Tuesday 4 January 2011

Surely things can only get better?

My 2011 television viewing began with Morecambe and Wise and I can only echo their classic verdict on the year to date. “What do you think of it so far? Rubbish!”

And rubbish plus 20% VAT, too.

I have not heard one snippet of good news since Big Ben chimed midnight on Friday, and a lot of public money promptly went up in smoke. Every time my phone rings or inbox lights up it is with news of another friend or neighbour suffering a broken limb, heart attack, swine flu or potential cancer diagnosis.

And to cap it all Nigel Pargetter has plunged from the roof of Lower Loxley Hall, with a bloodcurdling scream so prolonged that it sounded more like a fall from Blackpool Tower.

For those who do not share my addiction to Radio 4’s famously 60-year-old soap, Nigel is (or was) a character in The Archers. A stereotypical silly ass in the P.G. Wodehouse mould, he inherited the rundown local stately home, married the slightly shop-soiled Elizabeth Archer and settled down to a life of domestic bliss with their twins. He also manifested a huge if slightly unlikely enthusiasm for BBC-approved green causes such as ditching his 4x4 for a bicycle, and providing land for allotments. You can bet he had an organ donor card in his pocket when he fell.

Latterly, though, he has been leaning on the twins to study hard to get into a private school, rather than the local state secondary strongly favoured by Elizabeth’s mother. Clearly his reactionary genes were getting the better of him and he had to go. Or has he?

At the time of writing Archers editor Vanessa Whitburn was still teasing her listeners with the fact that she chose to end Sunday night’s episode with the Barwick Green theme music rather than the splat of toff hitting tarmac, so optimists could still cling to the hope that he landed on a luckily placed bouncy castle, or indeed that he was still gripping the end of the New Year banner he had been egged onto the roof to take down by his normally dull and responsible brother-in-law David Archer.

This story harked right back to The Archers’ roots as a Government-driven public information service for farmers, contrasting sensibly progressive Dan Archer with the incompetent halfwit Walter Gabriel. Because the important underlying Elfin Safety message was this: never attempt to remove a hanging advertisement from an icy roof, after dark, in a stiff breeze, after drinking several glasses of punch. A message about as stunningly helpful as advice not to lay your head on a railway line, or dip your fingers in water before stuffing them into a live electric socket.

There is a theory that, for a relentlessly right-on rural community with an appropriate quota of gays, an obsessive single mother conceiving through sperm donation, and a vicar married to a Hindu, Ambridge is a bit light on the disabled, and that poor old Nigel might yet be allowed to survive as a hopeless cripple.

Though presumably only if comatose, since allowing an able-bodied actor to speak the words of a differently abled character would surely be as unacceptably non-PC these days as permitting a white man to black up to play Othello.

You will presumably have the advantage of me, by the time you read this, of knowing how things actually panned out, but I reckon Nigel is a goner. Because toffs are in the ascendancy right now, and need to be brought down to earth. Literally.

Nigel Pargetter is surely the luckless proxy for “Dave” Cameron, after the BBC tried and failed to persuade him that it would be a topping idea to nip up onto the slippery roof at Chequers to unfurl a banner conveying his message of hope and good cheer for 2011.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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