Liz John and Tim Stimpson don’t just write for BOLDtext. They also pen the ‘everyday story of country folk’ that is The Archers. Liz and Tim joined the rest of the cast and crew at Clarence House to celebrate the show’s 70th anniversary with the Duchess of Cornwall. Below Tim reflects on an unusual day.
Sat in my basement office writing The Archers, I sometimes try to picture the people who are eventually going to hear it: the weary parent ironing tomorrow’s school uniform; the office worker drowning out the morning commute; the couple enjoying a lazy breakfast with the Sunday omnibus. I’m told that back in the 1950s my Great-Grandfather Grist, a Bermondsey docker, would gather the family around the wireless to listen, and seven decades later 4.5 million people are still doing much the same.
Nonetheless, it’s jarring to hear the Duchess of Cornwall admit that she gets a bit ratty if anyone interrupts the latest episode. It’s even more jarring to hear it while standing in her London home. Does she listen while sat in these very same antique-stuffed rooms? Or does she have some private refuge away from the kowtowers and people wanting to shake her hand? Wherever it is, it’s strange to imagine the stories we tell – Ed and Emma struggling to afford their own home, villagers fiercely competing over who can grow the largest the carrot – slipping into the regal ear.
It also occurs to me that as an Archers writer I’m part of an unbroken chain that goes back to Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason who wrote first episode in 1951. (The last script I wrote was number 19,581!) Cutting the cake with Camilla was June Spencer (AKA Peggy Woolley), who starred in the opening instalment and is still going strong at the age of 102. And now here I am with a life-long listener, whose family represent a line of monarchs going back centuries, whose purpose is to embody the history of the nation, and whose stories are regular fodder for the tabloids, as well as massively popular shows like The Crown.
How then to explain the enduring popularity of The Archers? After seventy years can it also claim in some way to reflect our national story. Except this isn’t a story about deference, or pomp and circumstance. It’s a story about community and continuity; of valuing the soil and loving where you come from; of steadfastness and resilience; of eccentricity; of not taking oneself too seriously; of the comfort of the ordinary and the joys of hearth and home. Above all it’s a story of family.
Yes, The Archers is make-believe, but as I sip champagne beneath the portraits of kings and queens, I hope this ‘everyday story of country folk’ says something true about us as well. And I hope Her Royal Highness thinks so too.