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The Archers domestic abuse plot should shame politicians

By Jane Graham

Published 19/02/2016

Emotive issue: Timothy Watson and Louiza Patikas who play Rob and Helen Kitchener in The Archers
Emotive issue: Timothy Watson and Louiza Patikas who play Rob and Helen Kitchener in The Archers

This week Refuge, the charity dedicated to providing safe haven for victims of domestic abuse, reported "an amazing thing". More than £45,000 has been raised in mere days via a JustGiving page set up in aid of just one woman; a pregnant mother suffering horrendous subjugation at the hands of her manipulative husband.

The harrowing story of Helen Titchener has moved thousands of us not just to wring our hands, but to donate desperately needed cash to an organisation aiming to help those in a similar situation.

The odd thing is that Helen isn't real. She's a fictional character at the centre of a plot-line running on the Radio 4 soap The Archers.

The heartening response from listeners is testimony to the power of drama. We are often troubled by reports of violence, homelessness, and exploitation on the Ten O'Clock News. But we're more likely to feel injustice in our bones when it comes in form of a story, complete with characters we care about.

The potency of the Rob and Helen plot on The Archers is particularly surprising given that, unlike a comparable turn of events on, say, shadowy gangster serial EastEnders, it's evolving amid a plethora of woolly side-stories about middle-class country folk fretting over the size of their marrows, or the efficiency of their Agas. The effect is comparable to putting a petrol bomb on a paper doily. And waiting, waiting, for the bomb to go off.

There have been numerous complaints about how long the Titcheners' story has gone on. Two Christmases have passed. It is one of the slowest burners in the soap's history. With good reason.

When Phil Redmond was asked to put a domestic abuse story into Brookside, he agreed on the proviso that it would stretch for at least two years. Because that's the truth of domestic violence.

Over many months, listeners have seen Helen transform from a capable, sure-footed single mother into a cowering wretch, who tip-toes around her home with all the certainty of a new born Bambi.

While husband Rob presents himself as a loving, supportive spouse upon whom his over-worked, confused wife is reliant - securing the faith of Helen's parents with obsequious confidences and displays of concern - Helen has been efficiently cut off from her friends, family and even her work.

Her infant son is fed tales of her untrustworthiness. The bone-chilling, heart-rending story has become the fixation of every Archers' listener, howling like a wounded animal in a field of buttercups.

Not only has it alerted millions to an important issue, it has clarified the warning signs of hidden abuse, the psychological assault of a spirit; harder to detect than a black eye.

The timing of this plot, surely coming towards a climax, feels notable. Just this week, the Safe Ireland network reported its highest-ever demand for accommodation, with more than 4,800 pleas for secure shelter going unmet.

Its last figures showed 1,658 women and 2,309 children living in refuge. 900 children under four years old. Meanwhile, Refuge points out that these are the lucky ones - many unhoused women have been forced to return to abusive partners and 80% cuts since 2011 mean most of Refuge's emergency accommodation is now under threat of closure.

For far too long this unspeakable crime has been sidelined by governments with bigger vote-winning fish to fry. Imposing enormous cuts on the services designed to help its victims in the name of cutting the nation's debt is unforgivable.

I salute The Archers for alerting so many of us to the grim reality. But it shouldn't be left to soap fans to fund services which give broken, frightened parents and children the chance to try living again.

Luvvie Emma just voiced her opinion

Emma Thompson has, in the words of the Daily Mail, “kicked off the luvvie campaign to keep Britain in Europe”.

Tory MP Stewart Jackson was enraged with Thompson’s interfering expression of her pro-EU preferences, branding her an “overpaid, Leftie luvvie” (that word again) for not thinking the same as him.

What Thompson actually did was politely answer a question at a movie Press conference. I’m not sure mere courtesy and opinion-holding counts as “launching a campaign”, nor even “wading in”. But that seems to be the level of debate we’re in for, before millions of partially informed voters make a complex, epochal decision about our future.

How reassuring.

Great love letters really light my fire

Johnny Cash’s 1994 letter to wife June Carter was voted the most romantic love letter ever this week.

Hmm. We all love a bit of Johnny ‘n’ June, but the hackneyed “You’re the #1 Earthly reason for my existence” is hardly Byron.

Richard Burton’s letters to Liz Taylor had far more fizz and for those of an earthier persuasion, you can’t beat James Joyce’s epistles to Nora for ... let’s call it passion.

Grieving for his wife, Cissy, after she died, Raymond Chandler wrote to his friend that she had been: “The light of my life, my whole ambition. Anything else I did was just the fire for her to warm her hands at.” That takes it for me.

Belfast Telegraph

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