An everyday story of countryfolk
With farmers 'facing the abyss', what's in the stars for the Archers?
The horoscope for the first broadcast (11am45, January 1 1951)
lacks fiery passion and high drama and is stacked with practical,
earthy Capricorn, with innovative Uranus prominent again.
Capricorn is a conventional, conservative sign, famous for
longevity and improving with age, and astrologers reckon that the
Goat gets younger and hornier as it gets older. In addition to
strong earth, The Archers also has a principled Mars in Aquarius
and a Libra Moon. These air signs love people, putting an
emphasis on social values and being part of a community.
Vanessa Whitburn has been producer since 1991 and she is a
lively Sagittarian Archer herself. She connects with the
programme's Libran Moon through her serious Saturn and tough-
minded Mars, giving it a hard edge of authenticity when it comes
to the realistic worries of country people. Libra often has a
problem with balance, however, and Whitburn admits she has
sometimes failed to get this right in the past. Her feminism has
led to a long-running spat with a former producer, William
Smethurst, headlined in The Telegraph (9/9/96) as an "everyday
story of Leftist tripe". Similar questions of political
correctness have now resurfaced with Lucas Madakane, a new
character from South Africa, and the big, unanswered question,
"Is he black?' The listener is never quite sure because nothing
is explicitly stated, but how real would this non-comment be in a
real-life Ambridge? Mark Lawson (16/2/01 Guardian) believes that
"Ambridge's racism, like its defecation, may be occurring out of
earshot" and that the programme gets its messages across with
subtle, rather than blatant references - "The Archers is playing
a complicated and fascinating game with our attitudes to race".
On the other hand, Daily Telegraph readers may switch off in
droves. As always, getting the right balance is never easy for a
Vanessa Whitburn's horoscope shows controversy this autumn and
she may decide to come out fighting and push social realism even
further. The programme could also be in the media spotlight and
have celebrity profile in the latter half of 2002. So are we
heading for another fifty years of life in Ambridge? The Archers
has such a dignified horoscope, there is no obvious sign of it
running out of steam - ever. Da di-dum di-dum di-dum ...