The Archers, my story of ridicule and belonging

Archers fans can officially break cover. If Martin Scorsese, the winner of gazillions of Oscars and Baftas can mention our guilty secret in his acceptance speech, well there is no reason to be ashamed any more is there?

For years my love of the rural soap was my own personal snuggle blanket, it was just mine, a little worn but something that was constant that I reached for when weary and in need of comfort. As a black Brummie teenager and then twenty something, I thought that my fondness for the goings on at Lower Loxley or the Bridge Farm Diary would harm my “cool” image and my instincts were right at that time. I was better serenading a love interest with a deft mix of a Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray and Dionne’s, Come and get my loving in 1989 rather than telling her about Judi Dench’s appearance as Pru Forrest in the 10000th episode.

The Archers, for those that don’t know, is the longest running soap in the world. It follows the lives loves and cows of the Archer clan in the fictional village of Ambridge, located vaguely somewhere south-west of Birmingham. It deals with the rhythms of country daily life with large dollops of livestock thrown in for authenticity. In my tenure as an fan, I have seen the passing of the baton as the shows patriarch, pass from Phil, to his son David, Lizzie go from being a flighty and feisty rural girl to became the dame widow of Lower Loxley and the introduction of a smattering of non-white and gay characters. Alongside the evolution of old characters and the introduction of new voices there have been many affairs, e-coli scares, and dramatic deaths that have been accompanied with blood curdling screams.

For the most part I did the Archers alone. I tuned in and 13 minutes later, I by default listened to Mark Lawson’s Front Row, the arts programme that follows. Often in an ultimate betrayal of my beloved soap, I would talk about the latest film, or art exhibition in polite company parlaying a rather dishonest display of intellectual bragging rights, as if I was an informed and loyal listener. Little did I realise that the only reason why anyone listens to Front Row is that it comes on after the Archers and the listener has forgotten to switch the radio off in time!

Whenever I was outed as a fan, I would fight the guffaws citing the relevance of the drama to contemporary Britain. Usha fighting racism when she moved to the village, Adam returning and “coming out” or Peggy’s battle with Jack’s dementia. This was nearly always trumped when someone would counter with a derisory humming of the signature tune, either tum-ti –tum-ti tum-tum or a slightly more manly dum-di-dum-di-dum-dum, at that point the argument was lost and I was painted as an eccentric, young yet fogey reactionary. The Archers is one of the great loves of my life that I can never convert the unwilling to fall in love with. You are either born with the predisposition to the soap or not, loving it is tightly knotted into your genes, you either have it or you don’t.

So for thirty years I loved in silence, not one girlfiend, lover, mate or colleague have I brought successfully into the orbit of the Borsetshire’s daily dramas. Unlike football or the weather, it is not a linga franca, I couldn’t start a conversation with a discussion on Helen Archer, one of the most irritating characters in all of fiction, or share my love for Lillan or Eddie with anyone. That was until I discovered Twitter and the Archers tweet-a-long. By simply adding a hashtag to “thearchers” I unlocked the door to a multitude of ladies who bake cakes in argas who share my passion like @jackieschneider, @pboropixie and @jacoyork. Then to confound the stereotype of rural WI types, I started chatting with the sultry and witty @singhdasa and @wozyhamish.

It wasn't long before men started clogging up my twitter time line too, commenting on the sexual exploits of Jazzer, on the rights of tenants undergoing major works on rented property and venting their spleen on Tom and his "me me me" antics and believe me when I say that there are a lot of us, @connorkinsella, @TmHaskettArtist, @RealBlackIrish and @johnjohn21 to name but a few. And yes to round things up there are the ethics too, @msalliance, @lornashtonscott, @dragonlp111 and @abduswammad who prove that keeping up with Brian’s frankencow mega dairy plans is not an altogether "white" pass time.

I must admit that my most satisfying online moments in the last few months are not professional. Yes I’m making this homage to the land of my parents' birth, Jamaica, (www.howjamaicaconqueredtheworld.com) but it is the direct message sent from Tim Bentinck @timbentinck who plays David Archer and my retweets from the BBC Archers that made my spine tingle whilst sat at my keyboard. It makes all of the ridicule I’ve suffered for countless years finally seem worth it. With my new friends and an endorsement from one of Hollywood’s greats, I’ve got my swag on and I’m Archers, out and very proud!

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