Feedback on Radio 4 often uses message board postings and users as a way of sourcing items and speakers. The reaction from both the BBC editors when faced with this sort of criticism (and praise) by the presenter; Roger Bolton and then the subsequent reaction from the message board community itself is always filled with tension. The difficultly for BBC producers in how to respond to what is for some, a completely novel and vocal response to their work is sometimes very skillfully done but sometimes they seem v.taken aback by the strength and depth of conversations about “their” programme online and in an arena they were, til then, only partly aware of.
Yesterday Vanessa Whitburn, the editor of The Archers, was summonsed to defend the recent Sam/Ruth/David/Sophie storyline.
Things have been getting very steamy in the cowshed at Brookfield lately and Archers listeners who’ve written to Feedback talk of sensationalism and complain that some of the main characters seem to have had personality transplants. After David Archer’s flirtation with his old flame Sophie, his wife Ruth has now embarked on secret trysts with the farm’s cowman, Sam.
Some users had accused the BBC (despite this storyline arc having started nearly 2 years ago) as just spicing the show up for the sake of it. Seeing as there is always an affair storyline in The Archers and its one of the best things about it (Brian/Siobhan, Tom/Woman from Supermarket, Ed/Emma) I personally don’t really have a problem but it’s upset a lot of listeners. Personally I thought Vanessa gave a very good account of herself but she ended up causing all manner of fuss over on Mustardland (the nickname for the forum because it has a yellowy background) provoking a thread kicked off by Honeysuckle of over 250 comments for “blessing the message board”.
Ok, how about a mass protest at VW’s patronising attitude to us messageboarders on feedback.
I had to listen to the interview three times to understand what had provoked the patronising jibe amongst users. This is what Vanessa said:
The website, god bless em, they’ve been going barmy on this one for a couple of years or more. The lovely things they’ve said. The actings great and the writing of Ruth has been briliiant. One even said the scriptwriters were right on the money with this one. It reflects the lives of two people in my circle and is much more common than is often thought.
I think this shows that Vanessa and her production team clearly use the board as an insight into the succeess or not of their storylines so all credit to them for doing so. Actually The Archers board is one of the most thriving forums about BBC programmes actually within bbc.co.uk and is the Archers site itself regularly highlights ideas, best postings, faqs written and contributed by its users.
Meanwhile the woman at the centre of the fuss; Ruth Archer or rather the actress Felicity Finch is even more honest when it comes to her internet usage and the discussion in a Q and A on the site again sourced from many message board comments
I have to confess I never look at the message board. Partly because I never seem to have the time to ‘play’ on a computer and partly because I know I wouldn’t find it at all helpful to read anti-Ruth comments.
For someone who has had Dead Ringers poking fun at her character for over 7 years then I’d say it was the least of her worries. Mind you I think she’s playing the character of a mother tempted by an affair with great depth and some sympathy. I almost believe it.
For those desperate to see a conclusion to this plotline then elsewhere in her interview Vanessa hinted that the 15,000th episode coming up week after next would be “worth tuning into” with some “dramatic developments”. Blimey.
UPDATE: The Sunday Telegraph has picked up on this story saying; “The website has been inundated with messages from listeners who are using it as a form of mass protest”. Except er, as of today it hasn’t. Its had about a few hundred negative postings out of tens of thousands. And Whitburn praised the message board community rather than criticise it.