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Kick him out, Helen!!

It’s no secret that I’m an Archers’ addict – I frequently comment on twitter about the storylines, and I’m noisily grateful to the The Archers’ producers for many hours of excellent listening. And in addition to that, The Archers was responsible for my great stroke of luck prior to the publication of The Road Back.

The stroke of luck was that I was introduced to Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse novels, at an Oxford Writers’ Group party. Later, Colin read the manuscript and asked to endorse it with the words, ‘A splendid love story, so beautifully told’.  And he came to my launch at Waterstones Oxford.

Book Launch_14 Sep 2012_8526Colin Dexter addressing the guests at the launch of The Road Back

Colin and I had bonded at the OWG party over our mutual addiction to The Archers. At that time, we were both critical of the many new, difficult-to-identify young voices who’d suddenly been added to the cast, and we felt that the storylines needed a good shaking-up.

Well, we certainly wouldn’t make those same criticisms today! The story of Rob’s physical and emotional abuse of Helen has been absolutely gripping.

And this is despite some early confusion about Rob’s character. Let me explain what I mean.

When Rob moved into Ambridge, he was at loggerheads with his then wife, Jess, and it wasn’t long before he’d started a relationship with the emotionally-fragile Helen. Later, he divorced Jess and married Helen. Some time after that, Jess visited Helen, claiming to be pregnant with a child fathered by Rob after he’d married Helen. We, the listeners, believed Jess over Rob, and even more so when Rob refused to take a paternity test until he was effectively forced to do so. However, defying the listeners’ expectations, the DNA test results said that Rob wasn’t the father. Hmm, we thought.

p025zm44Louiza Patikas as Helen; Timothy Watson as Rob; Rina Mahoney as Jess

And then some of us started to suspect that Rob, who was already showing a nasty side away from Helen, had falsified the notification of the DNA test results. This idea was fostered by the return of Dr Richard to Ambridge. But we weren’t to learn if we were right as the issue of paternity was suddenly dropped. (Of course, it might still surface again.)

For a short time after that, it seemed that Rob’s preoccupation with Henry, Helen’s young son, and Henry’s sudden emotional disturbances and nightly bed-wetting, might be related. But this line was dropped, too. It would have been too dark for The Archers, I’m sure.

At the same time, we were watching Rob’s actions outside the house. For example, he tried to put a wedge between Adam and Ian prior to their marriage. Why try to do this, we asked. But we were never given an answer. He then seemed to have been dishonest at work, and promptly resigned when financial discrepancies were raised by his boss, Charlie. But Charlie didn’t pursue the matter. Why didn’t he, we asked. But again there was no answer.

timothy-watson-rob-archers-large‘Rob’

By then, the story of Rob’s abuse of Helen was beginning to surface, an abuse which was to result in her loss of self-worth, and in her blaming herself for her ‘failings’ as a wife and a mother, a sense of guilt induced in her by Rob.

For the listener, Rob’s verbal attack on Helen, which happened in real time, made for chilling and harrowing listening. It has had a profound affect on people, with Helen’s plight being taken to heart by listeners, and more than £80,000 being raised through a JustGiving fund set up by Archers’ fan, Paul Trueman, to help victims of domestic abuse.

louiza-large_trans++klybc9mpbXiHpaRsGe-RM1cFNNfxoPje6B6a_U8c3_8‘Helen’

Looking back at the different directions taken by Rob since his introduction to the show, it’s hard to avoid concluding that the writers originally intended Rob to go down one path, but then, drawing ideas from the way in which the actors/characters sounded together, changed their mind and sent him down several different paths until they happened upon the path on which he’s ended. This necessitated them turning their back on the several false starts and focusing solely on the domestic abuse of Helen.

The nature of radio means that storylines which are started and then abandoned, are done so in front of the listener. To give a literary analogy to this: it would be like experimenting as we wrote the novel with the ways in which our different characters could be used, and then publishing the novel without any editing.

Cavalier disregard for storylines that have already been started can be seen as an insult to the listener’s intelligence. However, when the story ends up being as powerful as the Rob and Helen story, I can forgive (almost) anything, and judging by the response from the numerous listeners, so can many others.

We authors are lucky in that we don’t have to leave the workings-out for the readers to see. If we have new insights into a character while writing the novel, we edit what’s gone on before so that every aspect of the story agrees with our changed vision. After that, the publisher’s editor will check that the novel works as a whole. By the time that our novel is put before readers, any inconsistencies and diversions will have been ironed out, and everything that happens in the story will be relevant to the story.

It’s Sunday morning and looking at the clock, I can see that it’ll soon be time for the omnibus edition of The Archers. As I don’t want to miss a single minute of it, I’m going to end now.

Over and out!

9781781893012The Lost Girl, out in paperback on 7th August

 

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  • I’ve been gripped too – but I’m not sure by the methods the writers intended.

    It’s a very relevant storyline and a plausible topic but to have a character bully another, who merely takes it and apologises may be sadly true to life for many but it’s not drama. The audience is gripped because it’s waiting for catharsis – the payoff. However, the storyline has been progressing in the same way for so long it’s almost as if anything short of Rob being disembowelled as one of Linda’s tableaux will be insufficient.

    I’d say the storyline would be better in a novel than as radio drama and even then would require much more conflict, especially in its resolution.

    • Liz:

      What an interesting comment, Mike.

      This is a theme which has commonly appeared in novels over the years, mostly in thrillers, but this is the first time I recall hearing it dramatised on the radio with such effect.

      Everyone’s idea of what makes good drama will obviously vary, but I think the fact that so many listeners are awaiting the resolution with such interest is because they are caught up in this story. If we weren’t so involved in what was going on, we’d do the equivalent of putting the book down and not bothering to finish it.

      Unlike the storylines of so many TV soaps, this has unfolded in real time, which makes it feel very immediate and thus, for me, very dramatic.

      In building such a story, there’ve been what I’ve felt are casualties, and not just the different storylines involving Rob, which started and finished abruptly, although that is what I’ve focused on in this posting. I could also have commented upon the ways in which the characteristics of other characters have been bent/overlooked to accord with the needs of the Rob/Helen story.

      Take Pat Archer, for example. On the one hand, it’s believable that in her anxiety, ever present under her surface, that Helen doesn’t have any mental relapses, and in her relief, therefore, at the great care that Rob takes over Helen, it is, on the other hand, unbelievable that some anxieties wouldn’t have started to surface, even though they may as yet be shapeless, and it was completely unbelievable that she would agree to Ursula’s suggestion to have a cup of tea in the next door room after Helen had just had a second, uncontrolled outburst at those around her, especially when Helen was showing signs of having become anorexic again.

      In the last few weeks, every time I’ve got together with friends, we’ve found ourselves talking about The Archers and Rob and Helen. It’s a long time since an Archers’ storyline has figured in our chat over coffee.

      As for the disemboweling, rather than disturb Linda’s tableaux, I think the llamas could make a pretty good job of that!

      And where is Tony in all this? Does his long absence suggest that he’ll have a difference voice when he returns? And what about Tom, the brother to whom Helen’s so close.

      Thank you very much for your comment, Mike.

      • Clare Flynn:

        Disembowelling by llama – I’d vote for that, Liz. Can’t wait for his comeuppance. That horrible creepy voice almost makes me physically sick.

        • Liz:

          I think that the end is nigh, Clare! The meeting with Jess, and Rob’s cruelty towards Henry, prompted by Henry behaving like the child he is, seem to be giving Helen the strength she needs. Her voice has certainly got stronger.

          Roll on 7.15pm!

  • Linora Lawrence:

    Well, I now understand much more about the Archers plot than I ever did before, thank you Liz for the clarifications!

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, Linora.

      As you can tell, both from the recent occasions when we met at the Oxford Writers’ Group, and from this post, I am absolutely caught up by this story.

  • I don’t listen to the Archers as much as I’d like to, but when I’ve dipped in, I too have been gripped by this storyline. I did wonder why on earth Rob was trying to sabotage Adam and Ian’s marriage (after I got over the initial ‘I thought they were already married’ confusion).

    • Liz:

      Me, too, re the sabotage, Rhoda. It didn’t make any sense to me as it wasn’t followed through. I’m forgiving them, though, as I think the domestic abuse storyline has been so well done.

      Thank you for commenting.

  • Jill Barry:

    Great post, Liz, and one reflecting my views over ‘broken threads.’ I’ve been an Archers listener since I was a child, when my mother never missed an episode. Just now, I’m feeling a little impatient for resolution to this particular plot though I too feel it’s good that the programme has raised the domestic abuse issue. There are hints that the end is near but, can’t help feeling sad that once again, true love and a happy marriage is not to be for Helen.

    • Liz:

      I know what you mean, Jill, by regretting that a happy marriage is not yet to be Helen’s lot – Helen’s had a number of occasions for weeping and wailing in recent years. Hopefully, she will meet someone caring and uncomplicated before too long. PS. As I write that, I think how boring for the listener!!

  • John Jackson:

    Fascinating! I used to be an Archers addict, but “went off” rather. However i’ve been following this storyline with interest.
    P. used to work in this field, and it is fascinating hearing her comments. Basically – she should leave him, and now – but she never will. Why?? “Because I love him!”
    This was the reason she heard so many times when she watched vulnerable clients heading back into disastrous relationships. *sigh*

    They (the BBC) really do need to knit their various supporting threads together somehow – of terminate them properly.

    A great post.
    John

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for your comment, John. How interesting that P. knows something about this field.

      Re Helen coming up with the same reason for staying – namely, that she loves Rob – I’m not so sure. I think that the negative way in which Rob’s increasingly behaving towards Henry, whom she genuinely loves, and with Jess’s words in her ears, could give her the strength she needs to make the break. Certainly, she’d get support from those around her if she did so.

      And from the listeners!

  • I don’t see “disregard for storylines that have already been started”, rather I see a lot of intrigue about Rob’s character and motivation.

    The more of these threads are stated and then put on hold, the more interesting I become in Rob’s “backstory”. I am sure the Archers team have the ability to pull these together in future plotlines.

    I hope so at least.

    • Liz:

      That’s an interesting comment, John; thank you for making it. When each of the Rob story lines was started, I was instantly keen to find out what was going to happen; consequently, I felt let down when the writers introduced another Rob story line without developing the last one. It’ll be interesting to see if the Archers’ team do pull it all together before the Rob-Helen thread is finally put to bed, but from the way in which Ursula has been depicted, and from what we’ve seen of her relationship with her husband, it would suggest that the writers are going down the genetic path, and also the fact that children frequently reproduce what they’ve seen, and learned, in their early years. My instinct tells me that they won’t return to those earlier story lines. It’ll be interesting to see if they do – my instinct does have a failure rate! They are certainly unlikely to go back to the Rob-Jess paternity situation as that was effectively (and a little disappointingly, I thought) concluded during Helen’s recent visit to Jess.

      • I do hope we get some sort of denuement of a number of threads. It would be nice to know about how the hindquaters of a dog found their way into the megadairy’s feedhoppers. More information about Rob’s past indiscretions would be interesting.

        • Liz:

          In replying to your comment on twitter, John, I’ve tagged The Archers. Maybe the writers will hear us and tie up at least that loose end. Fingers crossed that they do!

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