Archers fans prepare for shock anniversary episode

Twists and teasers expected in double-length show 60 years after first broadcast

Fans of long-running programmes favour abbreviations: Sex and the City, for example, rapidly became SATC. And, currently, admirers of another famous broadcasting franchise are feverishly discussing SATTC.

This acronym used in internet chatrooms by followers of The Archers, the BBC Radio 4 drama that is 60 years old tomorrow, refers not to the whole show but to a single storyline in a special double-length celebration episode being broadcast on Sunday at 7pm.

Mark Damazer, the recently departed controller of Radio 4, promised in valedictory interviews that what happens in the episode marking six decades will "Shock Ambridge To The Core".

For efforts at Ambridge and elsewhere, Damazer became a CBE in the New Year honours list. But for those trying to decode the import of SATTC, the letters of his medal stand for: Could Be Elizabeth, referring to Elizabeth Pargeter (nee Archer), current matriarch of Lower Loxley Hall and seen as a potential candidate for the plot twist.

Vanessa Whitburn, the editor, has indicated that the climax of one long-running storyline – single cheese-maker Helen Archer giving birth following donor IVF – will dove-tail with an unexpected shock.

Although the show is known for pioneering revelations about sex and the country – following a notorious scene in which pub landlord Sid Perks and temptress Jolene had sex in the shower – few believe the SATTC event will be erotic. The expectation is a death or even deaths.

The twist has been kept secret, encouraging obsessive scrutiny of the brief, Tweet-like teasers that the BBC releases about future editions and leading impatient aficionados to wonder where WikiLeaks is when you really need it.

For example, the speculative sentence for one early January edition runs: "There is much concern about the children but will Alan's intervention make any difference?"

Alan is the vicar, which indicates that some of the young characters will need pastoral counselling – but is this because of the death of a parent (David, Ruth, Lizzie and Nigel are considered the likeliest candidates), a divorce (Lizzie and Nigel are arguing bitterly) or a catastrophic fire or explosion?

The message boards reflect a fear that if SATTC proves too dramatic, a classic radio brand may become too close in tone to the more lurid television soap operas. Unlike Coronation Street or EastEnders and Brookside, Ambridge has never needed the attention of a homicide squad.

Sixty years after it began as a vehicle for Ministry of Agriculture advice to farmers during the post-war rebuilding of the battered food-chain, The Archers remains partly famous for the perception that nothing much happens.

The great English poet Philip Larkin was revealed to be an Ambridge fan in a collection of his letters published last year.

But, in 1955, with the show just five years old, Larkin was already noting its unchangeability: "I've gone back to The Archers again, now I have a wireless. They haven't changed much!"

By 1957, the poet was noting that "the programme staggers on" but, crucially, continued to listen, later admitting that he was kept going by "The Archers and other forms of unreality".

Even so, in one letter, he complained "how dull it is" and fantasised about taking over the writing himself, introducing prostitutes, violence, crime and a character "gored to death by a bull". On Sunday night, we will find out if SATTC may posthumously give Larkin his wish.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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