The Archers: an everyday story of feminist folk (Robert Henderson)
[Note: I suppose someone has to listen to this stuff put out at the licence payers’ expense, and comment on its awfulness. I’m glad it doesn’t have to be me. SIG]
The Archers is the world’s longest running radio soap opera, having run continuously from 1951 to the present day. It is set in Ambridge, a fictional farming village in the English midlands . In the real world such a place would even these days be very white, very English and decidedly traditional in its ways. For most of the Archers’ existence the fiction generally corresponded with the reality, but two decades or so ago things changed when the producer and scriptwriters of the series decided that the programme should pay homage to the three gods of political correctness: race, gay rights and feminism. Consequently, Ambridge has had visited upon it sundry black and Asian characters, a raft of gays, a female engineer, a female vicar, a white English vicar married to a Hindu and a steady flow of politically correct storylines .
This new politically correct regime introduced rules which the characters have to meet. Non-white characters must invariably be middleclass with professional jobs such as schoolteachers or lawyers. They must never be shown behaving badly and any criticism of them or ethnic minorities generally by white characters, a very rare event, must be done in a way to portray the white character as being utterly beyond the politically correct Pale. The men must be generally stupid, feckless, weak or cruel, while the women and girls must be shown as either oppressed by their men or superior to them , for example, when school public examination results hit the Ambridge doormats this year all the boys in the cast were depicted as being none too bright academically while the girls all came through with honours and headed for university.
All that is in a day’s politically correct agitprop work for the writers and producer of the programme. The politically correct issue which has been dominating the series lately is the coercing and control of women by their menfolk. This is a storyline of a different order to anything which has gone before in terms of sustained – it has lasted for a year or more – and remarkably crude politically correct propaganda.
The central character in this propaganda is Helen Titchener (Louiza Patikas). She is a member of the Archer clan and has been much put upon by the scriptwriters over the years who have used her as a vehicle for various feminist issues. She has been an anorexic who was hospitalised. More generally her life has been a continual round of failed relationships with men, including that of her live-in lover Greg the gamekeeper (I kid you not) leaving their relationship in the most emphatic manner by blowing his brains out with a 12-bore. In despair at not finding a man who hangs around for long Helen has had a child (as you do in feminharpy world) by artificial insemination with sperm provided by an anonymous donor. The result is a son Henry who is now aged five.
In her mid-thirties the scriptwriters gave her a married man Rob Titchener (Timothy Watson) as a lover and eventually he becomes her husband. Rob is generally depicted as what feminists fondly but mistakenly imagine constitutes the behaviour of an alpha male, namely, being a selfish one-dimensional brute who simply wants to control and use women. He is depicted as perpetually controlling Helen but this control includes (in politically correct eyes) such heinous things as not wanting her to work too hard while she is pregnant and being concerned about her driving whilst pregnant after she has an accident. There are also episodes where rape is hinted at. More of that later.
The plot also attempts to show the controlling behaviour is a matter of conditioning with Rob’s father being a blustering bully and his mother highly manipulative. This of course fits neatly with the politically correct view of humanity, whether male or female ,being nothing more than the product of their social environment.
Eventually, whilst still pregnant with Rob’s child, Helen tells him she is going to leave him and in a piece of ludicrously clumsy plotting by the scriptwriters they make Rob place a knife in her hands before telling her that the only way she can leave him is by turning the knife on herself. As Helen is well advanced in pregnancy the idea of her stabbing herself to death is particularly far fetched and it is clearly just a device to get a knife into her hands without her picking one up herself and thus potentially incriminating herself.
Soon after Helen has had the knife thrust into her hands her son Henry comes into the room and Rob orders him back to bed. He has never hit Henry and does not hit him now. At this point Helen stabs Rob three times and leaves him close to death. She makes no attempt to call for an ambulance. Subsequently Helen is charged with attempted murder with an alternative charge of wounding with intent and is held on remand. Whilst in custody she gives birth to her second son whom she calls Jack and Rob calls Gideon.
After being charged Helen ends up with Anna Tregorran, the daughter of a regular Archers’ characte, Carol Tregorran , as her barrister. Not content to simply present Anna in her role as a lawyer the scriptwriters decide to both make her full of angst about her failure to win past domestic abuse cases and be in the midst of the emotional upset of the recent breaking up of her marriage to her husband Max. But Max turns out to be Maxine, thus breaking new ground for the Archers with its first overt depiction of a lesbian relationship. (Despite being very eager to have homosexual relationships in the programme, the Archers has always been strangely coy when it comes to girl on girl action. )
When Helen is appears in court at her trial the scriptwriters are seen at their most heavy handed. They begin the trial scenes by pushing evidence which makes a conviction likely. Telling facts are put before the courts such as Helen’s failure to ring for an ambulance after stabbing Rob, Helen’s threat to kill Rob in front of witnesses shortly before the stabbing were and the evidence of her 5-year-old son – the only witness to the stabbing – who does not say anything which suggests Rob had threatened him.
This scenario rapidly changes as the trial progresses not least because the judge always comes up with a judgement favourable to the defence whenever something happens which might well have caused evidence favourable to Helen to be excluded or the trial to be abandoned. A juror tweets “Man hating lezzie. Gonna make sure she goes down.” The judge allows the case to continue with eleven jurors, without making any attempt to discover if the errant juror had made his views known to the rest of the jury. (If he had done so that would most probably have stopped the trial dead in its tracks.) When Helen makes claims of repeated rape during her evidence , not having mentioned rape at all before she entered the witness box, the prosecution unsurprisingly objects. The judge allows the evidence to stand. Rob’s ex-wife Jess comes forward at the last moment to give evidence of Rob’s controlling behaviour towards her which includes rape. Again the judge comes down on Helen’s side by allowing Jess to give similar fact evidence. When the jury send out a note to the judge after a few hours deliberation saying they cannot come to a unanimous verdict, the judge makes no attempt to get the jury to press on for a while longer but at the first time of asking says he will accept a majority verdict of 10-1.
Obvious lines of questioning were ignored by the prosecution. For example, questions about what relationship Helen had with Jess leading to the question “When did you last meet or speak with Helen?” As the pair of them had met at Helen’s request not long before the stabbing of Rob the prosecution could easily have left the jury with the firm belief that the pair of them had plotted against Rob.
Helen’s sudden claim from the witness box that she had been repeatedly raped by Rob because he wanted to have a child soon after they were married and Helen did not – hardly unreasonable on Rob’s part because Helen is in her mid thirties –went virtually unexamined. An obvious line of question for the prosecution would have been to ask her about her sexual relations with Rob before they were married. Presumably Helen would have said they were normal because it is wildly improbable that a dominant male like Rob would have gone ahead with a marriage if his intended was denying him regular sex. At that point the prosecution would have been able to ask a simple but devastating question, viz: If you had regular sexual relations before marriage why weren’t you worried about getting pregnant then? Helen would either have had to say she had not worried about getting pregnant then or more plausibly that she used contraception. Either way her claim of rape would have looked decidedly odd because if it was simply a case of getting pregnant all she would have needed to do was use some form of reliable contraception.
The height of this many stranded absurdity was reached in the hour-long jury room episode . By the end of the trial on the evidence given it would have been reasonable to have looked for a guilty verdict on at least the lesser charge of wounding with intent, for there was no certain evidence that the stabbing had taken place in response to a reasonable fear that either Helen or her son were under threat of assault by Rob.
The jury was a distinctly starry one with some well known names in British acting including Dame Eileen Atkins, Nigel Havers and Catherine Tate . Just to make sure the jury passed the diversity test one of the jurors was a Muslim woman Parveen and to make sure the listeners did not miss this fact the scriptwriters had one of the jurors compliment Parveen on her “beautiful headscarf”.
The jurors made the jury in 12 Angry Men look like a model of conscientious and restrained citizens seeking the truth. Dennis (Graham Seed) , who was dead set on finding Helen guilty, Catherine Tate’s Lisa was the working-class white woman who had little patience with the idea that Helen had acted reasonably, while Nigel Havers’s Carl, who was the jury foreman, railed against the injustice of excuses only being made for women in the course of recounting how the courts had given his children to his wife after they split and added insult to injury by banning him from the family home whilst requiring him to pay the mortgage. Jury vetting is nowhere near as through or as comprehensive as it is in the USA but I really do wonder whether all of those on this fictional jury , especially Carl, would have made it through the vetting system as it now exists which includes a criminal records check.
Set against them was the terminally irritating Jackie (Eileen Atkins) who in the hectoring tones of what used to be called a “county” voice kept on repeating with excruciating condescension that the point which mattered was whether Helen had thought she or her son were in danger. In fact that is not all the jurors have to satisfy themselves when it comes to self-defence under English law. They also need to address the question of whether “ a reasonable person would regard the force used as reasonable or excessive”. Stabbing someone three times and nearly killing them when no certain evidence had been produced to show that Helen had reasonable grounds to fear that she or her son was in serious and imminent danger from Rob is clearly not what a reasonable person would regard as reasonable force. All the jury had to go on was Helen’s word that Rob had given her the knife and told her she should kill herself, a story which in itself sounded far fetched to some of the jury – Rob of course denied giving Helen the knife and telling her that she should kill herself.
The end of the trial comes with ridiculous abruptness. One moment the jurors are still arguing sixteen to the dozen (with six of the eleven for conviction on one or other of the charges), the next we are back in the courtroom with the foreman of the jury giving not guilty verdicts. No explanation is given for the sudden change of heart of the majority. Simply as a piece of drama this plotting was ridiculous. It was as if the scriptwriters had either been told the trial had to be over by a certain date and simply wrote implausible tosh to meet the deadline or they could not think of a plausible way of extricating Helen from the weight of evidence against her and the attitudes they had given the jurors, both of which pointed to a guilty verdict on one or other of the charges, and got to the verdicts of not guilty as soon as they could in the hope the vast majority of the audience would not notice the implausibility of what was going on because they wanted Helen to be found not guilty.
Not content with the criminal trial the scriptwriters then had a custody hearing for Henry and Jack held a week or so after the end of the criminal trial. The scriptwriters have the judge who acting in the criminal trial presiding over the custody adjudication. At the beginning of the hearing the judge warns counsel for Rob that having heard the criminal case he is going to take a great deal of persuading if custody is of either boy is to be given to Rob. Could this really have happened in the real world? The judge then proceeds to give custody of both boys to Helen, denies Rob any access to Henry and only a few hours a week of heavily supervised access to Jack/Gideon. This is done on the grounds that Rob – who has never harmed Henry and has been an exemplary stepfather to the boy – represents a danger to the boy, while Helen, an unbalanced neurotic who has shown herself to be very violent indeed, is deemed to present no threat at all.
Since the trial Rob has been s portrayed as being given the cold shoulder by the residents of Ambridge. No one argues his case by, for example, pointing out the seriousness of his injuries or the fact that Henry is missing him. Instead the script writers are making him more and more angry and uncontrolled in his behaviour to provide one suspects further justification for Helen’s acquittal and grounds for ostracism and vilification by the other characters and there are already hints that the police may investigate the alleged rapes
This type of black and white characterisation and plotting is pure agitprop. The ideological points are made in the most blatant way so even the dimmest listener cannot miss them and the villain of the piece is deliberately left with nothing more than a handful of traits which delineate the particular “incorrect “behaviour which must be both condemned without qualification and punished. This despite the fact that the scriptwriters have with the characters of Rob’s parents tried to demonstrate that Rob’s behaviour is all down to his upbringing. The scriptwriters want to have their cake and eat it by both punishing Rob and saying he not responsible . It is what Orwell called doublethink.
Doublethink also applies to the discord between the portrayal of Helen and what she allows to happen to her. Helen is presented as passive being completely lacking agency within a relationship, despite the fact that the scriptwriters throughout kept on emphasising that the character started as a confident woman very much in charge of her own life. Well, a confident and capable woman should have the capacity to say no or to simply walk away from a bullying man. Moreover, Helen was not dependent on Rob for money as they both worked for the family business and Helen could have left Rob at any time knowing that she had a ready made refuge the family farm for both herself and her child.
Part of the purpose of the year-long storyline was to undoubtedly attract more listeners (which it reportedly did in large numbers ), but even more it was intended as a cautionary feminist tale. It was designed to indoctrinate the audience with the idea that men are often if not invariably ruthless exploiters and groomers of women, who are reduced to being sexual, emotional and psychological slaves, and that women may physically attack their men viciously and get away with it provided they say they are being controlled by their men and believed they were in danger.
This propaganda has probably been put out now because there is a recently passed piece of UK legislation – Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 – which makes the coercion of those in a close relationship, family members or a sexual partner, a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of five years. The Crown Prosecution Service guidance on behaviours which are included in coercive control include “Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless” and “Reputational damage”. Talk about dangerously broad and subjective .
There are two complaints to make of the BBC’s resources being used to make this type of material. The first is the utterly inept scriptwriting which most importantly made Helen’s acquittal unbelievable; the second, the use of the BBC as a propaganda tool in the politically correct interest. The BBC often does this, but the Helen/Rob propaganda tool was extraordinarily one-eyed in intent and astonishingly crudely executed.
When the BBC is challenged about bias in a programme their favourite justification is that they attain balance over the whole range of BBC programmes relating to a topic. The use of the Archers over more than a year to promote the “coercion of women” line unquestioningly is probably the best example one could find of the BBC not only not achieving balance over various programmes dealing with a particular subject but making no effort whatsoever to do so.
The intentions of this new law are made crystal clear in the Crown Prosecution Service guidance that “The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy provides an overarching framework for crimes identified as being primarily committed, but not exclusively, by men against women within a context of power and control.” Do not hold your breath waiting for a woman to be prosecuted under this law.
The Archers originally went out in 1951 with the tagline an everyday story of simple countryfolk. Today it should have the tagline An everyday story of paranoid feminist folk.