Archers Episodes

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make into drama characters.

I know a number of people who stopped listening to The Archers when the EastEnders guy started producing it: me among them.  In all the years I’d been listening, even though there had been sensational plot lines, they always seemed somehow to emerge from the soil of the programme and the seed of the characters, not just flung in willy-nilly for the sake of the ratings.  But I didn’t intend to tune out forever, and when the offending producer blew back to the city streets whence he came, I started listening again.

It’s better – but it’s still not back to how it was; and after the wholly gratuitous return and downfall of Matt Crawford, the latest in a series of OTT plot lines is the sudden and unexpected death of Nic Grundy.  Just to turn the knife in the wound of brotherly hatred, the sepsis which killed her came from a rusty nail which she encountered in the course of helping her sister-in-law – which presumably means that next week Will is going to hunt Emma and Ed down and kill them.  There was also a possible death-bed confession which people are speculating means that it was Nic who ran over Matt and put him in hospital.

But compared to Episodes, Ambridge is paradise and everyone in it a saint.  This deceptively blandly-titled sitcom cleverly bridges the Atlantic.  A couple of writers (married couple Sean and Beverley Lincoln, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig – an Archers connection there) take a successful British sitcom over to LA.  They are excited by the possibilities, especially as they are told the network head, the improbably-named Merc Lapidus (but then improbable names are a trope here as his boss turns out to be called Eliot Salad) ‘loves, loves, loves’ their show.  But from the moment their planes wheels hit tarmac, it’s downhill all the way.

Of course the network doesn’t want to do the show as it is; and in a series of increasingly humiliating negotiations the pair are forced to see it morph from a witty, urbane school drama to a run-of-the-mill series about a hockey team featuring an unpleasant coach (Matt leBlanc) and a sexy librarian, played by someone called Morning who is about a hundred and five and basically made of plastic and filler.  In the course of all this the writers learn a devastating truth:

‘There’s a chance Merc hasn’t actually seen your show.’

‘Has he seen it?’


The comedy of Episodes comes from the clash between the relative sincerity and integrity of the British pair and the utterly self-serving fakeness of Hollywood.  No-one is happy; no-one is for real (either physically or in any other way) people sleep around with abandon, cheat on partners, get divorced, steal one another’s stuff and generally act as if nothing and no-one matters.  It’s a completely ego-driven society and in the midst of it all the Lincolns (some irony in the name?  Are they being shot in the theatre?) are a sort of wobbly moral centre who come through it all with their marriage just about intact.

But nothing else is intact.  As flies to wanton boys are these characters to the writers: it’s not just that no good deed goes unpunished; no deed goes unpunished.  The characters are punished just for existing; for having talent and for wanting success.  Series 5 ends with the worst possible scenario; their new series (of which they had such high hopes) being hijacked by Sean’s old writing partner who claims ‘came up with the idea.’  Nobody wins here except the a**holes; but even they don’t win because the life they live is not worth living.

As comedy it’s horrible, gruesome, even degrading.  Thank god for Ambridge…

Kirk out


Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

Kirk out

Tamara and Tamara and Tamara…

Yes, we have caught up with it.  Starring Tamsin Greig (Debbie in the Archers, Fran in Black Books) and Roger Allam (the Queen’s adviser in The Queen) as her unbearable husband, the live-action version of the story is much more entertaining than the cartoon strip which spawned it.  Brilliant though Polly Toynbee is, we did feel that the cartoon did ‘creep in its petty pace from day to day’ – it had terrific characters and great settings but nothing actually happened!  ‘Maybe this week something will happen!’ we used to cry to each other over our Saturday Guardian.  But it never did.  This film, though, is a straight-faced, tongue in cheek romp; the storyteller standing to one side while the characters fall over each other and themselves and the Lord of Misrule has his day.  Of course you are desperate for Fran (that’s not her name but I think of her as Fran) to kick her serial-adulterer husband in the balls as they preside over a writer’s retreat to which he – as an author – brings only kudos while she does all the work.  You dearly long for him to get his come-uppance and he actually does at last.  Trampled to death by stampeding cows with a strong sense of dramatic irony, he leaves Fran to run the place and get both the credit she deserves and the man who admires her.

There’s also a Thomas Hardy theme running through, with Fran as Bathsheba and the handyman as the Gabriel Oak character who is taken for granted and eventually gets his woman.  One of the writers on the retreat is doing a book about Hardy which, if what he puts in is true, shatters a few of my illusions about the man.  I tell you, if Mark takes to dallying with young women in his dotage he will find his balls decorating the Christmas tree.  But he won’t.  God bless him, he’s not Like That.

Anyway, it’s a really fun film, so go watch:

It was followed by take-away pizza (great) and a disappointing evening catching up with Bettina’s philosophy group.  I had envisaged a large table of smiling faces all waiting for me and pleased to see me when I arrived: instead I found one bloke waiting outside as the place was heaving.  We did eventually grab a table but it was very noisy and though five of us eventually turned up it was hard to hear what anyone was saying.  I left early; I did sell a couple of pamphlets, though, which was good.

A busy day awaits: a visit from sister soon, then Daniel will go to Loughborough and we will be bussing to Countesthorpe to visit Holly’s boyfriend.  Then tomorrow will creep in its petty pace once more.


Kirk out

PS  Don’t go shopping whatever you do!