After the dramatic explosion of The Archers’ whole “Tom-loves-Kirsty-but-not-enough-to-stop-him-standing-her-up-at-the-altar” affair, last week saw the villagers of Ambridge begin to pick up the pieces again. And then promptly hit each other repeatedly with the pieces, as the Archer family self-destructed into the Blame Game (Not as much fun as the Generation Game, which involves me trying to work out how everyone in this damn show is related to each other). Who was to blame for the wedding fiasco? Tom blamed his father Tony; Tony blamed his mother Peggy, while everyone tried to avoid blaming Tom in case he did something foolish, like commit suicide, or join EastEnders.
Any attempt by the family to sort themselves out only seemed to make things worse, even with the geriatric Peggy’s apparent ability to potter around the village dropping in on her many descendants unannounced without even getting out of breath. These descendants included Jennifer, who is apparently Tony’s sister, despite not really having anything to do with the wedding the previous week. Possibly she was too busy emptying her kitchen ready for the builders to refurbish it, and couldn’t fight her way to the church through the mountain of seventies kitsch she’d blocked the door with. “I feel like an extra from Life on Mars!” Jennifer wails at one point. This, believe it or not, is not just The Archers showing off its knowledge of up-to-the-minute pop culture, but is in fact the start of a Plot Point. Yes, 70s nostalgia is coming to Ambridge, God help us all.
Clarrie Grundy, you see, is turning sixty soon, which I think makes her one of the youngest characters in the show, and her friends and family were racking their brains over what to do for her. Should they throw a beach party, like last year? Given that my impression of Clarrie is a woman who can be summed up by the line “Keep churning out those yogurts! People have got to eat!”, I do hope not. Fortunately, the Grundys decided to go with something that hearkened back to Clarrie’s youth. “She used to be into Glam Rock,” recalled her husband Eddie “till I converted her to Country & Western.” I never knew the tale of Ambridge’s token working class folk was so biblical.
Of course, this whole thing is undoubtedly building up to wacky hijinks of some description, which is something Ambridge needs to stir itself out of the post non-wedding melancholy. The misery certainly isn’t being lifted by Shula, who’s having trouble coping with her son Dan’s decision to enrol at Sandhurst and join the army. Shula’s worries possibly stem from a belief the villagers have that we’re still fighting the Boer War, but probably come down to the fact that Dan looks very much like his father Mark, as everyone is keen to tell us, and so it feels like she’s losing him again as well.
Dan doesn’t really seem to have much of a character, outside of “looks a bit like his father.” Instead, he’s left to stand around in the background while Shula takes pictures of him posing next to an ironing board or in a new suit. He’s probably glad to be out of the place.
I think the most interesting thing about last week’s episodes was the inclusion amongst the glumness of moments which, were this a visual programme, I would call slapstick. Wee George Grundy accidentally hogties a small girl while practicing for the Maypole dance. Jennifer’s husband Brian almost falls into a load of crystals she’d moved out of the kitchen and into his office. Dave, Kenton and Roy try and load old Jill Archer’s piano onto a trolley and almost let it roll away down a hill (Jill herself is busy buying Dan a new tie, which, amazingly enough, makes him look like his father when he puts it on). It’s slapstick, plain and simple. Except we can’t see it, so I’m not even sure if it counts.
Were they hoping to play on the power of radio to trigger the imagination, that we’d all conjure up hilarious images of pianos rolling down hills into trussed-up May Queens, like Last of the Summer Wine meets The Wicker Man? Actually, I’d be lying if I said the May dancing scene didn’t make me chuckle, but I can imagine it getting quite wearing if this is their main source of humour every week.
Still, Ambridge needs all the jollity it can get at the moment, including Kenton playing “Rocket Man” on the piano in the middle of the street (“More like ‘Limp Lettuce Man’” comments his brother Dave). Pat and Peggy have been attempting to bring an end to the bad feeling between Tom and Tony, but given that Tony’s first words to his son in their ‘quiet little chat’ are to call him “arrogant and self-serving”, and that he could never hope to fill John’s shoes, I don’t think it’s going that well.
Tom uses the Power O’ Continuity, usually the greatest weapon of all in these matters, to point out that John dumped his fiancée as well, to run off with another woman. However, Tony proves that he can listen to old episodes as well, by pointing out that John was just a teenager when that happened. As someone who has been listening to the show for precisely two weeks, I’m lost. All I know is that nobody’s very happy, and are likely to stay that way for a while, especially now Tom has moved out of Ambridge to ‘find himself.’
Until then, in the immortal words of Ambridge’s Poet Laureate herself, Peggy Woolley: “It’s lunchtime, and I think we’ve all got food for thought.”
The Archers Omnibus can be heard or downloaded here until 11th May: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042cs5r
Piano picture purloined from: http://postscapes.com/remote-player-piano-stanley