ambridge

Warning! this post may seem both tedious and incomprehensible to anyone who is not an Archers fan . . .

I arrived home from work yesterday to find that a thrilling package had turned up in the post. On opening the envelope, the mere words “Ambridge DK and chunky,” were enough to send me into hysteric raptures. Tom could get no sense out of me for quite some time. “Look!” I shrieked, “check out Christine Barford in her horse-themed intarsia!” Ravelry really is an amazing thing. Last week, on the lively Archers’ discussion board, Woolhemina mentioned that she had six copies of a booklet of patterns featuring the characters of everyone’s favourite long-running BBC radio soap clad in delightful ’80s knitwear. I was lucky enough to score the last one. Life may never be the same again.

shula
(Conservative prig, Shula Hebden Lloyd, sports an appropriately hideous tyrolean / intarsia combo whilst wolfing down Granny P’s ginger snaps)

I am not ashamed to say that I am a long-time Archers listener. I became obsessed with it while completing my first University degree. I well recall preparing for exams while being gripped by Clive Horrobin’s notorious raid on the village post office and Susan Carter’s subsequent imprisonment (oh, that she might have stayed inside!). I didn’t own a TV until 1999, and till then, my sole source of frothy-narrative-pleasure came courtesy of Brookfield and Grange Farm. A decade passed by to the sounds of Mark and Caroline’s car crash, Nelson’s disappearance, the destruction of GM crops, the doings of the evil Simon Pemberton. Oh, happy days!

kate
(Wild child, Kate Aldridge, as an infant. Nice sheep-adorned duffle – but what a discomfiting stare! The gaze of Beelzebub is clearly a sign of what’s to come.)

What’s interesting about my Archers fascination – both then and now — is that, with a very few exceptions (Ed, Fallon, Jill) I despise, or am annoyed by every single character. But perhaps being irritated (or, in the case of Kenton, perpetually embarrassed) is part of the pleasure of The Archers. I love to shout at the radio whenever whingeing, needy Emma appears (will she ever get her comeuppance?), bawl expletives at Shula (I think I hate her most of all) or berate the script writers for representing Lynda’s concerns about the preservation of ancient rights of way as unnecessarily absurd. And clearly The Archers has this effect on others as well. My Dad, who is a very mild, easy-going sort of man, professes a violent dislike for Dayvidd Archer. “Its something about his voice,” he told me, “he’s just so bloody smug.” Indeed, its in the exchanges between Dayvidd and the vile Pipsqueak (his firstborn) that my Archers affection finds its limits. If they start discussing another earthworm survey, or reinforcing their father-daughter bond over the intricacies of bovine parturition, I just have to turn the radio off.

dayvidd
(Dayvidd Archer: the most hated man on radio?)

For those of you who don’t know, The Archers is Britain’s longest-running soap opera: set in a small rural community in the Midlands, and developed under consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, it was originally designed to inform as well as entertain. The first episode was broadcast in the Spring of 1950–when post-war rationing was still in force–and the narrative provided a context for the dramatisation of themes that might improve productivity and accelerate the modernisation of British farming. The rural setting still remains the occasion for much issue-led drama, and the short lapse between recording and transmisssion often allows the programme to respond to urgent and pressing events in the British farming world (such as foot and mouth, or Bovine TB). So while I despise most of the characters, and though I think the show’s script writing is often pretty poor, I do enjoy its country context. Indeed, perhaps the most pleasing thing about The Archers is its pace and rhythm. Unlike other soaps, events unfold in real time. In this sense, the choices of the show’s writers and editors are often brave and important. Compare, for example, the different ways in which Coronation Street and The Archers have dealt with dementia-related storylines: in Coronation Street, a character was diagnosed and whisked off screen within a matter of weeks, while in The Archers, the condition is unfolding, slowly and painfully, over months and years, highlighting many life-changing, distressing and difficult decisions. Things take time, on The Archers, and they are also reassuringly regular, predictable. My life is neither regular or predictable, and for me, it is sad but true that each year’s diurnal round can be measured by familiar Archers events: the village panto, the single wicket contest, the flower and produce show, the happy reappearance of the Grundy World of Christmas. “When shall I make the Christmas cake?” Tom asked me, just a few days ago. “Not sure,” I said, “just wait until Jill Archer mentions Stir-up-Sunday . . . ”

jill
(Jill Archer. Baking and beekeeping doyenne).

Now: to the patterns. The booklet makes reference to the death of Polly Perks, and Nelson’s wine bar: I reckon that dates it to 1982 or 3. As one might imagine, it is peppered with ’80s attrocities (the thing that Caroline is wearing is just too horrendous to show), but there are actually some interesting patterns in here. One in particular caught my eye. . . . I have stared at this garment sported by prejudiced Brummy landlord, Sid Perks, many times, and am still not sure whether its pint-pot-and-dart motifs are a work of design genius, or a source of knitting horror. You must decide for yourselves.

sid
(I like to think that Sid’s gesture suggests guilt, as he finally acknowledges his own appalling homophobia.)

As you can see at the top of this post, in addition to the patterns, Argyll Wools (still listed as a going business concern in Guiseley) also issued an Ambridge yarn range. Ambridge Yarn! Amazing! The fibre-composition is very much of its time, combining “the softness of machine washable wool enhanced with the durability of nylon”, but it did come in 33 shades, of which just 5 would enable you to knit a Sid Perks pint pot sweater! I am beginning to dream of unused skeins of Ambridge yarn lurking around the nation’s charity shops. Imagine!

phil

As well as the more outlandish ’80s designs, I actually think many of the men’s garments in the booklet are rather pleasing — in particular this pair of sweaters sported by Phil and Jethro. I felt quite moved to see this happy picture of Norman Painting, sans beard. Archers listeners will know that Painting — who is depicted on the left, and who played Phil Archer — died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 85. His voice was heard in the first episode of the programme in May 1950, and will last be heard in one to be broadcast on November 22nd. A successful script writer as well as an actor, Painting also wrote over a thousand Archers‘ episodes in the 60s, 70s and early 80s — often attempting to write Phil out of the narrative to give himself a rest. I actually own a copy of Painting’s Archers memoir, Forever Ambridge (ahem), and I’ll remember Phil most for his love of pigs (which I share). I was very pleased to see him included in my now-to-be-treasured Archers pattern booklet.

*PS Those who have not yet experienced the delights of The Archers may be interested to note that you can download each episode as a podcast. Hurrah!*

**PPS I am feeling better**

42 thoughts on “Ambridge

  1. The internet – and blog writers – are wonderful things. I am a photographer just turned 60 and have been asked to present a selection of photos and give a talk at a local Arts Festival in Kent. So this meant a trawl through the archives – which went way back to the early 1980s when I was a photographer’s assistant at a small studio in Camden. Amongst very few photos from that time (assistants did not get to keep their work) I found a polaroid and a couple of test shots from a shoot I assisted on in the Cotswolds – yes that’s right a book of knitting patterns featuring the Archers.

    I never had a copy of the finished result and these photos brought memories flooding back. Brilliant to see them again – last time I saw them would have been 1982 or 3 when I cycled round to the processing laboratory to fetch them and stuck them on the light box for my boss to pick the best out. The actors (in the main) were great fun to work with and we all stayed in a hotel in Chipping Camden. Hilarious and outrageous stories were told which would have shocked many a listener. I particularly like Eddie Grundy and Nelson Gabriel and Frank Middlemass who played Dan Archer at the time. I also remember we had a problem with one of the ‘children’ who was played by an adult on the radio and was rather too shapely for the jumper she was modelling to make a convincing nine year old!

    I was only the assistant though I might have taken some of the background and still shots – the photographers were Gerry Wilks and Mike Good.

    Thanks for bringing it all back and I might have to borrow a shot or two for my talk..

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  2. Time for a new Ambridge post, perhaps. I’d love to hear what you think of the (painfully) slowly unfolding story of Helen and Rob, or Hell-in-a-handcart and Throb as they are called on the Archers Appreciation FaceBook page. Although I have been reading your blog for a few years I found this post via a post on the AA page. And I love these 80s pattern books, reminding me of when I began knitting and a time when my children were expected/small

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  3. Is the thing that Carloine wears the full length dress with frill? I very nearly finished that, before moving and losing the pattern. I still have the three-quarters I made, waiting for the booklet to resurface or another copy come up on ebay…. :)

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  4. I too have the archers knitting booklet, hilarity! If you persevere with ebay, I would every so often search ‘archers knitting’ then you can find the wool too! I picked up a whole bag of the dk wool in blue, its 100 %wool and knits up really nicel ( I made a thermal with mine) You can see my remaining skeins here: http://www.ravelry.com/people/Ellietrudy03/stash/argyll-ambridge I was particularl tickeld by the BBc copyright on the band.

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  5. I’ve been listening to the Archers since the 50s ( with a couple of gaps). It drives me mad at times but I can’t give it up. Loved the sweater pictures. I knitted one very similar to Shula’s!

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  6. I only come out of hiding to speak about The Archers! ;o) My Mother in law, while not an advocate of corporal punishment, always says, ‘that Emma needs to have her bottom smacked!” What would life be like without these everyday coutry folk.

    PLEASE show us what hideousity Caroline is wearing.

    Designing jumpers for radio characters may be odd, but no odder than the 5 page spread of wedding pics the Radio Times published when the odious Shula married Mark Hebden!

    Cheers

    Fi

    P.S. This is a lovely blog, I like your in depth articles as great deal (I am a frustrated academic, I think!)

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  7. Fantastic! I got into listening to The Archers after I met Paul and was swiftly hooked. I am left speechless by the pint-pot-and-darts sweater, however….

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  8. Your post has just cheered up most trying day.
    I too would love to dispose of the noxious Shula. Perhaps we can knit a scarf from Ambridge yarn and strangle her worthy words with it. Any volunteers?

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  9. I love your post I started to listen when I was a very odd twelve year old, 36 years ago, love it, but loathe most of the characters. If Lilian wears knitwear what do you think it will be? Helen

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  10. This post brightened up my day. As a long standing Archer’s listener I’m wondering how I managed to miss this booklet when it was published. I feel sure my daughter would have sported the Kate Aldridge duffle and have to admit I may even have been tempted by Shula’s jumper. On second thoughts I couldn’t possibly have entertained wearing the same as that awful woman!

    ps Please show us what Caroline was wearing – wouldn’t be surprised if she still occasionally brought it out of her wardrobe.

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  11. just found your blog and wow what a laugh!
    i too am an avid archer fan (and can’t bear shula!!)
    hoping further posts continue in the same vein
    gill
    ps i’m now going to read through your old posts – how sad is that!

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  12. Well I must admit that I have a real softspot for Joe Grundy. I always remember the fire and his animals were trapped inside. Honestly it brings a tear to my eye now just thinking about it. I think that’s what’s so good is you don’t really get to find out what’s happening in advance unlike say Coronation Street or East Enders (which I haven’t watched for years) and so there is often an element of surprise – for instance when John Archer died. Who do I hate the most well Shula of course.

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  13. This post was a hoot.

    I confess that one of my stranger evenings out last winter was attending the annual get-together of the Archer’s Anarchists at the invitation of a friend. I never knew there was so much Archer’s knowledge in the world.

    Alas my 1979 edition of Martha Woodforde’s Ambridge Country Cookbook does not have Jill’s Christmas cake. But it does have Doris Archer’s Mincemeat, Peggy’s RIch Chocolate Cake and Jill’s Rum Truffles.

    Such seasonal riches best scoffed in suitable woolly attire.

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  14. I very much agree with your point about the characters. Aside from Fallon and Jill (I still haven’t forgiven Ed for being whiny and addicted) the only character who I think I could bear in real life is the lovely Ian. Still, I keep on tuning in and I’m indebted to the Archers for keeping me in touch with the agricultural year,

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  15. oh dude, the pint sweater is immortal.
    i first heard the archers in 1977, and was glad to get this history of it. i agree with you the gents’ sweaters are very nice indeed, and contemplate the death of one of the original 1950 actors with something like awe. i like it that the archers has that ag pedagogy component.
    glad you’re feeling better, hope to see you sporting pint leg warmers soonest.

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  16. OH MY GOD! This post has made me hyperventilate in excitement!

    It will come as no surprise that I am a complete Archers fan – I have always fancied my chances as the agricultural story editor. (one of my authors at OUP wrote for the archers and I was beside myself when I discovered this!)
    I started listening to it when I was very small and my mum thinks its creepy that I could answer trivia questions (oh yes, I have the quiz books, and a wedding album and also maybe the cook book) about things that happened in it before I was born and spent some time as a child drawing my own maps of Ambridge. But I find it amazingly comforting – Betty’s death had me sobbing. I too hate all the characters (apart from Jenny, Ed, Fallon and Kirsty) and Shula and Susan are both top of fantasy Archers hit list. I did once kill off Tom Forrest in a ballad at primary school.

    BUT I had never known about this beauty and will have to track a copy down! Hee hee. I love Sid’s jumper….

    P.S V glad you are feeling better.

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    1. Since I discovered ipods and podcasts over here in Western Australia there has been no looking back. I have started listening to The Archers again after a gap of 38 years! My Mother always had the omnibus edition on whilst cooking the Sunday lunch when I was growing up. How amazing to hear references to all those characters so many years later…. I absolutely love it. I can understand your delight about the Ambridge patterns. I am thinking of getting an Ambridge Rose for my garden…

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  17. Does Tom listen?
    Gavin sort of listens and asks me impossibly technical questions about the backstory.
    My own personal bête noir is Susan, who I expect knits with acrylic.

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  18. Oh my goodness, what a knitting/Archers link-up heaven. Please post the Caroline monstrosity! My father had a signed copy of Eddie Grundy’s single ‘Lambs to the slaughter’, which led me to believe as a child that the Archers was some sort of early reality show.

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  19. Ambridge yarn?! How could I not know about this! Brilliant post – surely even non-Archers fans couldn’t find this tedious! Sid’s jumpers alone is highly entertaining!

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better.

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  20. Oh how I loved this post, you’ve absolutely made my day, I have shrieked with laughter at both your words and the images. I am a long term Archers devotee, the only soap I follow and like you Jill’s mention of Stir-up Sunday is my own yearly signal!

    I have a similar dislike for many of the characters, although I am rather fond of Alistair’s father (mainly because of he annoys Shula) and cannot help but feel warm towards poor old Clarrie.

    Your mention of Emma reminded me that Nic seems to have disappeared, you don’t suppose she’s been locked up in a pheasant pen do you?

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  21. Oh my. My mother knitted me a tank top just like david’s when I was 15. It had more colours in it and I wore it with skin tight red dungarees. I thought I was cool – never realised I was an archer displaced to Fife!

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  22. I started listening to the Archers quite recently, but I’ve missed a few over the last couple of weeks. I do have a pile of jotters to mark tomorrow, though, so I’m looking forward to the omnibus!

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  23. Fantastic, I can’t believe my mum (who incidentally lives not far from Guiseley) doesn’t have this, she still makes Jill Archer’s christmas cake as featured in either the Radio Times or Family Circle in the early 80s. My mum and stepdad are massive fans, when we lived in Orkney my stepdad was the most northerly member of the Eddie Grundy Fan Club, he was sent a letter from them informing him of this mighty honour.

    I don’t really listen to the Archers but I like to know it’s still going, feels like such an intrinsic part of my childhood.

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  24. Glad to hear that you are better. Don’t you think that there is something odd about knitting patterns for radio characters? Radio not being a visual medium, I mean. I did find the obituary of Norman Painting very interesting, having listened to the programme on and off over the years. He said it was only on six days a month that the programmes were recorded, so he had plenty of time for other projects.

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    1. Yes, and I confess that sometimes I don’t like to see the actors as it destroys the very powerful image I have of the characters in my mind . . . hold on what am I saying . . the Archers are real! There is no cast. . .

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  25. Crikey! I flipped out at the Ambridge Yarn. I shall be scouring charity shops from now on in the faint hope there might some somewhere. (BTW Good job Matt made that plane I reckon.)

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