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The Archers in your pocket!
The Archers (R4)
Member Name: SpiderJamb
The Archers (R4)
Date: 14/05/12, updated on 14/05/12 (60 review reads)
Advantages: A slice of country life for 15 mins a day, Enjoyable acting and sound effects.
Disadvantages: Podcasts disappear after one week
I'd always written The Archers off as being a radio soap for middle-class snobs and farmers, since my first experience of it came from staying at a friend's house who were decidedly modern parents, in that they refused to have a TV in their house and listened to The Archers on Radio 4 each evening. I'd catch the odd tail end of an episode, but never quite got sold on the idea of an audio-soap, opposed to the plenitude of visual ones available on TV.
Fast forward several years and I managed to get a job in an office where we were allowed to use iPods whilst inputting data in order to stem the monotonous flow of boredom that came with such routine tasks, and I found myself growing bored at the frequent repeat plays of my fairly limited music library and it dawned on me to download podcasts, which are small bite-size radio shows ranging from 'best bits' of actual radio shows to original programming specifically for the internet audience. Amongst the plethora of podcasts available on iTunes was the daily podcast of The Archers. Remembering my past association with the show, and intrigued to have fresh daily content that might stimulate me during my work day, I subscribed to the Podcast feed and haven't missed an episode yet in over 4 years!
The problem with listening to such an established show is that the intricacies of the relationships between the characters is lost on the casual listener, such as myself, and with the drawback of having to rely on voices only, it was harder to grow and attachment to some characters, compared to visually latching onto a person's performance on a visual serial drama, such as Eastenders. However, The Archers rotates their plots quite well managing to focus on small groups of characters over a week, allowing new listeners to gradually get attached to certain storylines (normally the mundane village life) and gradually get sucked into the larger story-arcs, involving family trysts and secrets coming to light. Over the period of a month, there are usually four or five smaller 'week-long arcs' and one slow-burner, so within a few weeks of listening, a new Archers fan can feel part of the events pretty quickly, and grow accustomed to the characters.
Ambridge, the small village in which The Archers is set, is home to a varied cast of characters, of which many share relationships, some of which are so complex that even a four-year veteran such as myself still needs to double-check the website to see who is uncle/cousin/sister-in-law to whom. The Archers website (bbc.co.uk/archers) is mentioned at the tail-end of each podcast and is a fantastic source of information ranging from past storyline, actor/character biographies and a large family tree - all of which are indispensable to the freshly christened Archers Addict.
The storylines, as I mentioned before, cover a mix of the mundane to the melodramatic, with things like family feuds over who has been milking the cows to people falling to their deaths on New Years Day (RIP Nigel) - so the criticisms usually levelled at the show of having a slow pace are somewhat unfounded. While it isn't quite as sexy and violent as the likes of Eastenders, it has a realistic day-to-day timeline that mirrors our own (Monday - Friday and Sunday too). In terms of mood, it is reminiscent of early 90's Emmerdale Farm, when it was called Beckinsale and before planes fell out of the sky onto the Woolpack...(Wow, I'm showing my age now!)
The voice actors are all really enjoyable and each voice becomes distinctive and easy to identify the longer that you listen to the show. Some of the male voices may seem similar at first, but gradually you find yourself becoming aware of all of the characters, and attributing facial features and looks to them (which never match the actual actors - you can see the faces behind the voices on the official website). The background ambient noises, such as birds, tractors and kitchen crockery being laid on the table are very well done and if you have your volume up loud enough, you almost feel like you're there observing these people about their lives. It really is high-quality audio drama at its best!
The benefit of having the shows on podcast is useful, as I can download each day's episode promptly after it airs on Radio 4 that day and listen to it at my leisure. Unfortunately, both the BBC website and the iTunes page only hold the last week's worth of podcasts, so if you don't download an episode before the following week's one airs, you miss out! A little bit more leeway when it comes to downloading these could be useful, as it is tricky when you are away from the computer on holiday (although luckily, I've yet to miss an episode in four years!) - The Podcasts come in two styles - the 15 minute daily episodes (which I prefer to listen to) and the full week's omnibus edition which comes in one simple download every Sunday.
If you are interested in listening to the show, you can find it on the BBC.co.uk/archers page or by searching "The Archers" in the podcast section of the iTunes store.
Summary: A great pocket radio drama that is worth a listen on the daily commute!