Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Archers : a Britsh soap opera

The Archers is a radio soap opera that has been broadcast on BBC4 since 1950; thus making it the longest series on radio in Europe. The episodes, about 15,500 so far, last around fifteen minutes each and run from Sunday to Friday. Its creator, Godfrey Baseley, invented the fictional environment for his stories: the village of Ambridge in the unreal county of Borsetshire, which could be situated in the Midlands in England. Archer is the name of a middle-class family who manages Brookfield Farm. The series tells the everyday life of several families, such as the Grundys, Woolleys and the Aldridges as well as other individuals (e.g. the barkeeper of the Bull) living in Ambridge and its vicinities.

Some critics argue that the series is a bit too focussed on the middle-class, yet it deals with very important social issues such as drug abuse, rape, gay marriages and the destruction of GM crops. The series also follows important events like the FIFA world cup, the WTC terrorist attacks and the 2005 London bombings. The fictional village is partly set in the real world which makes it even more realistic. Yet, unlike in TV soaps, the actors can have a break within the story when they are involved in long-term projects: the weekly cast is made of 20 to 30 actors out of the 60 regular ones. Since its huge success, the BBC used this series to send propaganda messages after the Second World War. The main aim was to help rebuild a partly destroyed Britain and to inculcate national feelings. The theme tune is a maypole dance called Barwick Green, composed in 1924 by Arthur Wood.

The series is so popular that several fan clubs have been created. On the one hand, the official fan-club: Archers Addicts, and on the other hand, Archers Anarchists, claiming that the characters are real. Likewise, overseas parallels are broadcast by the BBC in Afghanistan and Rwanda, respectively “Naway Kor, Naway Jwand” and “Urunana”. Moreover, The Archers has also been used as a model for a radio soap opera in Russia. Logically, the success of the series inspired books, audio books and novels which made the programme into a commercial emporium. Popular culture has also been influenced by the series; some TV programs refer to the Archers during their episodes, such as Inspector Morse. It is even mentioned in The growing pains of Adrian Mole (Sue Townsend) where Adrian admits to being a fan of the series. The Archers has become a well-known cultural item in Great-Britain and it is not likely to wear off soon.

Audrey Franco and Bram Vanhooland

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