SO AFTER 60 long years something really dramatic is finally going to happen in Ambridge. The radio drama, it claims not to be a soap, celebrates its birthday on January 1st and editor Vanessa Whitburn has promised us an event that will shake Ambridge to its core.
Given that the Archers is probably at its best when very little happens one can only ponder on what excitement listeners are due over the holiday weekend. The arrival of an interesting, well read and well travelled, heterosexual male would be a turn up although given the selection of Ambridge women he would be unlikely to hang around long.
Whitburn, as a former member of the production team of TV soap Brookside, is no stranger to cataclysmic events although a jumbo jet landing on Ambridge would probably only get listeners complaining that once again the script writers have got the Ambridge weather wrong with precious few planes currently in the air. But the death of a key character or characters still seems most likely.
And there is no shortage of candidates. Some listeners would celebrate the demise of strident, Geordie know-all, Ruth Archer who runs the family empire from Brookfield Farm with her volatile and somewhat emotional husband, David. These two are 'the moral core' of the programme according to Whitburn, although questions have been raised about how they ever manage to make a living when they are so often involved in pursuits away from the farm. As saintly Grace Archer was bumped off the night independent television made its debut in 1955, there is certainly precedent for a senior Archer woman being removed.
Other possibilities include the increasingly neurotic former landlady of the Bull, twice divorced Kathy Perks, whose relationship with black sheep of the Archer clan, Kenton, has just come to an end. Garrulous, nervy, single parent Kathy has already suffered a violent rape during her time in Ambridge so to see her murdered would be the culmination of all her misery. Given the amount of time she spends with her best friend and confessor figure, Pat Archer, around the Bridge Farm dinner table the culprit could well be the mournful and isolated Tony, Pat's husband. And many listeners would sympathise with him.
Then there is the anorexic, control freak, cheesemonger Helen- daughter to Pat and Tony, who runs a successful organic shop against all the odds. Spectacularly unsuccessful in love, Helen has decided the way forward, and much against her father's wishes, is to become pregnant through donor insemination having sourced the best available sperm available in Borchester, presumably organic. Many Mumsnet contributors have named her 'the most annoying pregnant person ever' but, having already lost a son, would it be fair to Pat and Tony to lose a daughter as well, however much listeners want it?
The obvious answer seems to lie with a mass disaster at Lower Loxley, the stately pile, owned and run by chinless wonder and 'Tim nice but dim' soundalike, Nigel Pargeter, husband to the pushy Elizabeth, another Archer. Nigel's febrile imagination takes on crazes quickly. He wants to grow vines, within six months the grapes are being harvested by grateful neighbours in return for bottles of the stuff. He wants to learn dry stone walling, within weeks something resembling Hadrian's edifice is spewing across the Lower Loxley panorama. This year he is putting on an ice spectacular as part of a hyper-speedily arranged festive Christmas on the Lower Loxley lake.
It would be pleasing to think of the entire smug, complacent, condescending Archer clan slowly sinking beneath the surface as a slow thaw creates fissures in Nigel's frozen lake to be replaced in time and once due mourning is done, by other more interesting, sociable and genuinely likeable characters. That really would be a birthday worth celebrating.