The Archers. In the kitchen, as supper is prepared, there is the same reverential hush you get in a concert hall when the conductor picks up the baton.
My wife, who was born in London, was under the misapprehension that the goings-on in Ambridge constituted a soap opera. Ha! After I dragged her to my farm in deepest Herefordshire, then she understood that it’s a searingly accurate documentary about rural life. I think the penny dropped for Penny when she was chair of the village fête and required to adjudicate in accusations that the tugof-war was fixed.
The Archers has been on the airwaves since 1951, being first broadcast on the Light Programme. Part of the stiffening the station gives to the national fabric is that many of its programmes have existed forever, in the same way that The Queen, Arsenal, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Buttons and bus queues are immemorial and British. Then, it’s back to work for the farmer’s nightshift of foddering and bedding down, the cab radio on, filling the long void with Front Row (7.15pm), the Arts programme that keeps you up to date with cultural developments, from Olympic dressage to music to the latest film. There’s also Natural Histories (9pm)— a recent episode concentrated on the great auk—plays, lively politicking in Any Questions (Fridays, 8pm), and Book at Bedtime (10.45pm). The milk lorry hurtles down the lane at 12.45am. On the tractor radio, Ronald Binge’s Sailing By ushers in The Shipping Forecast. It is the slow, dreamy waltz that leads to bed.
There is the turn of the day, the cycle of the seasons, the ongoing story of the oaks and the cattle and the daily transmission of Radio 4: all of them are a necessity for life in these isles.