innately British – and even if only from a vague sense of nostalgia. Listen, even casually, on more than a couple of occasions, and you realise that The Archers is a love letter to Britain and its countryside.
Yes, it touches on contemporary rural debates about mega-dairies, and bovine tuberculosis; and there are plenty of scenes familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in a small village that’s home to a cricket team, or hosts Christmas pantomimes. Some of the characters venture alarmingly close to parody (“Oooh noooooooo!” “Oh do come on, daahling”), some are fiendishly irritating, and Brian the love rat’s total inability to keep it in his pants is something to behold.
But at its heart, The Archers is also about people and their lives and the communities they live in; about a landscape dotted with hedgerows and farmhouses and hay bales; about a green and pleasant land.
And, possibly most importantly of all, the theme tune’s brilliant. Dum di dum di dum di dum…