Who’s Who in The Archers

 

The latest editon

Every year for the past ten years (more, actually) I’ve written a guide to the characters and places in The Archers. The latest edition –  Who’s Who in The Archers 2009 – is out now.

This is the book that I wanted when I first started listening to The Archers.  So many characters, with their interconnecting lives… Who were they all?  And why did so many people call this Tom Forrest guy “Uncle Tom”?

So when I actually started to work on the programme, I suggested we write and publish a guide and sell it direct to the public.  We weren’t allowed to make a profit, so the purchase price simply covered the production and mailing costs.

One of the early in-house versions

Various people worked on those early self-published editions, but it settled down to be my baby, and we sold over 90,000 copies.

BBC Books

Eventually BBC Books took it on and published it as a proper paperback.  It’s gone through some small changes over the years – expanded in size, adding a Frequently Asked Questions section and an index of characters’ forenames (as it can be many months before you hear a character referred to by their surname), and this year the cover has been redesigned.

But essentially it’s the same idea as the original – a guide to the main current characters – speaking and silent – and the main locations in Ambridge.  That’s about 120 entries.  We even list the numbers and types of animals and the acreages of the different crops on the farms.

Entertainment

“…Sid Perks is the nicest homophobe you could hope to meet…”

It’s a reference work, obviously, but I try to make it an entertaining read, which led to someone dubbing it “the little book with the big attitude”.  As well as a robust approach to the foibles of the characters, I’ve had fun with how the facts are presented.  Over the years I’ve had some entries that wrap up the basic information in formats such as a postcard from Grey Gables hotel, a rubbish website for Borchester Chamber of Commerce, and a Good Pub Guide review of The Bull, Ambridge.

“…Cynics would say that Kate getting pregnant by a black South African was just another ploy to shock the more conservative elements in Ambridge…”

And if any entry has been substantially the same for two years running, then I completely rewrite it, to keep it fresh.  I don’t want someone picking it up and saying, oh, no I’ve got this already.  This means that in some cases I’ve  written the same basic information several different ways, which makes it interesting for me, too (I don’t always use the word “interesting” when I’m racking my brains for yet another approach, I must admit).

Accuracy

Of course, the main thing is that it has to be accurate, which poses a particular set of challenges.  Most of the writing is done in April/May for a July press date and an early October publication date.  When I’m writing, we haven’t planned in detail exactly what’s going to happen on air in publication week.  I work from our longterm planning “grids”, which give me a fair idea, but there’s always a lot of fine-tuning at proof stage.

Even then I don’t always get it 100 per cent.  In one edition I anticipated by two weeks a character (Kenton Archer) moving in with his girlfriend, for example. A small error, but it annoyed me.

And there’s also the challenge of keeping the book as accurate as possible once it’s been published, because things are changing all the time in the programme.  I’ve developed a cunning use of the perfect tense, so that an entry is still accurate even when I know a character’s circumstances will change over the life of the book.

So, for example, I won’t say: “Ed is serving a community punishment for breaking and entering”, even though that might be entirely accurate at the time of publication.  I’d say: “Ed was sentenced to a community punishment for breaking and entering”, which is true even when the character is no longer cleaning graffiti off the bandstand.

Blogged

The first mention of the book in the blogosphere – at least the first that I was aware of –  was by Tim Relf, who writes Farming Today’s entertaining Field Day blog.  He hates The Archers, apparently, so it was nice of him to give it a mention.

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Academic study of Archers fans

For the past few months, a small number of academics has been looking at the online behaviour of listeners and fans of BBC radio.

It’s part of a knowledge-sharing project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

One of the areas of fandom it studied was The Archers, looking mainly at the Archers Addicts fan club, the Archers Appreciation Facebook group and (to the greatest extent) the BBC’s own Archers message board, for which I am the host.

It had some interesting things to say about the conflict – which is certainly there on the BBC’s board – between people who simply want to discuss the characters and storylines in a more or less straightforward way, and those who, in the words of the report, take an “ironic” or “anti-fan” approach.

I’ve posted on the message board in the past about my worries that a very energetic and vocal group who tend to take a negative line can set the tone for the board, discouraging milder users.  Indeed the report says that some users are put off by this, and choose to go elsewhere.

But the BBC board – funded by all licence fee payers – should really be a place where everyone can feel they are welcome to post their views.  It’s a continuing challenge.

Having said that, I should count my blessings, as overall the discussions on the BBC board are of far higher quality than in many other (non-Archers) online forums.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings, by Lyn Thomas, of London Metropolitan University.

You might also be interested in this report on specialist music fans (and indeed producers) by Andrew Dubber and Tim Wall of Birmingham City University.

Stephen Fry is following me

For some reason, this made me irrationally pleased:

Google Mail - Stephen Fry is now following you on Twitter! - keri.davies@googlemail.com
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

I know he won’t really be hanging on my every utterance.  How can he, when he was already following over a thousand people at this point, and it’s over 3000 as I write.  But I don’t care.  Stephen Fry is following me on Twitter.

I’ve never met him, but my wife and youngest son Dominic have, at a party at St James’s Palace, hosted by Prince Charles for The Archers’ 50th birthday.  While I was somewhere else in the room, no doubt making small talk with the BBC’s deputy controller of napkin rings, Stephen (he’s following me on Twitter, you know) discovered that Dominic plays Daniel Hebden Lloyd.

He lifted Dom up in the air and cried “Dominic!  I’m your biggest fan!”

What a nice man.

Did I mention that he’s following me on Twitter?

Overheard in New York City

(Madison Avenue guy) “…she had a smokin’ body…”

(Girl in pink hotpants) “…and he was like, ‘yeah’…”

(Wall St type) “…the whole world has gone topsy-turvy in the last two weeks…”

(Waiter, when asked for a Calvados):  “…a what?  Oh, a Cal-VA-dose.  Tomahto, tomayto…”

(Guy outside brownstone in shorts, 10pm):  “I swear the last four tenants never cleaned.  Ever…”

(Middle-aged lady at Metroplitan Opera House): “They’re screwing the middle classes!  They’ve been screwing us for years!”

(Driver):  “…the fuck you doin’?!…”

(Black sneaker store salesman, to white, middle-aged, besuited customer): “Hey pimp, whassup?” (followed by a ghetto handshake)

(Young hipster, of a band): “They’re totally righteous.”

Local radio interviews for new book

Tomorrow, 9 October, I’m doing some local radio interviews to promote my new book Who’s Who in The Archers 2009, about which more later.

You might like to tune in if it’s in your local area.  Or through the magic of the internet you could listen to every interview and hear me say the same thing seven times :o)

These are the timings:

1040 Jersey
1050 Guernsey
1100 Shropshire
1110 Hereford and Worcester

1150 Solent
1210 Coventry and Warwickshire
1220 WM