When did The Archers go all Eastenders?

Sean O’Connor, the new editor of The Archers recently promised to deliver storylines that are “Shakespearean”, although this one seemed more like something out of Albert Square.

The Archers
BBC Radio 4

It was all Kenton’s fault, I don’t doubt it. When Tom Archer dumped Kirsty in the vestry just moments before they were supposed to exchange vows (24 April, 7pm), it hadn’t been the Ribena spill on her dress that had tipped him, or that his ring had felt too suffocatingly tight when he tried it on in the shop, or even the ominously arty sound of rain on the Ambridge hedgerows the night before, as he agonised his way to Peggy’s house for advice. No, it was Kenton mentioning that on the wedding list Kirsty had specified a “floral teapot”. Which can only mean one thing to the British male: Cath Kidston. Little wonder Tom backed out! There’s nothing more terrifying than a world that starts with cherryade and ends with Brown Owl.

Kirsty’s dumping was met with the sort of howls from listeners that are usually confined to Japanese martial arts classes. I present one slack-jawed text message from my mother, sent seconds after the broadcast: “Who am I what am I where am I?” This was followed three hours later by: “Tom will top himself.”

Although the new editor of the show, Sean O’Connor, recently promised in an interview to deliver storylines that are “Shakespearean”, I confess that Perdita and Florizel in The Winter’s Tale were not the first things that sprung to mind during this particular nuptial meltdown. Kirsty’s cry, EastEnders-ishly relentless, rang down the pews and into Joe Grundy’s ears in a way that could only signal one thing: he was going to have to buy his own lunch at the Bull.

Annabelle Dowler, who plays Kirsty, then bravely took to Twitter for a live Q and A with fans and was soon fielding questions such as: “Who’s the greatest villain – Henry VIII or Tom Archer?” and “Can we . . . slowly burn [Tom] to a crisp like a sausage?” (“A bit harsh!” replied Dowler.)

“Were you not tempted to stray from the script and give Tom a jolly good slap around the face?” asked another. “Think that would have worked quite well on radio.” Dowler’s answer implied that, in truth, the actress was as miffed about this whole turn of events as everybody else. “It would have been a sound engineer doing it,” she wrote, “so I wouldn’t even have had the satisfaction myself!”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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The filmmaker forcing the British Board of Film Classification to watch Paint Drying for hours on end

The film does what it says on the tin.

Would you watch paint dry for several hours? If you work for the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), you might not have much choice in the matter. As a protest against problems he sees within the organisation, British filmmaker and journalist Charlie Lyne has launched a Kickstarter to send the BBFC a film he’s made called Paint Drying. It does what it says on the tin: the film is a single, unbroken shot lasting several hours (its length is determined by the amount of money raised) of white paint slowly drying on a brick wall. Once Lyne has paid the fee, the board are obliged to watch it.

“I’ve been fascinated by the BBFC – and censorship in general – for ages, but it was only when I went to a BBFC open day earlier this year that I felt properly frustrated by the whole thing,” Lyne told me. “There was a lot of discussion that day about individual decisions the board had made, and whether they were correct, but no discussions whatsoever about whether the BBFC should have the kind of power it has in the first place.”

The 2003 Licencing Act imposes the following rules on cinemas in the UK: cinemas need licenses to screen films, which are granted by local authorities to the cinemas in their area. These licences include a condition requiring the admission of children to any film to normally be restricted in accordance with BBFC age ratings. This means that in order to be shown easily in cinemas across the country, films need an age rating certificate from the BBFC. This is where, for Lyne, problems begin: a certificate costs around £1,000 for a feature film of average length, which, he says, “can prove prohibitively expensive” for many independent filmmakers.

It’s a tricky point, because even Lyne acknowledges on his blog that “this is actually a very reasonable fee for the services rendered”. The BBFC pointed out to me that its income is “derived solely from the fees it charges for its services”. So is the main issue the cost, or the role he feels the BBFC play in censorship? The Kickstarter page points out that the BBFC's origins are hardly liberal on that front:

The British Board of Film Classification (previously known as the British Board of Film Censors) was established in 1912 to ensure films remained free of 'indecorous dancing', 'references to controversial politics' and 'men and women in bed together', amongst other perceived indiscretions. 

Today, it continues to censor and in some cases ban films, while UK law ensures that, in effect, a film cannot be released in British cinemas without a BBFC certificate.

It might be true “in effect”, but this is not a legal fact. The 2003 Licensing Act states, “in particular circumstances, the local authority can place their own restrictions on a film. Film distributors can always ask a local authority for a certificate for a film banned by the BBFC, or a local category for a film that the BBFC has not classified.” The BBFC point out that “film makers wishing to show their films at cinemas in the UK without a BBFC certificate may do so with permission from the local authority for the area in which the cinema is located.” There you have it – the BBFC does not have the absolute final word on what can be shown at your local Odeon.

While the BBFC cannot officially stop cinemas from showing films, they can refuse to categorise them in any category: something Lyne says mostly happens with “quite extreme horror films and pornography, especially feminist pornography made by people like Petra Joy and Pandora Blake, but it could just as easily be your favourite movie, or mine.” This makes large-scale release particularly difficult, as each individiual local authority would have to take the time and resources to overrule the decision. This means that, to get screened easily in cinemas, a film essentially needs a BBFC-approved rating. Lyne adds, “I think films should also be allowed to be released unrated, as they are in the US, so that independent filmmakers with no money and producers of niche, extreme content aren’t at the mercy of such an expensive, censorial system.”

Does he think Paint Drying can make that a possibility? “I realise this one small project isn’t going to completely revolutionise British film censorship or anything, but I hope it at least gets people debating the issue. The BBFC has been going for a hundred years, so it’s got tradition on its side, but I think it's important to remember how outraged we’d all be if an organisation came along tomorrow and wanted to censor literature, or music. There's no reason film should be any different.”

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.