Archers characters, especially the men, have long been the subject of a remarkable number of disabilities. Mike Tucker lost an eye in an accident, Jazzer McCreary suffered brain damage after taking the veterinary drug Ketamine, Brian Aldridge developed epilepsy after being kicked in the head, Jack Woolley fell prey to Alzheimer’s while Pat Archer and Mike Tucker and Greg Turner suffered from clinical depression. In addition, Alistair Lloyd the vet has had gambling addiction and the now deceased Julia Pargetter was an alcoholic, both of these behaviours being treated in best pc fashion as illnesses rather than character traits.
But accident prone and genetically unfortunate as the characters may have been in the past, bar the gamekeeper Greg Turner who understandably topped himself whilst lumbered with a whining neurotic of extraordinary incapacity in Helen Archer, they have all recovered and seemingly been left with no marked incapacity even where the disability is of a nature to be permanent and severe. As for the non-physical ailments, the storylines concerned with depression, gambling and alcoholism gave ample opportunity for a great deal of politically correct angst and the shift of the Archers to be an ever closer ideological soul-mate of Woman’s Hour, but curiously, once such storylines had run their course the sufferers never suffered a relapse. Truly Ambridge is a miraculous place.
All this was well and good in normal times, but the tremendous politically correct propaganda exercise of the Paralympics demands so much more. As it is now part of received pc wisdom that the disabled are no different from anyone else apart from being “differently abled”, it simply wasn’t good enough for Ambridge not have a single character who was missing limbs, blind, afflicted with cystic fibrosis and so on. Nor was there a wheelchair insight. Even worse, the one disabled character who could not recover because of the nature of the damage , Jack Woolley with his Alzheimer’s, had been hidden away never to have a speaking part again and to be referred to with ever declining frequency. Why, some unkind people might think that characters whose disabilities are “difficult” have been deliberately hidden away.
The shame of it all was terrible. How on earth would the writers and producers of the programme be able to face their friends at right-on dinner parties? They would seem so behind the ideological times in much the same way that Party members in the USSR had to live in perpetual fear of not being up with the latest ideological development. What to do? At one point it seemed that the Archers powers-that-be were going to place Nigel Pargetter’s son Freddie in a wheelchair at best and on a life support machine at worst when he rode his father’s horse Topper which was too powerful for him. In their hilariously clanking agitprop fashion the crazed pc worshippers of the programme heavily signalled that Freddie was going to be thrown. All that remained to be discovered were the injuries he would sustain. Would he have his neck broken leaving him unable to move anything but his eyelids or could he end up no more than paraplegic leaving him free to come first in the wheelchair racing in Rio? The thought even crossed the minds of seasoned Archer watchers that the boy might be killed by the fall as he is one of the very few remaining posh characters, thus following in his father Nigel’s footsteps, or should that be following in his headfirst plunge, who plummeted to his death as he slipped from the roof of Lower Loxley.
As it turned out Freddie got away with nothing more than a busted collarbone and lives to die another day when it is thought safe to further socially cleanse the programme of another posh character. Instead Archers listeners are due to be treated to a different sort of disability and one which will last for as long as they want. Mike and Vicky Tucker have conceived a child despite Mike being in his sixties and Vicky in her mid-forties. Cue for a great deal of worry for Mike. Then they are told that the child has Down’s syndrome. Cue for Mike to see the rest of his life sabotaged which drives him into a state of shocked gloom as he stares into a future in which he works till he drops to support a perpetually dependent child.
True to the Archers’ tradition of treating adult male characters as chauvinist monsters, arrested development children or terminally inadequate wimps, Mike is portrayed as being unreasonable in not greeting the idea of a Downs Syndrome child with unalloyed joy while Vicky, normally a less than universally liked character, is supported universally by all the female characters and, as is required by up-to-date political correctness, the men apart from Mike also offer various degrees of support. Also in regulation Archers fashion, the younger the character the more accepting they are of the pc position. Not one character advocates an abortion. Even Mike is not allowed to do this directly.
The storyline has reached the point where Mike has suddenly had a conversion which would make St Paul’s Damascene revelation seem probable. Instead of seeing the future as a life sentence , Mike in the course of a single episode sees the pc light and becomes converted to the idea that a Downs child is a joy not an insupportable burden. He does so after Vicky, honouring another Archers’ tradition of women characters getting their own way, announces that whatever Mike thinks she is having the baby.
How will the story develop? The BBC put up a poll on the Archers site asking tastefully whether Vicky should have the baby or abort it. There is of course a third option and that is a miscarriage. Or indeed, a fourth and a fifth possibility, namely, Vicky dying in childbirth with or without the survival of the child. If the child is born how “differently abled” will it be? Will Mike have a relapse into depression and do the decent thing and top himself? Exciting times indeed lie ahead.
But whatever the outcome of the Downs baby pregnancy, a cloud still lies heavy on the post-Paralympic Archers’ production staff’s collective heart. What are they to do about the shameful lack of wheelchairs and missing limbs in the village? Will this be remedied by Will Grundy being attacked by the beast of Ambridge and having his legs chewed off? Watch this space…..