As far as national anthems go, God Save the Queen is one of the most monotone, dreary and depressing. It is no wonder that a movement, started by the comedian Billy Connely, has long spoken for a jollier and more spirited song, which you could well imagine humming, while walking, in “a genteel abandon of a lifelong teetotaller who has suddenly taken to drink”, through a sunny Borshetshire countryside to the local Flower & Produce Show, pondering whether you should dag the sheep yourself or whether you should hire a professional shearer for a proper crutching. I am speaking, of course, of Barwick Green, the theme tune for The Archers.
If you are, like me, not from British Isles, you have probably never even heard of The Archers before this. Still, it is the world’s longest running radio soap opera, broadcasted since 1951 by BBC radio. Like its TV counterpart, Emmerdale, it is a show about the life in British rural areas. Originally, it was meant to be an educational program, but since human relationships are more interesting to follow than proper ways to milk a cow, the educational bits have long since fallen wayside.
BBC is well known for its talents in archiving things and it is thus no wonder that so little of over 19 000 episodes of The Archers are readily available for listening. Apart from few listener recordings from 70s and 80s that have found their way to Youtube, my main source for the Archers feel have been various official and non-official websites, such as Archers Anarchists, which insists that the village of Ambrigde, setting of the show, is not fictional and that all its characters are real life persons.
For converting this modern classic into a digital form we have to thank again the Level 9, who produced this game for Mosaic. Before going further, I would like to correct a considerable mistake. I’ve seen articles where members of either company advertised The Archers as the first adventure game based on a soap opera. This is not so, since Dallas got there first.
|Coming on The Adventure Gamer on summer 2020|
Just like the previous Level 9 and Mosaic collaboration, Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, The Archers uses the Choose Your Own Adventure style. A further similarity is that there appears to be some randomising involved, so that in different sessions some plot points might occur in different positions. My impression is that in The Archers this randomness just underscores the fact that soap operas are often made in a piecemeal fashion, with plot points coming and going without any rhyme or reason.
Like Adrian Mole, The Archers has four parts, two of which I’ll be playing now and two in the next post. Unlike in the previous game, each part has its own main character. In addition, the player has also the role of a BBC executive, charged with the task of getting the million new viewers for the show. Indeed, if the goal is not met at the end of each part, you cannot get to the next part. There are also other possible ways to screw your game, such as making the Controller of Radio 4 hate the show.
First part: Jack Woolley
|Arnold Peters, the voice of Jack Woolley|
The first character, Jack Woolley, could be described as the epitome of a conservative businessman. He was born 19th of July, 1919. His childhood home was poor, and already at the age of thirteen he was spending his time selling newspapers. He avoided Second World War, because of his heart problems, which later surfaced in form of several coronaries.
When Jack first arrived on Ambridge at the beginning of sixties, he was already a wealthy entrepreneur and a widower. During the sixties he married a widower, Valerie Trentham, who eventually wanted a divorce in the seventies. In the meantime, Jack had adopted Valerie’s daughter Hazel, who usually lives in London, but occasionally visits Jack’s home. With Valerie dying in 1983, Jack became Hazel’s only living parent.
At the time of the game, Jack’s life is full of all sorts of financial dealings, such as the village shop and Grey Gables Hotel, where he also lives. He hasn’t remarried, but has shown interest on several ladies of Ambridge, such as his assistant Peggy Archer, whom he will eventually marry in 1991. He has also owned for a few years a Staffordshire bull terrier called Captain.
I had to redo this section a couple of times, and eventually I decided to use save states liberally and reload if game wasn’t progressing well. I will cut this part into smaller sections, according to different plot lines, although in practice the player will find them entangled with one another.
Not taking that option, Jack will decide to use his personality and invites Constituency chairman Admiral Banks to a lunch. Over a hot lobster, Admiral Banks invites Jack to the Conservative Association Dance. Success!
Next step is to choose a suitable woman to the dance. Jack’s daughter, Hazel, has something against Conservatives, so the next choice will be Jack’s assistant Peggy Archer. In addition to a date, Jack must also decide upon a proper attire - should he wear his hideous white tuxedo or follow Peggy’s advice and not? If he does, Jack will be confused with a comedian and Peggy will be ashamed. If he doesn’t, Jack will donate the tuxedo to his handyman Higgs, who will use it, when taking Dolly Treadgold to a ball, which will start a rumour that Jack was Dolly’s suitor.
Problem is that although Jack hires as a performer Ed Grundy, a local we’ll meet properly in the third part, no one attends the opening. Eventually, Jack must also try the third option and sell the shop - although that option will also backfire due to further interludes. Much fuss about nothing? Not so, since the audience likes eventful plots.
Hazel is coming
Jack’s daughter Hazel was supposed to come and meet Jack during her birthday, but she was low on money. Jack can either send her a present or send her some means (railroad ticket or money) to come to the Ambridge, which is the correct decision, since Hazel has a tendency to cause scenes, which attract more audience. Jack will try to make party of some sort of for Hazel’s honour, such a disco where she could meet her childhood friends, but the moody child won’t appreciate Jack’s attempts. Jack will still love her and considers her just a misunderstood artist.
Nouvelle English Cuisine
Jack’s restaurant business is not going well, since no one wants to eat Nouvelle English Cuisine, with such delicacies as pigeon breasts with gooseberry sauce. Dropping the quality of the food does not work, since that will alienate Admiral Banks. If Jack asks advice from his chef, Jean Paul, he will suggest replacing English with Chinese cuisine. Jack doesn’t like the idea, which makes Jean Paul cry. Higgs suggests that Jean Paul is drinking too much and you might make Jack sack Jean Paul and choose another chef, who will be even worse alcoholic. Jack might also just try to hide Jean Paul’s bottle of Crème de Menthe, which will enrage the chef, who will then leave the job himself. Eventually, Jack or one of his employees has to ask Jean Paul return to his job.
Restaurant is still doing poorly and Jack might want to cut down on staff by sacking his chauffeur and all-around handyman, John Higgs. Higgs will eventually return dead drunk to the hotel and make a scene by frightening the chambermaids into a pool and jumping in with them. Jack might try to cover the whole thing from hotel guests by saying it is meant to be a party and appease the arriving police with a swig of malty. Moral majority won’t accept this turn of events, so it’s better to try to deal with the monetary problems by cutting the portions in the restaurant.
Instead, Jack himself must start making rounds in the forest with Captain. Eventually he will hear something ominous, and the player must decide what it was. It couldn’t have been an owl, because the audience knows owls won’t make that kind of sound. No, it must have been a ferocious poacher! I let Jack call the police, and it turns out the person was something far worse than a poacher: “Poachers are bad enough. Sociologists from Warwick University are an appalling prospect. What is the world coming to?”
Captain on a diet
Peggy notes that Jack had experienced quite a lot lately and suggests that he should do something about his health. Jack can go to yoga classes and become a vegetarian, which will save his life, but will also make him look ridiculous in the eyes of Peggy. Besides, radio audience in 1980s isn’t yet that into yoga.
No, you must let Jack continue in his path - or worse, make him have long walks with the Captain. The result is another heart attack, which will boost the ratings immensely (I find this a sad, but true take on media consumers).
What to do when Jack eventually recovers? You might think holiday at Guernsey might be in order, but this actually a trap! Archers characters go to Channel Islands only, when they have been written out of the show.
Second part: Elizabeth Archer
|Alison Dowling, the voice of Elizabeth Archer|
Born in 1967 with a hole in her heart, Elisabeth Archer, daughter of Phil and Jill Archer, had not yet had as eventful life as Jack Woolley, and indeed, had only recently become a speaking character in the show. Personally, on the basis of the game, I found her reminiscent of Adrian Mole, that is, an irritating, spoiled and whining teen brat. Fortunately, I managed to beat this part with just one try.
Then Nigel Pargetter (future husband of Elizabeth) invites Elizabeth to Stratford. They go to a boat party, and Elizabeth meets a mysterious quiet-looking man with a Bowie haircut. Elizabeth goes for a walk with him along the river, and they hold hands, while the man talks about wanting a wife to share his lonely flat. And no, nothing else comes out of this plot line.
Helping with the farm
After that, Phil puts Elizabeth to count the sheep, as they are being dipped. Elizabeth falls asleep, which makes Phil very cross and assign her new tasks. I decide upon plum picking. Elizabeth forgets to remove the leaves, and she has to sort the plums again.
Working in the pub
Sid Perks, the landlord of the local pub Bull, needs extra staff, and Elizabeth takes the job (and no, she cannot get higher wages, but she can get as much work as she wants). Elizabeth quickly becomes bored, and I let her put heavy stuff on drinks. Obviously BBC does not like this turn of events.
Later, Sophie Barlow, girlfriend of David Archer, Elizabeth’s brother, enters and asks for some white wine with mineral water. I have the option of giving her white wine with only a small portion of mineral water and even of lacing the drink with some gin. Since I already had reprimands for alcohol abuse, I just let Elizabeth tell Sophie she’s a wimp. Sophie thinks wimp means the same as Yuppie and goes around telling this.
Finally, Sid asks Elizabeth to call for last orders. I decide that Eddie Grundy, whom we’ll be playing as in the next section, asks for another drink. Elizabeth pours some tomato juice on him. Audience loves it.
Metro requires constant repairs. She could still get £ 500 from it. She asks more from his father, Phil, who gives her £ 400. That is enough for a mini. I decide that during the first drive the mini will burst a tyre.
Elizabeth needs thus yet another new car. I make her ask for a loan from Nigel Pargetter. Nigel promises to give her £ 1000, if she will go on a date with him. I decide she will go on one date, but after getting the money she won’t have anything else to do with him. Now Elizabeth has enough money for a new MGB.
Nigel asks Elizabeth for a dinner, and I decide she will go, if only for a free meal. After this date Nigel asks when Elizabeth will see him again. I settle for “next month”, the middling option. Nigel’s reaction is to go down on his both knees and ask Elizabeth’s hand. I decide Elizabeth will agree.
Later we learn that Elizabeth’s motive was to make Tim jealous with the wedding ring and stories of upcoming honeymoon on Bali. Not surprisingly, Tim is not at all jealous. I decide Elizabeth should become depressed. Her father saves the day be telling that she will get yet another new car, if she will cancel the wedding.
I gain million new viewers. Nicely played.
Tim Beecham is a prick
To top it all, Elizabeth sees at Hunt Ball that Tim is seeing Rachel Adamson, daughter of the local vicar. I command Elizabeth to pour champagne over Tim’s head, but Tim just laughs and dances with Rachel. Then Elizabeth trips Rachel on stairs. Rachel’s dress is torn and Elizabeth can spend the rest of the night dancing with Tim.
I decide Elizabeth will start spreading a nasty rumour that Rachel has cold sores on her lips. Tim stops going out with Rachel, but still won’t go out with Elizabeth. I am happy, because I’ve got another half a million new viewers and can easily pass to the next phase.
Will Jack Woolley survive yet another heart attack? Will Elizabeth Archer accept Nigel Pargetter as her spouse or will her infatuation with Tim Beecham continue? Answers to these and many other questions will most likely not be answered in the next episode of - The Archers!