We’ve got the people and the places, so is Norfolk hiding in plain sight behind the rolling hills and vowels of the Archers?
SOME PEOPLE have second homes on the coast, in north Norfolk or Spain. I have an inland (and in-my-mind) second home in Ambridge.
I’ve listened to The Archers for as long as I can remember and initially thought my Borsetshire bolt-hole was somewhere in the middle of the country, but have gradually come to realise that it is much nearer Norfolk than I had thought. No wonder I can travel there and back every day.
I was talking to David Archer recently. No, I really was, or at least to Tim Bentinck, who plays the father and family man in the world’s longest-running drama. He has a house here in Norfolk – as do milkman Mike Tucker, pig farmer Neil Carter and even the con-man who abandoned David’s little sister, Elizabeth, in the early 1990s. Gamekeeper Will Grundy must be a regular visitor too because his real-life dad is actually Terry Molloy, who plays Mike. (Keep up!)
Storylines involve cidermaking, bird-watching, fruitpicking, community shops and pantos, flower and produce shows, cricket teams, articles in glossy magazines – all stuff that happens in Norfolk. And we have village greens with ponds, places with pubs called The Bull, churches dedicated to St Stephen, stately piles diversifying into spas, plus Home Farms, Millennium Woods and community orchards.
When I lived in a real, rather than a radio, village, the rhythm of rural life was all around. Morning and evening milking, winter ploughing, spring lambs, summer haymaking and autumn harvesting. In towns the seasons are less defined. Urban gardens still yield fruit and veg in season, and urban trees bud and blossom, turn golden and lose their leaves. But the unfurling of each year would be more about how many layers of clothes to wear or shed than about every aspect of life and landscape – if I wasn’t also living in Ambridge.
This month I’ll be in the crowds for the bonfire on Ambridge village green, and putting my order in for a Grundy turkey (and probably a Fairbrother goose too, as long as I take a few healthy walks up Lakey Hill inbetween). And I’ll be in the Brookfield kitchen for Stir-up Sunday on November 26. The tradition of making Christmas puddings on the last Sunday before Advent doesn’t take place in my real life but I’m as expert at adding a sixpence to the mixture and making a wish as I am at making silage and herbal leys, thanks to my agrispiritual home in Ambridge.
I’m in good company. People outed as Archers fans include the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Martin Clunes, Phil Jupitus, Ewan MacGregor, Ian Rankin, Fiona Bruce, Sir Ian McKellen and Norfolk boy Stephen Fry
That other Norfolk boy, Tim Bentinck/David Archer, is an earl in real life, and 1990s ne’erdo-well, Cameron Fraser, was played by Delaval Astley, also an actual Norfolk lord. They are not even the highest ranking nobility to be part of the Archers family. Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Cornwall have both appeared as themselves. They’ve also both been to Sandringham so that pretty much proves the Borsetshire-is-Norfolk theory.