The Archers’ listeners have been enthralled in recent weeks by the programme’s domestic abuse storyline, raising more than £80,000 for the women and children’s charity Refuge.
Yet few could have predicted how far the writers would go on Sunday night’s edition, which apparently featured the first murder in Ambridge’s 65-year history, as Helen stabbed her abusive partner, Rob.
Some expressed shock at the twist on the Radio 4 programme.
Others, however, were less impressed, suggesting that the storyline had taken a turn that resembled one from BBC1’s EastEnders.
The programme, which is billed as “an everyday story of country folk”, has been praised by many for taking on an issue that ONS figures show affected 1.4 million women in Britain in 2014.
Its official Twitter account posted advice from Women’s Aid and the charity itself offered guidance.
Previous bosses have vetoed plans to depict a murder in Ambridge. In 2014, it was reported that the BBC’s then director of radio, Helen Boaden, told writers to drop plans to have Ed Grundy banged up for a murder he did not commit because the storyline was thought to be too far-fetched.
After Sunday night’s episode, listeners rushed to donate to the Helen Titchener Fund – a JustGiving page set up to raise money for the domestic violence charity Refuge. More than £88,000 has been raised so far, just short of the £100,000 target.
Refuge’s chief executive, Sandra Horley, said: “Refuge is as shocked as everyone else by the dramatic turn of events in The Archers on Sunday evening.
“Listeners do not know how this story will unfold. What they do know is that Helen obviously felt under threat from an aggressive man. Rob was behaving in a menacing way towards Helen’s son Henry, and in the melee that ensued, Rob suffered apparently fatal wounds.
“This episode tells us that a victim of prolonged abuse may one day fight back when she is in great danger. Helen’s situation mirrors what so many abused women feel and experience every day. It is important to remember that research shows an abused woman is at most risk at the point of separation.
“This storyline simply reflects the reality for many women today and I congratulate the script writers for highlighting a much ignored issue.”
• This article was amended on 5 April 2016. An earlier version was rather premature in describing the stabbing incident on The Archers as fatal.