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Archers saga awakens women's rage about injustice of society

By Jane Graham

Published 08/04/2016

Harrowing tale: Rob and Helen from The Archers
Harrowing tale: Rob and Helen from The Archers

It's taken two years, but loyal listeners finally got what they wanted this week. After the long, slow process of dismantling her relationships, her contact with the outside world and her self-esteem, The Archers' swashbuckling huntsman Rob Titchener was stabbed in the stomach by his pregnant wife, Helen.

There has been some violence and even a rape, but it's the incremental gnawing away at the core of a once-happy and capable human being which has really held the show's five million listenership in thrall.

And the mountain of media attention the show has accumulated in the last week, due to Sunday's climactic two-hander - in which a frenzied Helen struck out with the knife her sneering husband had thrust at her, goading her to "end it all" - has made strides in alerting the nation to the warning signs of domestic abuse.

The social impact of the story has been much discussed, but what's also interesting is how differently men and women have responded.

The programme almost broke Twitter at the weekend and I've lost count of the number of texts I've had from the many female friends who have recently outed themselves as Archers fans (not usually a cool name to drop). I went out for a gin-soaking with four very smart women this week and we spent most of the night arguing about whether we wanted Rob dead or not (he's currently still breathing) and speculating on Helen's chances in the legal system.

One woman had experience of the Crown Prosecution Service's handling of comparable cases and her opinion on the most realistic outcome made us so angry it almost put us off our Salty Dogs.

We disagreed on how much more of the agonising storyline we could endure, but we were all equally incredulous that we'd become so emotionally wrenched by a soap we'd once regarded as a safe haven of birdsong and cow noises to dunk our Hobnobs to.

Boyfriends and husbands, it turned out, were not so rapt (though I must acknowledge this paper's Eamonn McCann as a welcome exception). I laughed when I read Allison Pearson's comment that, while she was "practically hugging the radio", her husband "harrumphed" and wondered why The Archers' agricultural editor wasn't getting more airtime to consider the silage problem.

My own husband said almost exactly the same thing. Arriving in the kitchen during peak Helen meltdown, he sighed and asked how the new Friesians were working out.

Afterwards, I noted many similar responses from men on Twitter, ranging from the contemptuous - in disbelief that a ruddy soap opera was trending so consistently - to those uncomfortable that the sound of a woman whimpering had so frequently dominated prime time radio.

There are various reasons why this plot-line might have divided the sexes. Some men tell me they find women's propensity to become deeply engaged with fictional characters rather ridiculous (though crying over a missed penalty is entirely acceptable). There will certainly be men who just don't want to hear a hysterical woman screaming and sobbing for 10 minutes.

But for many women, this story has awoken a rage about the injustice of a society and legal system which still goes easy on men like Rob Titchener and continues to hand out less than a month's jail sentence for years of systematic domestic abuse. While the vast majority of men will sympathise, what they can't share is the experience of being a woman and hearing another woman begging to be allowed to hug her son.

Fires have been sparked in the bellies of angry, aggrieved women over the UK and I hope something good can come from this new sense of urgency. The silage will have to wait.

Housemate harsh on pregnant teen

The teenager who received a suspended sentence for self-terminating her pregnancy made headlines this week.

This paper's interview with the housemate who reported her to the police exposed worrying attitudes nurtured in Northern Ireland's anti-abortion culture. The woman said she was upset by the teenager's attitude, her "lack of remorse" and unwillingness to talk through the options with housemates twice her age.

She wasn't completely anti-abortion, she insisted, and even felt, in cases like rape, it should be a woman's choice. How enlightened of her, and how ungracious of the teen not to demonstrate sufficient mental agony to stop her going to the police.

Taxing job for PM to quell suspicion

Politicians are such masters of spin now, I was surprised the best David Cameron could do to quell suspicions about his dad's tax-dodging offshore account was to assure us he and his family wouldn't benefit from it "in the future".

The obvious question this raises is: how much did he actually benefit from it in the past? He almost sounds like he's daring us to ask.

We know he grew up among great privilege, went to Eton, then Oxford and lived a life so full he forgot to develop a chin.

But, hey, things were different in those days - evading tax was the done thing and everyone had offshore accounts.

Didn't they, Dave?

Belfast Telegraph

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