Monday, January 3, 2011

The Archers: Poor Nigel

It's all been said now. The speculation, the tweetfest, and the dissection of the 60th anniversary episode of The Archers are over.

On the whole, I think David Aaronovitch of the Times had the best post-mortem (as it were). Elisabeth Mahoney of the Grauniad was also very good. The Telegraph and the Mail were just nasty.

A few reflections:

Before the episode I was unsettled by Vanessa Whitburn promising an episode that would "shake Ambridge to the core" (#SATTC). I don't like spoilers. I think they ultimately damage drama. On the other hand, they can bring in new or lapsed listeners.

During the episode I felt that we were being teased. A number of threats were dangled, none too subtly, including the banner, Helen's health, Elizabeth's heart condition, Tony's drive to the hospital, and the emergency Caesarean. This made it hard to suspend disbelief.

I took part in the tweeting, which was great fun, but again helped to undermine the suspension of disbelief. Unlike some people, my enjoyment comes from pretending it's real, not from critiquing the craft.

Credibility was also undermined by the crude run-up to the accident - the alcohol, Lizzie's warning, David's "man or mouse" jibe, the wind, the frost, the wind, the dark, and Nigel's final melodramatic speech on the roof. I love The Archers and this episode did it no credit I think.

However, Nigel's scream, from someone we've followed for many years and who has nearly always been extremely calm and cheerful was, for me, terrifying:

I was definitely shaken by Nigel's death, if not the build-up, and I can see how the slow-burn repercussions of this event will indeed shake Ambridge for years to come. Mahoney's conclusion in the Guardian is spot-on that the "real drama will unfold from now".

One last thought: Everyone seems to hate Helen Archer (even Qwerty of the excellent pauseliveaction); but I think she's the most gorgeously self-destructive character on The Archers. She unwittingly accrues and generates misery relentlessly, and her story of constantly thwarted epiphanies is top-notch tragedy. Now that Ed and Emma Grundy have lost their zing, it's tragic Helen, scheming Matt Crawford and the deliciously dysfunctional Aldridges who are providing the best stories. But I suspect Lizzie Pargetter maybe returning to centre-stage...