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Lettris is a curious tetris-clone game where all the bricks have the same square shape but different content. Each square carries a letter. To make squares disappear and save space for other squares you have to assemble English words (left, right, up, down) from the falling squares.
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The Archers logo used on the BBC website
|Running time||15 minutes, later 12½ minutes|
|Home station||BBC Light Programme, later BBC Home Service, now BBC Radio 4|
|Editors||John Yorke (acting)
Vanessa Whitburn (on leave)
|Recording studio||BBC Birmingham|
|Air dates||since 29 May – 2 June 1950 (pilot)
1 January 1951 – present
|No. of episodes||16,760 (as of 21 June 2012)|
|Audio format||Stereophonic sound|
|Opening theme||Barwick Green|
|Podcast||The Archers podcast|
The Archers is a long-running British radio soap opera broadcast on the BBC's main spoken-word channel, Radio 4. It was originally billed as "an everyday story of country folk", but is now described on its Radio 4 web site as "contemporary drama in a rural setting". With over 16,700 episodes, it is both the world's longest running radio soap and, since the cancellation of the American soap opera Guiding Light in September 2009, the world's longest running soap opera in any format.
The Archers is the most listened to Radio 4 non-news programme, with over five million listeners, and it holds the BBC Radio programme record for the number of times listened to over the Internet, with over one million listeners.
BBC Radio 4 Extra has also broadcast, in 2011, two series (26 episodes each) of a twice-weekly spin-off show Ambridge Extra. These were advertised as a trial, and it is not currently known if more will be made.
The Archers is set in the fictional village of Ambridge in the fictional county of Borsetshire, in the English Midlands. Borsetshire is situated between the (in reality contiguous) counties of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, south of Birmingham in the West Midlands, although it has been occasionally misinterpreted as Dorsetshire in South West England. Various villages claim to be the inspiration for Ambridge: Ambridge's public house, The Bull, is modelled on The Old Bull in Inkberrow, whereas Hanbury's St Mary the Virgin is often used as a stand-in for Ambridge's parish church, St Stephen's.
Other fictional villages include Penny Hassett, Loxley Barrett, Darrington, Hollerton, Edgeley, Waterley Cross and Lakey Green. The county town of Borsetshire is Borchester, and the nearest big city is the cathedral city of Felpersham. Felpersham also has a university. Anywhere further from Ambridge may be referred to humorously with comments such as 'that's on the other side of Felpersham!', but characters do occasionally venture further: several attended the Countryside Alliance march in London, there have been references to the gay scene in Manchester's Canal Street, and a number of scenes have taken place abroad or in other places around the country, with some characters resident overseas in South Africa and Hungary, and other characters have visited Norfolk. Birmingham is a favourite destination for shopping.
Since Easter Sunday 1998 there have been six episodes a week from Sunday to Friday, at around 19:02 (preceded by a news bulletin). All except the Friday evening episode are repeated the following day at 14:02, and all of the week's episodes are re-run as a Sunday morning omnibus at 10:00.
Many plots involve the teen and twenties offspring of these families, so new nuclear families come into existence over time. Other distant relatives also reappear. Some characters are well known but never heard on air. Over the years, some silent characters become real, or vice-versa (for example, Mrs Antrobus, "the Dog Woman").
Main sites in the village are:
Unlike some soap operas, episodes of The Archers portray events taking place on the date of broadcast, allowing many topical subjects to be included. Real-life events which can be readily predicted in advance are often written into the script, such as the annual Oxford Farming Conference and the FIFA World Cup. On some occasions, scenes recorded at these events are planned and edited into episodes shortly before transmission.
More challengingly for the production team, some significant but unforeseen events require scenes to be rewritten and rerecorded at short notice, such as the death of Princess Margaret (particularly poignant because she had appeared as herself on the programme), the World Trade Center attacks, and the 2005 London bombings. The events and implications of the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis required many "topical inserts" and the rewriting of several storylines.
In Jan 2012, the residents of Ambridge voted to vaccinate the local population of badgers to prevent potential spread of Bovine Tuberculosis, rather than instigating a cull. The plotline came within weeks of the Government confirming an unpopular badger cull trial in England in autumn 2012.
Unlike television soaps, The Archers actors are not held on retainers, and work on the series for, at most, a few days a month. Most of the cast do acting work on other projects and can disappear for a period if they are working on long-term commitments such as films or television series. For example, Tamsin Greig, who plays Debbie Aldridge, has appeared on television comedy shows such as Green Wing, Love Soup and Black Books. As a result, Debbie manages a farm in Hungary in which her family has an interest while Greig is filming these shows, and then returns to Ambridge when Greig's commitments allow. Because of this, and by the nature of the storylines focusing on particular groups of characters, in any week the series comprises between 20 and 30 speaking characters out of a regular cast of about 60. Greig's situation was similar to that of Felicity Jones who played Emma Carter in the series; Jones, after a period studying at Wadham College, Oxford has moved into large TV parts, such as a starring role in Northanger Abbey. Emma Carter is now played by Emerald O'Hanrahan.
Some of the actors, when not playing their characters, earn their money through different jobs altogether: Charlotte Connor, when not playing Susan Carter (credited as Charlotte Martin), works full-time as a senior research psychologist at the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation; her office is a short walk from BBC Birmingham and thus is able to fit it around recordings. Other examples include Felicity Finch (Ruth Archer), who also works as a BBC journalist; having travelled on a number of occasions to Afghanistan, and Ian Pepperell (Roy Tucker), who managers a pub in the New Forest.
Starting on Whit Monday, 29 May 1950, and continuing with five episodes through that week, a pilot series created by Godfrey Baseley was broadcast to the English Midlands in the Regional Home Service, as 'a farming Dick Barton'. Recordings were sent to London, and after some discussion the BBC decided to commission the series for a longer national run. In the five pilot episodes the Archers owned Wimberton Farm, rather than Brookfield.
Since 1 January 1951, five 15-minute episodes (since 1998, six 12½-minute episodes) have been transmitted each week, at first on the BBC Light Programme and subsequently on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4). The original scriptwriters were Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason, who were also working on the series Dick Barton whose popularity partly inspired The Archers and whose slot in the schedules it eventually took. Originally produced with collaborative input from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food|Ministry of Agriculture, The Archers was conceived as a means of disseminating information to farmers and smallholders to help increase productivity in the post-World War II years of rationing and food shortages. It was originally formulated around the lives of three farmers; Dan Archer, farming efficiently with little cash, Walter Gabriel, farming inefficiently with little cash, and George Fairbrother, a wealthy business man farming at a loss for tax purposes (which one could do in those days). The programme was hugely successful; at the height of its popularity it was estimated that 60% of adult Britons were regular listeners. The programme's educational remit and the involvement of the MoA ended in the 1970s, but it still contains many storylines and discussions about farming, and has a separate 'agricultural story editor', Graham Harvey.
Tony Shryane MBE was the programme's producer from 1 January 1951 to 19 January 1979. Vanessa Whitburn has been the programme's editor since 1992. Whitburn is on long service leave from March to July 2012, during which time John Yorke is acting editor. Since 2007, The Archers has been available as a podcast. As of 5 June 2011[update], the omnibus podcast on iTunes in the United Kingdom was at 37 while the daily podcast was at 89.
One of the most controversial Archers episodes was broadcast on 22 September 1955, the evening of the launch of the UK's first commercial television station, ITV. Phil and Grace Archer had been married just a few months earlier, and their blossoming relationship was the talk of the nation. However, searching for a story which would demonstrate some real tragedy among the increasingly unconvincing episode cliff-hangers, Godfrey Baseley had decided that Grace would have to die. It was explained to the cast as an "exercise in topicality. " The scripts for the week of 19 September 1955 were both written, recorded, and broadcast on each day. On Thursday evening of that week, listeners heard Grace trying to rescue her horse, Midnight, from a fire at Brookfield stables, and the crash as a beam fell on her.
Whether the timing of the episode was a deliberate attempt to overshadow the opening night of the BBC's first commercial rival has been debated ever since. It was certainly planned some months in advance, but it may well be that the actual date of the death was changed during the scriptwriting stage to coincide with the start of ITV. Deliberate or not, the episode attracted widespread media attention, being reported by newspapers around the world.
This controversy has been parodied twice: in The Bowmans, an episode of the television comedy programme Hancock, and in the play and film The Killing of Sister George. On the 50th anniversary of ITV's launch, Ysanne Churchman, who played Grace, sent a congratulatory card to ITV, signed "Grace Archer".
In 1996, William Smethurst recounted a conversation with Baseley in which he reveals his real motivation for killing off Grace Archer: Churchman was encouraging the other actors to join a trade union.
The actor Norman Painting played Phil Archer continuously from the first trial series in 1950 until his death on 29 October 2009. His last recording for an Archers episode was recorded just two days before his death and was broadcast on 22 November. He holds the title of longest-serving actor in a single soap opera in the Guinness Book of Records. As a script writer, he also wrote around 1,200 complete episodes, credited as "Bruno Milna", culminating in the 10,000th episode. June Spencer has played Peggy Archer/Woolley from the pilot episode onwards, though not for all of the period since. According to Who's Who in The Archers 2008, episode 15,360 was to be broadcast on 1 January 2008. Episode 15,000 was broadcast on 7 November 2006.
The Archers reached its 60th anniversary on 1 January 2011 and to mark this achievement, a special half hour episode was broadcast on Sunday 2 January on BBC Radio 4 from 7pm. The episode had been advertised as containing events that would 'shake Ambridge to the core'. This phrase even gave rise to the initialism #SATTC trending on the website Twitter during that weekend as listeners speculated about what might happen, and then reported their views as the story unfolded.
The main events in the episode were Helen Archer giving birth to her son Henry and Nigel Pargetter falling to his death from the roof of Lower Loxley Hall. Elizabeth is now struggling with the death of her husband and the family are milling around not sure what to do for the best.
The writing out of the character of Nigel caused much controversy among Archers' listeners, with a large number of complaints variously expressing dismay at the death of a popular character, concerns over the manner of the dismissal of the actor, belief that the promise to 'shake Ambridge to the core' had been over-hyped, criticism of the credibility of the script and acting for the anniversary episode, and a perceived unwillingness of the editorial team to engage with these listener complaints.
A recurring theme has been the resentment of the working-class Grundy family towards the middle-class Archers. Labour politician Neil Kinnock in the 1980s jokingly called for The Archers to be retitled "The Grundys and their Oppressors". The series, however, now deals with a wide range of contemporary issues including illicit affairs, drug abuse, rape, and civil partnerships, inviting criticism from conservative commentators such as Peter Hitchens that the series has become a vehicle for liberal and left-wing values and agendas, with characters behaving out of character to achieve those goals. However, one of the show's charms is to make much out of everyday, small concerns, such as the possible closure of the village shop, the loss and rediscovery of a pair of spectacles, competitive marmalade-making, or nonsense such as a 'spile troshing' competition, rather than the large-scale and improbable events that form the plots of many soap operas. However, there are some dramatic storylines, such as the rape of Kathy Perks.
Sometimes mocked as a comfortable middle-class series with stereotypical comic yokels, the programme has nonetheless tackled many serious social issues. There have been, for instance: rural drug addiction; inter-racial relationships; direct action against genetically modified crops and badger culling; family break-ups; and civil partnerships.
According to some of the actors, and confirmed in the writings of Godfrey Baseley, in its early days the show was used as a conduit for announcements from the Ministry of Agriculture, one actor reading an announcement almost verbatim to another. More recently the show has reacted within a day to agricultural emergencies such as outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, which affect farmers nationwide when livestock movements are restricted.
Many famous people have made cameo appearances on the programme:
The theme tune of The Archers' is called "Barwick Green" and is a maypole dance from the suite My Native Heath, written in 1924 by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood. An alternative arrangement, played by The Yetties, is used to introduce the Sunday omnibus. In 1992, having used the same recording for many years, the theme was re-recorded in stereo. The original orchestral arrangement was used, but the slightly different mixing and more leisurely tempo led many listeners to consider the new version inferior.
Robert Robinson once compared the tune to "the genteel abandon of a lifelong teetotaller who has suddenly taken to drink". On April Fool's Day 2004 both The Independent and The Today Programme claimed that BBC executives had commissioned composer Brian Eno to record an electronic version of "Barwick Green" as a replacement for the current theme, while the (Scottish) comedian Billy Connolly included in his act the joke that the theme was so typically English that it should be the national anthem 
English doctors are taught that the tempo of the tune is the rate at which to apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). An alternative tune is "Nellie the Elephant", which has the same tempo.
In the past, a cliffhanger involving a death of a major character or disaster was marked by the traditional closing theme being replaced by the final dramatic section of Barwick Green involving trombones, cymbals and the closing bars of the signature tune. However, this tradition has been dropped in recent years, notably after the death of Nigel Pargetter when the normal closing music was played despite the gravity of the incident, and after the death of John Archer when no music was played at all.
Two organisations dedicated to the programme were established in the 1990s. Archers Addicts is the official body, run by members of the cast. The club has five thousand members and an online shop where Archers memorabilia is sold under licence. It also provides a message board where fans of the show can give their views on the programme. Archers Anarchists was formed some time later, objecting to the "castist" assumptions propagated by the BBC, and claiming that the characters are real.
In 1994, the BBC World Service in Afghanistan began broadcasting Naway Kor, Naway Jwand ("New Home, New Life"), an everyday story of country folk incorporating pieces of useful information. Although the useful information was more likely to concern unexploded land mines and opium addiction than the latest modern farming techniques, the inspiration and model of Naway Kor, Naway Jwand was The Archers, and the initial workshopping with Afghan writers included an Archers scriptwriter. A 1997 study found that listeners to the soap opera were significantly less likely to be injured by a mine than non-listeners.
The Japanese national radio and TV network, NHK, offers a "morning drama" (asadora) that runs for 15 minutes from Monday to Saturday on television. This slot was established on radio in the early postwar era and moved to television in 1961. Each series lasts six months, i. e. approximately 150 episodes. All centre on a heroine, usually a young girl facing challenges (usually in Japanese traditional social ways) to realize her dream. Programmes have often been used as vehicles for discussion of matters of social concern, such as the foster-child system, and to celebrate the locales around Japan where the series are set.
The most recent Archers reference books are Who's Who in The Archers by Keri Davies, senior producer and scriptwriter. This has been published by BBC Books since 2003 and is updated annually for the Christmas gift-giving season.