Transfixed by radio drama, Britons donate, debate domestic abuse

Tue Apr 5, 2016 9:44am EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - A downtrodden wife tries to leave her abusive husband but in the course of a confrontation ends up stabbing him in front of her young son. The case makes front-page news, stirs a moral debate and prompts a spike in donations to domestic abuse charities.

The thing is, the story is not for real.

Since the tale of Helen and Rob Titchener, characters in the BBC's radio soap opera "The Archers", reached its violent climax in Sunday evening's episode, a lively public response has shown the power of this peculiarly British cultural institution.

Set in fictional Ambridge, an archetypal English village with its pub and cricket team, the program began in 1951 as entertainment but also to inform farmers about modern methods that could help boost production in the austere post-war period.

In 1955, character Grace Archer died while trying to rescue horses from a fire in an episode broadcast on the same evening that Britain's first commercial television station was launched. Millions of listeners were distraught, and the BBC, Britain's public broadcaster, was accused of seeking to sabotage its new rival's launch.

With claims to be the world's longest-running soap opera, The Archers has some 5 million regular listeners and is so much part of the nation's cultural landscape that many Britons can hum its jaunty theme tune whether or not they follow the story.

After Sunday's episode, #TheArchers was trending on Twitter as tens of thousands of listeners vented their emotions.

"Oh. Oh my God. Oh God. I'm shaking. Oh Helen." wrote user Katy Gilbert.   Continued...