Anyone who knows much about British crime fiction will be able to tell you that there are certain areas of Britain that have notably high ‘unexpected-death’ rates. In case you’ve missed out on the genre, then take my advice, and don’t think of moving to places such as Oxford, Grantchester, Broadchurch, Midsummer, Shetland, Lochdubh or Carsley.
Also, should you find yourself sharing ‘an ‘otel’ with a Miss Marple or Hurcule Poirot, move to another one immediately. That may well put you to the head of the suspect list when the bodies start falling, but at least you’ll not be amongst the deceased. Better the shenanigans of hen and stag parties in the bar beneath your back-of-the-building bedroom, than that, surely.
Such deductions, you may think, are stating the obvious. Well yes, that’s my point. Know your genre, and there are certain givens we can rely on – even anticipate.
It hardly needs me to add that in those other genres death tends to be an occasional occurrence, so why have I? Well, I enjoy a radio soap opera called The Archers. It offers listeners a fifteen minute visit to a village called Ambridge, in the heart of England, six days each week.
The programme was created in 1950, to educate farmers and small-holders about the latest farm-technology. There were small and large farming families displaying varying degrees of efficiency and enthusiasm for change: it was dramatized propaganda about increasing food production.
Growing up, The Archers was a small part of my background, because it followed the news, which had followed the weather forecast, which was always on at lunch-times. By then, there was a stronger focus on family story-lines. We laughed about the characters, but continued to listen. I’ve taken breaks, sometimes for months, but it’s easy to slip back into the routines.
This week, though, I missed two crucial episodes, and when I tuned in on Friday evening I was tipped straight into the death scene of a young mother. Where did that come from? Apparently, Nic cut her arm on a rusty nail on Sunday, and her cold symptoms were actually sepsis taking hold.
In retrospect, it was heavily foreshadowed. Lately Nic has been spending a lot of time with her grandfather-in-law, Joe Grundy. He’s a widower, and they’ve been discussing relationships and love in great depth, with a lot of emphasis on how he coped after the death of ‘my Susan’. Clearly, this was not just Valentine-fever, it was preparation.
I forgot that The Archers has shifted its target from farm-issues to general social-issues. I was partially lulled by assuming that there had been enough high-drama in recent years, and we were probably due a restful period. As it is, at the moment we’ve got toxic waste seeping into the local river where several of the younger characters have been wild-swimming (yes, in the middle of winter – brave souls); a drug-dealing teenager who nearly caused the death of his cousin, and a local businessman covering-up his part in creating a flood that caused the death of Burt Fry’s wife!
Thinking about that, I began to look back. I’m hazy on dates, but since Nigel Pargetter’s fatal fall from the roof of Lower Loxely Hall, there’ve been several other serious incidents and there are already more ominous foreshadowings seeping across the Borchester landscape.
I’m picturing the office at the BBC, where the Archers is planned, disappearing under a heap of information leaflets about the latest issues that should be included. Maybe, when Julie Beckett, the programme producer walks into the production meetings she takes a heap and auctions them off to the writers. What other explanation can there be for this descent into darkness?