Wednesday 10 March 2010
The Archers board game, 1960
This item goes back to the start of an era when practically every popular programme on the radio or, increasingly, on the TV, merited its own spin-off game. They were mostly formulaic in nature with specific elements grafted on to reflect, however thinly, the context and storyline of the programme concerned. In the case of The Archers, the players are farmers who move around the board, incurring expenses and picking up income as they go, and attend auctions where they acquire stock and equipment. The first one to complete the fitting-out of their farm wins.
It is the kind of game that was probably bought as a Christmas present for a parent or aged relative, was very rarely played once the festivities were over, and consequently will very often survive intact and in almost unused condition at the back of a cupboard. What's important here is that the game owes its existence to the fact that by 1960 The Archers had become an integral part of the cultural establishment with a daily audience of millions across town and country alike.
The Archers began as a series of five pilot programmes that were broadcast regionally from Birmingham at the end of May 1950 and went national on a daily basis at the beginning of January the following year. It was the creation of Godfrey Baseley (1904-97) who was involved in agricultural programme-making for the BBC and wanted to find a more entertaining way of engaging with a farming audience on the subject of farm modernisation and improvement. It soon became much more than that, 'an everyday story of country folk', impacting upon the way that an urban society thought and felt about the countryside. Within six months of its launch The Archers was pulling in four million listeners a night.
The Museum of English Rural Life was also launched in 1951 to record the old countryside that was disappearing in the face of post-war change. Here is Godfrey Baseley (left) with John Higgs, the Museum's first Curator, making a live television broadcast from the Museum in 1954.
Amongst the Museum's collections are the extensive papers of broadcaster and journalist Anthony Parkin (1926-2007) who was agricultural story editor for The Archers for 25 years from 1972. He managed and ran the four main fictional farms of Ambridge, keeping detailed records of what was going on and what was changing, in order to provide a steady stream of topical subjects for the scriptwriters. Below is the first page of a paper that he prepared in 1976 on the subject of agricultural content in The Archers.