The Archers stabbing: a bit too EastEnders?

Domestic abuse storyline has divided listeners of the Radio 4 soap

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.

Actually shaking #thearchers

— Linda Grant (@lindasgrant) April 3, 2016

I know we are not allowed to tout, but I am more than prepared to represent Helen, along with most of the criminal bar...

— Nigel Pascoe QC (@nigel_pascoe) April 3, 2016

How do we get #thearchers team into a pub so I can buy them all a drink?

— Curious Iguana (@curiousiguana) April 3, 2016

Lot of people tweeting at the radio just now. Exclamation marks as thick as arrows at Agincourt. #thearchers

— Tom Sutcliffe (@tds153) April 3, 2016

That was terrifying. Lightning overhead just as Helen stabbed Rob. #TheArchers

— Jane Merrick (@janemerrick23) April 3, 2016

Wonder how I'll sleep tonight though. #Undercover #thearchers

— Jane Hill (@JaneHillNews) April 3, 2016

Finally PC Burns will have something to do other than fawn over Fallon! @BBCTheArchers Gripping stuff! #thearchers #freetheambridgeone

— Sian Hughes (@siany) April 3, 2016

Others, however, were less impressed, suggesting that the storyline had taken a turn that resembled one from BBC1’s EastEnders.

That was quite shocking but somehow I'm left dissatisfied. Bit too Eastenders for me? #thearchers

— The Mellers (@_Mellers) April 3, 2016

Feel that #thearchers went too far. A subtle, long-term storyline boiled over into something you might see on eastenders. Melodrama much?

— Sarah Kershaw (@KershawMatthews) April 3, 2016

Blimey, #thearchers team have played a blinder. Numbers listening live must've SOARED tonight. #PowerOfRadio

— Janice Forsyth (@JaniceForsyth) April 3, 2016

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.

@josstified @GouldClara @tim_stimpson Statistically the most dangerous time is when a person is leaving an abusive relationship #thearchers

— The Archers (@BBCTheArchers) April 3, 2016

You can also call the national domestic violence helpline which we run with @RefugeCharity on 0808 2000 247 #thearchers @BBCTheArchers

— Women's Aid (@womensaid) April 3, 2016

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.


Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

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