Warning, genre shifts in progress.

Danger_Of_Death_Sign_fullAnyone 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.

danger-of-death-signIt 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?

hazard warning

 

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4 thoughts on “Warning, genre shifts in progress.

  1. Cath, yes, social issues are much to the fore these days – but I was sorry that they did not take the opportunity of Nigel’s plunge from the roof to explore the social difficulties around the use of wheelchairs and physical disabilities that would have arisen if he had survived the fall but had been disabled by it.
    Any way, I was reminded, by your entertaining post, of the Hancock episode when on live radio Hancock describes most of the villagers plunging to their deaths down a disused mineshaft.

    Happy days, Walter Gabriel was my favourite – but I guess before your time. And “muck spreading” had a completely different meaning in those innocent days before cyber bullying.

    Mike

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    • Wonderful, you’re right, what a line they missed with Nigel. In light of your Hancock attachment I can’t help wondering if there was a story behind that unnecessary death. Love the episode, by the way (it seems I haven’t seen all the reruns after-all).

      Yes, I do remember Walter Gabriel, so beautifully parodied here. As the clip suggests, he was a main part of the charm for me, all those years ago. The rest of the cast were just the cake that carried his fruity observations, ‘me old duck, me old darling’.

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  2. Great blog, Cath. As you know I am a fellow Ambridge follower and like you, I missed the build up to this shocking episode.
    Much as I find Will an insufferable sycophant, I feel this was an unnecessarily cruel ‘Archerblow’. I get that it raises awareness of sepsis, which is an insidious and often, poorly detected illness. I get also that The Archers is now primarily a soap opera with all the attendant emphases on drama and sensationalism. Still, I find myself hankering after the days when the most engrossing issues related to cows, sheep, an occasional eco-warrior or who Sid Perks was entertaining in his shower.
    At least the murder/unexpected death statistics you mention are plot-driven and predictable. I rarely find myself weeping at Vera, for example (you forgot to include Northumbria in your warning) and that suits me fine. There is so much ‘real’ reality at the moment that I’m happy to be transported to LaLa land, even if it means a monumental suspension of my overworked disbelief. Alas, Ambridge has joined the ranks of the issue-led drama and I suppose I have to like it (I still haven’t forgiven them for the gratuitous Festive dumping of Nigel) or do the other thing. (Incidentally, while they’re on the cull, couldn’t something be done about the infuriatingly whiny and now pregnant-by-Tobeee, Pip Archer?)

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    • Thank you, Ruth, glad you enjoyed this.

      So, you also drifted innocently into that big scene last week. I hope you weren’t driving. It seems a lot of people were overtaken by grief while out on the road. Well, it makes a good headline, I suppose, but do we need more emotional upheavals at that time in the day?

      I’m with you: more power to sheep, eco warriors and where is the Sid Perks replacement? It seems to me that killing off Nigel was a signal that the ‘fun’ was being amputated from the show, to be replaced with an occasional piece of clumsy slapstick.

      I often ask myself if the thing that keeps me listening is habit. Along with Pip, I’d like to add Tom Archer (has someone put blinkers on him?), Pat Archer (on the grounds of that over the last two years she seems to have had a personality transplant, and bears no resemblance to the feisty, principled, sensible and empathetic character I always thought she was), Freddy (for being a poor, and sadly, predictable imitation of his father) … oh dear, the list goes on and I begin to think we might need to call in Tony Hancock!

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