Some listeners are finding that things are getting a bit torrid in Ambridge right now. They deplore this down grade from the innocence of Doris Archer's baking, Phil picking out Hymns Ancient and Modern on the church organ, Shula and David at their childhood frolics in the garden at Brookfield, Tom Forrest chronicling the maturing of cider apples, Walter Gabriel's Borset vernacular 'mee ol' pal, mee ol' beauty', and all this under the benign patriarchal watch of Brigadier Winstanley and Ralph Bellamy. Happy days: The Archers has been a trusty companion and fellow-traveller for as long as I can remember.
But if this was a pre-lapsarian Eden, there came a day when innocence was lost. It happened in my teenage years some time in the mid 1960s, for me the era of bitter-sweet adolescent emerging sexual awareness. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Jennifer Archer blurted out a terrible confession to her sister, 'O Lilian, I've been such a fool!' What had she done? Only got herself in the family way. I was deeply shocked as was most of Borsetshire. Such things did not happen on the Home Service. She called the baby Adam in recognition of her fallen state. Decades later, Adam would have his own sexual surprises to spring on Jennifer, but by then I was old enough to cope.
Perhaps you haven't been paying attention in the past week. We had all been invited to Tom Archer's wedding to the beautiful Kirsty. The wedding had been talked about for weeks. We duly turned up in church. Alan the Vicar welcomed us. But then there was an inexplicable hiatus. Bridal nerves we told ourselves. The organist played on... And on. And then the dreadful truth became clear. Tom had bottled out, couldn't go through with it. Kirsty's frightful wail of despair is still echoing down the aisles of St Stephen's. And now Tom has gone missing, perhaps to become yet another of the many 'Ambridge Disappeared'. It's profoundly disturbing for Tony and Pat. It's a real worry for us all.
As I'm a townie, I depend on The Archers to instruct me in the ways of rural life. It was invaluable when I was vicar of a country market-town, warning me when lambing and harvest were beginning, when the winter barley was being sown, helping me understand the fluctuations in the value of agricultural land, updating me on set-aside and EU farming subsidies and so on. It imparted a whole lot of Really Useful Information. I dare say some people have also found it a good tutorial in the ups and downs of church life, what a parish council does, and how to organise the village pantomime.
But the real purpose of Ambridge is to immerse us in a real-life village community so that we have a map to help us read the landscape of the human heart. That gives it a truly spiritual dimension. The theology of The Archers appears to be a neglected subject. It would be good to hear more about it from @AmbridgeChurch and @Felpercathedral.