Charlotte Higgins on The Archers: is Darrington an evil parallel realm?

A thought experiment: you are giving birth, six weeks early, on the back seat of a clapped-out Nissan Note outside a branch of Toys R Us on the Borchester bypass. (The BBC draws a veil over certain brand details, but you know I’m right.) By which of the inhabitants of Ambridge would you least like to be assisted? Leaving aside Bert and Clive Horrobin, obvs, the correct answer is clearly feckless Jazzer McCreary and Jim “the prof” Lloyd. And yet … when Alice pushed out young Martha, to be caught in the surprised and actually rather tender arms of Jazzer himself, it was not just the wee wain who was greeting but – iron-hearted journalist that I am – I may myself just possibly have shed a tear.

But poor Alice. The Furies have long been circling around her. Too posh, too entitled and too happily married to Ambridge’s sexiest man (a farrier, I rest my case) she was bound to be brought low sooner or later. She’s not bonding with the baby, she’s riven by guilt, and the dreadful – and increasingly leaked – secret of her alcoholism is bearing down on her. Mark my words, she would have been better off taking that job in aeronautical engineering in Canada, the one she got in 2013, instead of remaining trapped inside Ambridge’s malign invisible forcefield.

Talking forcefields, I’ve had my suspicions about the next village, Darrington, since Alan, the vicar, told Lynda Snell he’d been talking to her “opposite number” there, a person rejoicing in the name of Evangeline Lowminster. “No good has ever come out of Darrington,” replied Lynda, darkly. Now it turns out that not only is Ambridge mounting a production of the Mystery Plays at Easter, but so is Darrington. My current theory is that Darrington is the twin of Ambridge in an alternative universe, Lyra’s Brytain as opposed to Will’s Britain, a place where everything is the same and also, a bit different. I imagine, for example, that the Darringtonians are ruled over by an overbearing, populous farming family whose surname, like “the Archers”, combines overtones of medieval rural skills with grand Torydom – the Thatchers, say. My alternative-worlds theory would explain why no one ever goes there, except for Alan, who, like Lord Boreal in His Dark Materials, slips through a rent in the universe to lead a sinister double life there. Eddie Grundy has clearly found a way through, too, but his incursions risk baleful consequences for all worlds, which would explain Clarrie’s gloom and dark forebodings.

In other news: Eddie has dined on despair, Ben is burying his self-respect in a time capsule, and Susan Carter – but naturally – fancied herself as Jesus.

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