Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I went all fangirl on Idris Elba (and a number of folks jumped in with comments). Sim’s fantasy walk in London took her to the fabulous Natural History Museum. Jackie posted photos and memories from her 1986 trip to London. Becky reviewed a book of poems called The Temple by George Herbert and a children’s book about the antics of a brother-sister duo, Absolutely One Thing. Laurie reviewed two books by British authors in one post because the male protagonists are both recent widowers exploring mysteries about their deceased wives — The Third Wife and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper.
I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy listening to the world’s longest continuing drama, a BBC Radio4 show about life in rural England called The Archers. The show runs six days a week for only thirteen minutes. I download it into my podcast player on my phone and listen when I walk, work in the kitchen or yard, or other moments when I’m not writing or reading so I don’t mind being distracted by a story.
Usually, the episodes are pretty tame. Some days, the biggest conflict is about what inappropriate place Joe Grundy’s ferrets have been found. Some shows are all about farming without much conflict at all — David and Ruth Archer just got a whole new herd of dairy cattle so we heard about the difficulties of getting cows to go into strange new buildings for the first time. Some episodes take us backstage while Lynda Snell directs her fellow villagers in local theatrical productions like Calendar Girls (I figured out recently that the British call these amdrams — amateur dramatics).
But this week, a long-running story of domestic abuse by Rob Titchener toward his wife, Helen (née Archer), took a horrific turn. The British media doesn’t seem to use the term “gaslighting,” but that’s what Rob has been doing to Helen with some physical abuse as well.
It turns out that a radio drama is the perfect way to portray this type of abuse since it plays out over a long period of time — we heard it gradually develop over the last two years. The audience knows more than any of the characters about Rob’s misdeeds but even with that extra knowledge, it took a long time before it was clear that his behavior crossed the threshold of abuse. Characters who knew less than us, including Helen, were much slower to see it and most are only seeing it now. Some characters, I suspect, will continue to be blind to it and blame Helen for her own misfortune for some time to come.
On Sunday’s show, things came to a head and Helen stabbed Rob with a kitchen knife. At the end of that show, we all thought she had killed him and Twitter exploded. The BBC gathered some of the most engaging tweets in a blog post. My favorites were the lawyer who wants to represent Helen, the one tagged #iamspartacus that claimed “I killed Rob!”, and the one that suggested we get our stories straight so that we can all claim to have been at The Bull (the local pub) and heard Rob say he was leaving the country for good (I assume this scenario includes that we help Helen bury the body in the garden).
The British media has been covering the story as well. According to this piece in The Telegraph published after the twist in the next episode (Rob lives!), the story made the front pages of newspapers and the Prime Minister issued a statement about supporting victims of domestic abuse. Another article in The Telegraph describes the legal difficulties in the British system that Helen, who was arrested in Monday’s show, now faces — her defense prospects are actually worse since Rob survived.
At least two good things have come from this story-line. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reports a 20% rise in calls that they attribute, in part, to “The Archers’ effect.” A North Devon man set up a fund-raising account in honor of Helen Titchener, for the real-life Helens who survive domestic abuse, in February — that campaign topped £100,000 in donations this week.
I practically felt British this week, on tenterhooks with millions of listeners each day to see what the next episode brings. What connected you with the British this week?
[Edited to add] In researching an answer to Tina’s questions in the comments, I discovered that the About page of The Archers website has a guide for beginners — read by Stephen Fry! It’s only about three minutes and is a little dated, now, but so fun to hear his voice and enthusiasm for the show.