BBC radio soap opera, run continuously - once five and now six 15-minute episodes a week - since around 1950. Set in the village of Ambridge, Borsetshire somewhere in the rural Midlands of England, where the eponymous Archers are a farming family. Inexplicably popular amongst the urban chattering classes.

The programme was introduced with the intention of using the fictional setting to provide valuable information to farmers, but rapidly picked up a popular audience. The series started out crudely sensational, moved off towards dull realism in the 1970s or so (no more than one fatal car crash per year, although that realism was tempered by only letting the characters drink half pints in the Bull Inn) but the pendulum has recently swung back the other way.

Like most British soaps, it now spends most of its energy Confronting Major Social Issues. The last year has finally seen the Grundy family - originally included in the series as the canonical comically incompetent farmers to provide examples of worst practice - go bankrupt, mirroring quite a lot of real UK rural life.

The fact that I want to go to bed now precludes a list of the entire cast for the last fifty years - someone else can have the XPs for that - but it should be noted that only two characters have survived from the earliest days - Phil Archer (played by one of the original scriptwriters), once the go-getting, progressive young farmer pushing his conservative father Dan into new ideas, now the boringly sensible elder statesman and JP , and Joe Grundy, doddering near-senile relic of the Grundy clan.

The Archers is a Radio 4 soap opera, which as Albert Herring mentions has six fifteen minute episodes a week, with a single omnibus edition on Sunday mornings (just before Desert Island Discs).

Though, as mentioned above, the Archers was intended as very much an agricultural soap opera, the focus has slightly moved now. Though most of the major families still work in farming, it's not made a particularly big deal of. It's much more concerned with Serious Topical Issues, such as the cannabis usage of young Ed Grundy, or the extra-marital affair of Siobhan and Brian.

In the Archer's favour, I think the acting is actually very good, especially compared to the normally rather poor standard of radio soap operas (like the World Service's Westway). It's also very relaxing, and feels pleasantly mundane; the issues - though often controversial - are rarely tackled in a sensationalist way, and it seems that whenever there's a frank discussion of drug usage, it's followed by a mundane but comfortable diatribe by Eddie Grundy about how they "didn't ought to have lost our farm".

It should also be noticed that the idea of combining "Interesting Soap Opera" with "Agricultural Advice" isn't new... Hesiod, one of the earlier Ancient Greek writers, wrote very Archers-esque works.

More useful information on The Archers, plus plot summaries, can be found at

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