Custard, Culverts and Cake

Cover of Custard, Culverts and Cake

Academics on Life in The Archers

Synopsis

Table of contents

(28 chapters)

Prelims

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Section One Genteel Country Hobbies?

Abstract

The Ambridge Flower and Produce Show is the source of frequent scandals. For example, the misunderstanding that resulted in Chutneygate in 2016 caused feelings to run high. However, there is also evidence of deliberate cheating. Toye (2009) records three confirmed instances between 1975 and 2008, two planned and one opportunist, along with a number of unproved allegations. According to Michaels and Miethe (1989, p. 883), ‘cheating is a general class of deviance that occurs in a variety of contexts’, whilst DeAndrea, Carpenter, Shulman, and Levine (2009) believe that it is now commonplace throughout society. Houser, Vetter, and Winter (2012, p. 1654) argue that ‘the perception of being treated unfairly by another person significantly increases an individual’s propensity to cheat’. Taken at face value, Flower and Produce Shows are charming, community-based events showcasing personal endeavour for little in the way of reward. However, both the Ambridge experience and the literature suggest that the competitive nature of the event aligned with the potential for perceived unfair treatment by the judges may mean that the likelihood of cheating is high. Given this, how representative is the Ambridge Flower and Produce Show of a real-life Flower and Produce Show? This chapter examines the emotions and behaviours that these shows engender by reviewing scholarly thinking on competition, competitive behaviour and cheating, and then comparing critical incidents at the fictional Ambridge show with evidence derived from interviews with the committee and contestants of the annual Flower and Produce Show in a small market town in Wiltshire.

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This chapter explores the role that birdwatching plays in The Archers. It demonstrates some significant similarities between the way that birdwatching is portrayed in present-day Ambridge, and the way it was presented in both fictional and non-fictional literature of the 1940s. These similarities suggest that birdwatching in Ambridge is an activity that tends to perpetuate traditional class and gender divisions. Particularly in terms of gender, this is a surprising discovery, given the many strong female characters in the show, and suggests that cultural assumptions about gender and birdwatching run deep in UK society today. The chapter warns that a failure to recognise these assumptions not only hampers the progress of women who aspire to be taken seriously as ornithologists, but also risks reinforcing dualistic thinking about humans and nature at a time when the environmental crisis makes it more important than ever to recognise the ecological interconnectedness of human and nonhuman worlds. However, the recent development of Kirsty Miller’s storyline, in which she is rediscovering her earlier love of the natural world, not only offers hope of a shift away from this traditional bias but also opens a space for a more nuanced examination of the importance of birds in human–nature relations.

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Abstract

The nutritive properties of various dietary components and their effects on health are regularly debated in the scientific literature and popular media. The study of the regular consumption of cake in relation to the risk of developing metabolic disorders is however an exciting new development in the field. This chapter suggests that cake consumption is amongst a number of factors that may explain The Ambridge Paradox: the extremely low incidence of metabolic disorders such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes observed in a small Borsetshire village. The chapter identifies 10 dietary and lifestyle habits observed in this population that may be beneficial for cardiovascular health, acting through a variety of mechanisms. Key amongst these may be the synergic properties of several biochemical components of cake, especially the phenolic compounds in varieties with a fruit-based element, such as lemon drizzle. The chapter concludes that the dietary and lifestyle habits of the Ambridge cohort show promise as a model for improving the metabolic health of wider populations. In particular, it suggests that cake consumption may be a promising therapeutic supplement to prevent and even treat metabolic disorders.

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Section Two Educating Ambridge

Abstract

21st-century libraries are a community hub, providing entertainment, learning, information sharing and idea incubation. A place for all, they can be a locus for activism and the civil society. In an era when UK public libraries are under threat, the interwoven stories of Ambridge promote those values. In the Big Society, volunteers were to fill the roles of library professionals. Ambridge too has its many volunteers yet recognises the rightful place of trained professionals.

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Abstract

The primary school in any rural village is a significant and vivid institution. Its classrooms, playground, buses, staffroom, governing body, PTA committee, religious celebrations, educational visits and community events are a focus not just for village pride but for parental and social aspirations and tensions. Village schools are special local spaces, in which the bite is keenly felt of national education policies. They are sources and sites of friendships, rivalries and divisions amongst both children and adults; places where celebrations and disappointments occur on a daily basis; an important local employer and reliant on a range of committed volunteers. Village schools are genuinely lively and dramatic places.

But not in The Archers. The mostly invisible children of Ambridge simply board a bus to Loxley Barrett aged five, then mysteriously alight aged 11 at Borchester Green or the fee-paying Cathedral School. During those primary years Ambridge’s children, parents and listeners seem blissfully unaffected by tests, snow, bullying, crazes, curriculum change, poor teachers, brilliant teaching assistants, academisation, Ofsted inspections, fussy governors, budget crises or any other rural educational reality.

In this chapter we consider why primary education, a topic that dominates the lives and conversations of real village families from all backgrounds, seems to be of such insignificance to the inhabitants of Ambridge?

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Abstract

Research suggests that parentally bereaved children are likely to experience lower academic success and may need long-term support through tertiary education. Gender matters — boys bereaved of fathers and girls bereaved of mothers are at increased risk. Boys also exhibit higher levels of emotional and behavioural issues following bereavement. Age is another factor and exam results of children bereaved before the age of five or at twelve are significantly more affected than those bereaved at other ages. Circumstances affecting these achievements concern the relationship between the child’s emotional state and how it plays out in behaviour and motivation in school.

Significantly, Freddie Pargetter, the subject of the chapter, has a twin sister, Lily. The twins had just turned 12 when their father was killed. Comparing the twins’ General Certificate of Education (GCSE) results fits the research patterns — Lily managed well and Freddie did not. Freddie recognises that the academic environment of Felpersham Cathedral School did not support him well and chooses Borchester FE College to continue his studies. This choice raises controversy in the family, indicative of well-rehearsed, real-world educational arguments. Social media responses to other Archers plot lines reveal the extent of how educational issues in the programme resonate with listeners.

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This chapter examines Phoebe Aldridge’s experience of applying to and being accepted by the University of Oxford and attempts to establish how far she is typical of applicants from the state sector as a whole, by a consideration of the following aspects: geographical area, family circumstances, subject and College choice, motivation and previous academic performance.

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Section Three The Geography of Ambridge

Abstract

In March 2015, following unseasonable heavy precipitation, the River Am burst its banks flooding the village of Ambridge and causing one death and numerous injuries. The lines between fiction and reality became blurred when the BBC offered updates about the weather situation in Ambridge through social media. However, in fiction, as in reality, memories are short; recent village gossip in Ambridge has been dominated by other matters including a certain murder trial and the mix-up with Jill Archer’s chutney. The flood has come and gone.

In this chapter, I will examine the response to, and recovery from, the floods in Ambridge in order to ascertain what lessons have been learned, and whether enough has been done to make Ambridge more resilient to future floods events. I will show how the programme raised important issues in relation to flooding management in England today, and focus upon the increasing responsibilisation of citizens, the tension which exists between framing the flood response in terms of ‘resilience’ or ‘vulnerability’, and the need for people to find someone or something to blame for their misfortune. I conclude that The Archers could play a critical role in maintaining flood awareness in the future.

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Abstract

Flooding is a frequent problem in the United Kingdom, with 1.8 million people living in homes that are likely to flood at least once in 75 years (Sayers, Horritt, Penning-Rowsell, & McKenzie, 2015). In 2015, the River Am burst its banks, resulting in up to 1 metre of flooding in Ambridge and causing significant damage and disruption to the village. A ‘4Ps’ approach is proposed to predict, prevent, protect from and prepare for flooding. Applying this model to evidence from Ambridge allows strategies for a flood resilient community to be explored.

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Abstract

The West Midlands region has been poorly represented in national media and especially in fictional media forms. The Archers is therefore a very important part of representation of the region to the nation. These two representational elements — regional and national culture — are part of the BBC’s duties under the Royal Charter. As such, they form a core obligation for the BBC. For many years arguments have raged over whether Ambridge is located in Worcestershire or Warwickshire. This is, of course, largely a matter of interest within the region, but does have some wider implications about narrative fiction. Whilst, in one sense Ambridge and Borsetshire are purely fictional, they simultaneously have a potential impact on the national image of the West Midlands and especially its rural areas. This chapter will consider both reasons to suggest that The Archers is specifically drawn from the county of Worcestershire and issues of identity formation that may arise from the representations offered by The Archers of the county and the West Midlands region.

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Section Four Power Relationships

Abstract

Families conduct their affairs through processes that are built upon those of previous generations and also social capacities such as culture, class, oppression and poverty. The media has played a part in stereotyping the lower classes through their portrayal on the television programmes such as Benefits Street and Jeremy Kyle and tabloid newspaper stories. This chapter is a case study of two families who are at the opposing ends of the social scale, the Horrobin/Carter and Aldridge families. The two families were chosen due to them being linked by marriage in the younger generation. Through the use of genograms, we explore how the families differ in their attitudes towards relationships within their individual families, and also how they relate to each other as separate family groups. Despite the many differences, there are also a number of key similarities, particularly regarding the key females in the families, in terms of family background and snobbery. We also show that there is little family loyalty in the more privileged family and a power differential between the two families (oppressors vs. oppressed) in terms of the crimes committed.

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Kinship structures in Ambridge have been analysed using social network analysis (SNA) showing a network of a ‘small world’ type with 75 individual people linked by birth or marriage. Further, the network shows four major cliques: the first two centred on Aldridge and Archer matriarchies and the second where through the marriages of the third generation the Grundies, Carters, Bellamies and Snells connect together. The chapter considers the possible futures for kinship networks in the village, arguing either a version of the status quo or The Headlam Hypothesis through which Archers assume less importance and the strength of the weak ties in the network assume more prominence.

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Abstract

Rural theology is explained here as a form of practical theology that seeks to interpret the rural context in the light of the central themes of Christian theology and vice versa. If Christian theology can be understood as concerning belief in God and the understanding of human relationships with God, the created order, and each other in the light of that belief, rural theology expresses that in the light of the lived experience in a rural context, which for these purposes is the daily bulletin from Ambridge. The author draws on his experience of teaching in the Cambridge Theological Federation to reflect on three recent examples: the recent changes at Brookfield in response to the perennial issue of the milk price lead us to ask who benefits from the production of higher quality food; the care for the land and Adam Macy’s reforms at Home Farm point us to issues about sustainability and responsibility; and the cohesion of a community with shared values and its treatment of Rob Titchener asks questions about the limits of inclusion. As with much practical theology, the outcome of the reflection is in ethical action and some further ethical questions, which, as the example of Jim Lloyd’s philosophical conversations with Alan Franks illustrate, are not the monopoly of the Church.

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Abstract

The history of the memory and commemoration of the First World War in British culture has long been the subject of academic debate. In particular, numerous studies have explored the significance of place, both local and national, to the creation and continuity of commemorative practices across the past 100 years. The current years of the centenary provide a particularly useful point of reference for exploring the development of cultural memory of the First World War in Britain, while the village of Ambridge forms a unique case study of local and national commemorative practices.

This chapter examines two forms of commemoration represented in The Archers, the episodic marking of Remembrance Sunday across a 30-year period from 1996 to the present, and the community’s engagement with national commemorative events in the centenary year 2014. It locates both these forms of commemoration in Nora’s (1996) concept of lieux de memoire, the key symbolic elements of community memorial heritage, and Hobsbawm’s (1983) definitions of invented traditions as those which are imposed upon communities rather than emerging organically from them. In doing so it argues that place functions as the key element of Ambridge’s role as a lieu de memoire of the war, in contrast to people whose stories appear as invented traditions, particularly in 2014. It concludes that the programme ultimately maintains its ability to function as a lieu de memoire across the period, not only for the community of Ambridge, but also for the wider national community of Archers listeners.

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Section Five Ambridge Online

Abstract

In this chapter, we explore to what extent storylines about the internet and social media are absent or marginal in The Archers. In particular, we examine these storylines to better understand how the inhabitants of Ambridge interact online and how their online activities intersect with their real-world experiences. We compare what happens in The Archers with the moral panic that often characterises narratives of technology use and find a striking contrast that we argue supports a broader way of understanding and characterising practices of online safety and security. We analysed four social media-related Archers’ storylines from the last 24 months. Our analysis shows that The Archers storylines enable us to look at human–computer interaction in relief so that instead of only looking at how people use technology we can also see the context in which it is used and the usually unseen support structures. The Archers narratives also provide a rich picture of how the fixed space of the physical world interacts with virtual space. In the broader context, the social media storylines provide us with an understanding of how connecting, care receiving and care giving take place in both fixed space and virtual space, and how these co-connected relationships of care receiving and care giving contribute to a form of security more expansive than technologically enabled data protection.

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Abstract

If you are running a rural business there are associated difficulties in reaching new customers, how can growth be sustained without spending huge amounts of time or money on marketing? Borsetshire needs more social media, and this chapter will illustrate how social media can help rural business. Looking at known online activity in Ambridge, it will highlight the perceived and potential social media practices of a variety of residents to give an example of what can be achieved, touching on the various networks and technology that can enhance the personal and professional lives of all, whether poultry smallholder or publican. The conclusion that social media can help foster feelings of community suggests that the Borsetshire populace should take immediate measures to advance their online activities.

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As the internet has evolved through the emergence of social media, so too have the communicative practices of The Archers listeners. Many of them now use Twitter to comment, discuss the show or participate in the omnibus episode ‘tweetalong’. Primarily, this chapter recognises the hundred-plus Twitter accounts which have been created by listeners to authentically roleplay characters, organisations, animals and even objects from the show. I frame these practices and ground the chapter in academic discourses of ‘fan fiction’. Reflecting on my own activity as @borsetpolice, I look at the role and place of this fan fiction from the individual practitioner’s perspective but also the wider listener base. In this chapter, I develop an argument that these practices contribute towards the community of listeners online, as well as the show itself. I explore the types of activities and accounts involved, where they often focus around major storylines, and then reflect in detail on the individual’s motivations and practice. I situate this in terms of an opportunity to become involved in an online community that aspires towards everyday rural ideals, and how this can be understood as a significant affective experience for listeners. This need for escapism into ‘banal’ worlds, the desire to participate, and the sense that fan fiction is a game that we take part in are also drawn out as significant.

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Section Six The Helen and Rob Story

Abstract

The Archers storyline of domestic abuse has raised awareness of the phenomenon of coercive controlling behaviours and marital rape. This chapter provides some context for the occurrence of partner sexual violence and focuses on profiling the antecedents of the perpetrator. Personal and family histories identify potential risk factors and include attachment problems, childhood exposure to family violence and personality disorder. These provide markers for future violating behaviours in intimate relationships. The absence of preventative factors such as a positive mentoring adult and supportive school environment increases the likelihood of subsequent offending. Predictions about cessation, continuation and escalation of violence will also be discussed.

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In this chapter, we consider how the character of Rob Titchener has been developed in The Archers, moving him from hero of the hour to villain of the piece. We draw on a critical disability studies’ perspective to argue that ability and disability have been crucial in turning the character of Rob from the desirable and attractive man who first arrived in the village into a national hate figure, despised by all. We begin this analysis by introducing critical disability studies and studies of ableism as fields of academic inquiry. We then draw on these resources to offer an analysis of the ways in which ability and disability were used as a narrative device to develop Rob’s character. We question the ways in which ability and disability are used to denote ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the development of characters in cultural texts like The Archers, and end with a plea to scriptwriters to engage differently with dis/ability and to consider the impact of the stories we tell on the everyday lives of disabled people.

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This chapter explores the queasy relationship between food and sex on The Archers. For listeners, food provides an imaginative reference point; consumption of food hints towards characters embodiment and occupation of physical space. To the extent that these characters have boundaries, the way they approach and react to food reveals their rigidity or permeability, and the tones in which characters offer, provide, prepare, coax and force food upon one another tells us a lot about the sexual politics at play in Ambridge. In The Archers, women cook and men eat. Characters who rebel against this norm often subvert traditional masculinity in other ways.

Through close reading (and obsessive listening), this chapter analyses the ways in which food allows the relationships on The Archers to act as foils to one another. It also explores: food as metaphor; food used both to sustain and fortify the boundaries of the self and to besiege the ego boundaries of others; how characters are given weight in acoustic space; female emancipation; male helplessness; the hunger/satiety/aural claustrophobia of listeners.

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Despite the Helen and Rob storyline initially being billed as showcasing the new offence introduced by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, it concluded with only minimal discussion of the offence. This section briefly explores some of the flaws in the coercive control offence and its portrayal in The Archers from a legal and criminological perspective.

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The popularity of television shows such as CSI:(insert appropriate city here) makes everyone think they are somehow a forensic expert. The portrayal of this kind of subject on radio is of course much more complicated as each observer has an image in their own head rather than in front of their eyes. This chapter seeks to inform The Archers listeners and other interested parties about the Blossom Hill Cottage crime scene examination — what they might expect to have seen from an evidential perspective and how the findings may inform the court as to what really occurred that fateful night. The chapter presents general information about different blood patterns that may be observed at crime scenes such as this and others, what they may (or may not) mean and a discussion about the strengths and limitations of this kind of scientific examination and interpretation. Whilst this can clearly be a serious subject, the intention is to inform and (probably) bust some televisual myths with a light-hearted edge from an Archers fan and fellow Tweetalonger, additionally considering online speculation about other potential evidence.

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In this chapter, we argue that the four songs we hear on 3rd April 2016 serve as both background music and a means of revealing the inner world of Helen and Rob.

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The residents of Ambridge enjoy a varied and mostly nutritious diet ranging from a ploughman’s at The Bull to Jennifer Aldridge’s roast venison, with the occasional tofu and quinoa paella from Kate Madikane. For Helen Titchener (née Archer) an abrupt change in circumstances will have led to changes in her diet that could have endangered her health and that of her unborn baby. Helen was imprisoned from about eight months of pregnancy to about four months postpartum, encompassing a critical period in development of her baby. This chapter focusses on the case of Helen and her baby son Jack to explore the dietary requirements for pregnancy and breastfeeding and how these relate to diet in Ambridge and in prison.

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About the Authors

Pages 415-424
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Index

Pages 425-443
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Cover of Custard, Culverts and Cake
DOI
10.1108/9781787432857
Publication date
2017-10-05
Editors
ISBN
978-1-78743-285-7
eISBN
978-1-78743-285-7