Kit Hesketh-harvey on the Archers
GRANTCHESTER looked its Rupert Brooke-ian best for Jeffrey and Mary Archer’s Golden Wedding celebration in Cambridgeshire. The sun roasted the Old Vicarage, the marching band of the Royal Marines sweltered, Mary sang her own naughty lyrics to OldFashioned Girl, about the song’s ‘old-fashioned millionaire’, winning even Sir Tim Rice’s approbation, the exemplary St Catherine’s Girls’ Choir sang sacred motets and Jeffrey announced that he was standing for leadership of the Labour Party.
Jeffrey’s favourite song is, with ghastly inevitability, My Way. Surveying those few Tory guests who had survived the scythes not only of the Grim Reaper, but of the new Prime Minister, I launched into Why May?. One ennobled Conservative minister particularly relished the quatrain that ran:
While Gove, the little s**t
Whose treacherous ploy proved so outlandish Is toast, and feels a bit
Ed Miliband-ish It was, as the Archers’ parties are, impeccable, delightful, and preposterous. Regrets? They’ve had a few, but a 50-year milestone is an achievement by any standards. They’ve proved that an enduring marriage depends not upon sexual fidelity, nor even upon searing honesty, but upon forgiveness, respect of one’s partner’s differences and, crucially, a sense of humour.
We couldn’t not refer onstage to The Archers, Radio 4’s everyday story of country folk
An enduring marriage depends upon, crucially, a sense of humour
who have been watching too much Eastenders. However, to see Mary as the emotionally tortured Helen Archer and Jeffrey as the tyrannical Rob is way off the mark. (Mischievously, we suggested that the reverse was true.)
The Archers might have been hijacked by townie cookie-cutters, but, here in the Wild East, it has to be said that recent life is imitating soap opera. A jogging serviceman in my sister’s village was nearly abducted. My parents’ housekeeper was forced to spend two days reassuring the national press that she was still alive, after her ex-husband shot his second wife and then turned the gun on himself. Up the road in Spalding, there was another domestic triple tragedy a few days later.
I’m not sure what it is about these badlands that we do such a spectacular line in violent death. Tony Martin, the Soham atrocities, the Watton mysteries: it’s a long line. Lives of quiet desperation seem to be exacerbated by the isolation and huge skies the birders and photographers so admire. A 2014 British indie film, The Goob, turned it into comedy, but let the isolation, the sidelining and the failure to listen continue unchecked, and the consequences can be startling. That’s why Boston became the capital of Brexit.
Remoteness can, however, have its upside. A musical colleague from London discovered that the nearest place to get his Yamaha keyboard repaired was on an industrial park to the north of Norwich. While it was undergoing surgery, he and I went into the centre. I suddenly saw my familiar city through his metropolitan tourist’s eyes.
Parking was 30p an hour. Admission to the cathedral precincts, where summer hollyhocks nodded against old flint walls, was free. A lunch of seafood and just-picked samphire, eaten in a marketplace as crowded, as gaudy and as delightful as any in Provence, was £3. The Norman castle: free. Rather than being rammed with bewildered Japanese tourists in quest of Burberry, George Skipper’s wonderful Art Nouveau Royal Arcade contained one solitary child, who was enchanted by my dogs: canines that were positively welcomed into the tranquilly medieval riverside courtyard, where two excellent coffees and two Crunchies came to £4.80.
We saw two informal art exhibitions, talked to a busker about the technicalities of his hurdygurdy, listened to the choristers singing Howells through the open window of their practice room and returned to reclaim the keyboard £12 poorer, but immeasurably richer. And the strangest thing? We saw not one single tourist.
I don’t blame Alan Partridge. I’m rather grateful to him.
Edinburgh will be far different. Off to the Festival we trot, where £12 will get you really not very much, other than a ticket to our minty-fresh new show at the G. and V. Hotel. This might well be my 38th consecutive Fringe, but I’m uneasy. The handshake between the Prime Minister and First Minister, on the steps of Bute House had something of the Tudors about it:
Ms Sturgeon’s lost her way
Upon the tricky path she’s treading Checkmate: to Fotheringay For her beheading
Kit Hesketh-harvey is a society cabaret entertainer and regular broadcaster for the BBC
Next week: Jonathan Self