The Archers: Top 10 storylines

For 65 years The Archers has brought to the airwaves an everyday tale of country folk. But among those everyday tales the Radio 4 drama has interspersed gripping storylines that have kept Archers’ listeners religiously tuning in at 7.03pm for the familiar opening refrain of dum-dee dum-dee dum-dee dum.

27th April 2016
Photo credit: iStock

1: The Grundys’ Eviction (2000)

The eviction of The Grundys from Grange Farm following bankruptcy was a poignant story that highlighted the real economic struggle for tenant farmers. Forced to move to a council flat in Borchester the move seriously affected this poor farming family – even for non-ferret lovers it was a tough listen when Joe Grundy had to kill his son’s beloved ferrets. Determined to live in Ambridge the family moved into a caravan before renting Keeper’s Cottage. There was a collective cheer from listeners when the family finally moved back to their spiritual home, Grange Farm, in December 2015.

2: Will, Ed and Emma (2001-2015)

For much of the noughties Archers’ listeners were treated to a love triangle between Emma Carter and the Grundy brothers, Ed and Will, that took sibling rivalry to epic levels. It was a tantalising saga seemingly straight out of an Austen novel, in which Emma found herself having to choose between following her heart (the bad brother, Ed) or her head (the good brother, Will). The crux of the tale was Emma’s decision to marry Will in 2004, despite sleeping with Ed on her hen night, leaving the paternity of her son, George, in question – a paternity test confirmed Will was the father, but the marriage broke down nevertheless. After a decade-long love affair full of twists and turns, Ed and Emma finally tied the knot in May 2015.

3: Foot and Mouth Crisis (1956 + 2001)

Brookfield Farm has been the focus of two foot-and-mouth storylines in the drama’s 65 years on the airwaves. In 1956 the farm, then run by Dan Archer, tragically suffered from a foot-and-mouth outbreak in which over 170 cows, sheep and pigs were slaughtered. Not wishing to suffer the same fate as his grandfather, David Archer sealed off Brookfield Farm for six weeks against the national foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001. Although the farm escaped infection the writers made it very clear to Archers’ listeners that the financial costs to David and Ruth Archer were damagingly high, reflecting the real-life economic impact of the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis for UK farmers. However, it was noticed that Borchester seemed to be the only county in the UK that wasn’t affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967!

4: Brian Aldridge’s Lovechild (2002)

Following his various flings with Ambridge ladies it was no surprise when lothario businessman Brian Aldridge had an affair with the doctor’s wife, Siobhan Hathaway. But he didn’t expect her to give birth to his child – a much-wanted son, Ruairi, in November 2002. For months Archers’ listeners waited for Brian to finally confess his adultery and lovechild to his wife of 27 years, Jennifer. But that wasn’t the end of the saga, as things became even more complicated when Siobhan died of cancer in 2007 – her dying wish was that Brian would take care of their son. Cue another awkward conversation between Brian and his long-suffering wife Jennifer. After understandably exploding with rage she magnanimously agreed to care for Brian’s illegitimate and motherless son.

5: Jack Woolley’s Dementia (2003-14)

Over eight years listeners heard the subtle decline of local businessman Jack Woolley as he slowly succumbed to dementia. It started with confusion over a party invitation back in 2003 and, once the signs of memory loss became more obvious (forgetting names, confusion over whether his beloved dog, Captain, was dead or alive, and not letting his wife, Peggy, into the house due to not recognising her), he was admitted into a home in 2009. Unbeknown to some listeners shortly after Jack Woolley was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in The Archers, the actor who played the character for 31 years, Arnold Peters, found out he was suffering from the same condition. Arnold Peters died on 11 May 2013 following his final appearance in The Archers in July 2011. Jack Woolley died on 2 January 2014.

6: Adam and Ian (2006)

The Archers’ “First Gay Wedding” in December 2006  – a year after civil partnerships became legal in England ­­– between farmer Adam Macy and chef Ian Craig followed the radio drama’s “First Gay Kiss” between the pair in a polytunnel two years earlier. However, Adam and Ian’s relationship hasn’t been plain sailing with The Archers’ writers included homophobic reactions to the gay couple from some Ambridge residents: Sid Perks resigned as cricket captain when he discovered teammate Adam was gay, and Adam’s stepfather, Brian Aldridge, disapproved of his stepson’s homosexuality and threatened not to attend the civil ceremony (spoiler: he did in the end). Almost a decade after their civil ceremony the farmer and chef tied the knot in a wedding ceremony in December 2015.

7: Nigel’s Death (2011)

With a special half-hour episode broadcast on 2 January 2011 to mark the 60th anniversary of The Archers, listeners were prepped in front of their radios for an event that would “shock Ambridge to the core” (#SATTC). Will Helen die in childbirth? Would there be a gun battle between the feuding Grundy brothers? Nope, the episode ended with the blood-curdling scream as Nigel Pargetter fell to his death from the roof of Lower Loxely Hall (after deciding it would be a good idea to take down a banner on a dark icy night in the middle of a family party). Although a much-loved character, the sudden death of Nigel in that landmark double episode was sadly considered a bit of a damp squib by Archers’ fans. We’ll just have to wait until 2021 to see if the 70th anniversary episode will actually #SATTC.

8: Tony and the Bull (2014)

Hearing Tony Archer being trampled by Otto the bull, leaving him with life-threatening injuries, brought to the ears of Archers’ listeners the real-life truth that working with livestock is a dangerous occupation. It was a storyline welcomed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Rural Industries Group, which have tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of the dangers of cattle handling. According to the IOSH website agriculture has one of the highest death rates in UK industry, with 27 of the 133 workers killed in 2013-14 being employed in the sector. But thankfully Tony didn’t become a farming statistic and lived to face another dangerous beast that’s been lurking around Bridge Farm, Rob Tichener.

9: Ambridge Floods (2015)

In March 2015 the River Am, which for months had been “rising”, burst its banks flooding the village of Ambridge, causing havoc to families and livestock and ruining the karaoke night at The Bull. This sudden storyline left some listeners complaining that the floods came out of nowhere, but it’s fair to say that the Weather Gods rarely give a warning as to when a natural disaster will occur. Using true stories from farmers affected by the July 2007 floods in Worchester, the Ambridge Floods was a true-to-life storyline of the devastating impact flooding can have on a rural community. This was a storyline that also saw the demise of a silent character in the Great Ambridge Flood: Freda Fry, Burt’s wife. RIP. 

10: Helen and Rob (2016)

The most recent storyline to set the Twittersphere alight with reactions from listeners – resulting in the hashtag #TheArchers trending following that shocking Sunday night episode – is the two-year-long harrowing development of the domestic abuse inflicted on Helen by her husband Rob Titchener. It hasn’t been easy listening, but it’s been an excellent slow-burning storyline that has brought the subject of coercive control and domestic abuse into mainstream media. And to top it off one avid listener set up The Helen Titchener Rescue Fund on JustGiving, which has raised over £122K (and rising) for the domestic violence charity, Refuge. But with Helen now remanded in custody for attempted murder and Rob battling for his life in intensive care, this storyline is definitely not over yet…

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