The longest running soap-opera in the world, The Archers*, has just jettisoned one of its longest serving (30 years) and most popular characters, the stately home owner Nigel Pargetter, who hurtled to his fictional death from the roof of his house on the programme’s 60th anniversary . The official BBC explanation for killing off the character was the need for drama on such an anniversary, but it has been widely remarked by many regular listeners that Pargetter was one of the very few upper-class characters in the soap and the suspicion is that the editor of the Archers is pursuing a policy of social cleansing, with toffs and members of the middle class who do not resemble Outraged of Islington in increasing peril. Well, stranger things have happened in the fictional village of Ambridge in which the Archers is set.
Ambridge is supposed to be a small English village (with a population of a couple of hundred at best) set in farming country in the English midlands, the sort of place where the inhabitants have only just taught themselves not to point at aeroplanes, at least not when strangers are present. Into this environment the BBC has introduced in the past ten years, a homosexual couple running one of the village pubs, an Asian solicitor (whose circle of Asian relatives and friends is currently being assiduously introduced into the cast), a female vicar, a working-class male vicar whose deceased wife was black and whose teenage daughter is in modish socialworkspeak of “dual heritage”. This daughter immediately became “best friends” with the youngest and very middle-class daughter of the richest farmer in the village, Brian Aldridge. The grandmother of the vicar’s daughter, a particularly irritating caricature of a god-fearing black Jamaican, has been shoehorned into a story of drug abuse in the village, the drug abuse involving (natch) a white addict being supplied by supplied by white dealers.
One of the daughters (Kate) of Brian Aldridge, has married a black South African and has another “dual heritage” child. The stepson of the same farmer, Adam Macy, has returned and “come out” and begun an affair with the new Grey Gables chef, a homosexual Ulsterman with a bizarre persona – think of a young and mincing Ian Paisley.
White characters introduced into the serial in the past decade or so have shown a new trend. A surprising number of them are not English. The homosexual Ulster chef is one example, the loutish Scotchman Jazza McCreadie another. Then there was the now dead beautiful Irish siren who seduced Brian Aldridge. curiously, their love-child Ruairi (pronounced Rory) who has lived in England for several years since he arrived aged four still speaks with a broad Irish accent. As many listeners and reviewers have pointed out, in real life he would long ago have lost his Irish accent. However, that would not fit in with the determination of those in charge of the serial to promote their multicultural fantasy.
To these particular PC character developments may be added certain general PC rules of the series. Except in very special circumstances where they can act as useful idiots in the PC cause by moving temporarily out of character, all men are either bastards or wimps, in either case possessing the emotional IQ of a brick wall; all women are heroically struggling to tolerate their men; any ethnic character is a model of rectitude, vastly able and, if young, beautiful or handsome. No male character may criticise any female character unless a female character is available to correct them. No white character other than Roy Tucker (more about him later) has ever been known to criticise a black or Asian character and under all normal circumstances no mention will be made of the fact that they are not white. Kate Aldridge’s black South African husband managed to appear for weeks in the serial without anyone commenting on the fact he is black, ditto the “dual heritage” children of the marriage and the daughter of the current vicar.
There are also class and age rules. Increasingly, the higher the social status, the worse the characters behave. In any conflict of views with someone of a lower social status, the higher status person will be made to seem inept at best or wrong-headed at worst. Where the class of the characters in a scene is the same, the female dominance rule applies if the company is mixed-sex.
As for age, the older cast members are normally used to express non-PC views, for example, the matriarch of the Archer family, Peggy Woolley, refused to accept the female vicar and the erstwhile landlord of The Bull, Sid Perks, evinced a dislike of homosexuals. Very occasionally a younger cast member is allowed to express non-PC views, as was the case with Roy Tucker, who had a brief flirtation with the local racists.
But old or young, the non-PC character is invariably nullified by large numbers of characters with PC views and frequently contradicted directly. The non-PC character is simply there to act as a theatrical device to amplify the PC message.
There is always great joy over the non-PC sinner who repenteth, which they almost invariably do in remarkably abrupt and unconvincing fashion. Roy Tucker went from support for National Front-style politics to being the shiniest of “new men” in a trice. More recently Tony Archer has gone from a distraught father hating the fact his daughter Helen has become pregnant through artificial insemination to an OTT doting grandfather the instant the child is born replete with Maoist confessions of fault. That set a trend as all recent new fathers in the serial have had the same fate thrust upon them.
If there is an Archers’group more at risk than toffs, it is men. Nigel Pargetter joins Greg Turner (blew his brains out with a shotgun), Sid Perks (dies suddenly at a relatively young age), John Archer (crushed to death by a tractor) and George Barford (natural causes) who have all died before their time in recent years.
When they are not dying, the Ambridge men are going in for armed robbery (Clive Horribin), becoming down-and-outs and taking class A drugs (Ed Grundy), suffering brain damage through taking ketamine (Jazza McCready), having affairs and fathering a bastard (Brian Aldridge), engaging in racist acid attacks (Roy Tucker), committing adultery with your brother’s wife (Ed Grundy), engaging in violent assault (Will Grundy), committing rape (the rape of Cathy Perks), vandalising property (Jamie Perks), becoming addicted to gambling (Alastair Hebbden-Lloyd), engaging in massive fraud ( Matt Crawford and Stephen Chalkman) or simply going senile (Jack Woolley).
Female characters are treated completely differently, with characters dying much less frequently and showing absolutely no propensity for crime bar one exception, the harbouring of Clive Horribin by his sister Susan after he had gone on the run from the police. That, of course, was presented as being the wicked man (Clive) forcing his sister to break the law. It is also interesting that while there have been four male gay characters, the Archers has yet to see any “girl-on-girl”action.
When one reflects on the fact that the Paergetter character apart from being upper class was also white, male, unequivocally English, resolutely heterosexual, married, monogamous, honourable, possessed of natural good manners, was a good father and, horror of liberal bigot horrors, wanted to send his children to public school, one can only wonder at his survival for so long.
Hilarious as all this is to those of us with a weakness for agitprop – we just cannot resist the clankingly crude propaganda lines masquerading as fact and reality – I cannot help feeling that it may not be quite what The Archers’ audience generally favour. Indeed, they may be so unprogressive as to think that a small English village set in farming country might look rather different from the current very PC world of The Archers. Their idea of the village could well be one where the inhabitants are uniformly white and English. Where support for country pursuits is perilously close to 100 percent. Where homosexual rights are not an issue because there are no overt homosexuals in the community. Where sexual equality is thought to be “damn nonsense”. Where a female vicar would be thought unworthy of the name of priest. Where the sight of strangers would be cause for frank and extended comment. Where the sight of a black or brown face would arouse the same sort of amazement as the aeroplanes going overhead.
Such a village would be a House of Horrors for The Archers’ producer and writers, a creation made all the more terrifying because somewhere in the remote recesses of their minds they will dimly know it represented reality, or at least came much closer to reality than their nightly bill of politically correct multicultural fare. That The Archers is simply a vehicle for the more extreme PC propagandists within the BBC is self-evident. The question is should we lament its existence? I suggest the answer is no, because it performs the vital function of demonstrating beyond any shadow of doubt the institutionalised political bias within the [British Broadcasting] Corporation. That bias cannot be explained away for, unlike news and current affairs programmes where apologists for the corporation can fudge the issue of bias by pointing to such things as pressure of time or news priorities, The Archers shows the view of the world the BBC wishes to put before its audience. It is their articulated political dream, created at leisure and unmarked by any dissenting voice.
When the Archers began it had the subtitle of “An everyday story of simple countryfolk.” It has transmogrified into “An everyday story of simple politically “.
*The Archers is the longest running radio soap in the world, having been on air continuously since 1951 (BBC Radio 4)