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12 November 2015

Viva el bogeyman: you’ll miss Rob Titchener when he’s gone

The villian of The Archers is so hated he even makes the announcer sound tense. But what will happen when leaves. . .?

By Antonia Quirke

Is it just me, or is even the continuity announcer beginning to sound tense at the prospect of any episode of The Archers (Sundays to Fridays, 7pm, Radio 4) that involves Rob Titchener – controlling husband to the pregnant Helen and overweening stepfather to the innocently adoring Henry, lisping proof of Theseus’s line in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “To you your father should be as a god”? Rob is so reviled after a storyline involving (possibly: it was all mega smoke and mirrors) drugging Helen and sexually assaulting her that listeners have reportedly started boycotting the show and have been firing increasingly castigating messages at the rattled actor who plays the character, Timothy Watson. (“Rob is a gift of a part,” he said recently, darting nervous looks.) Ah, the relief when an episode involves nothing more troubling than Ruth’s sweater shrinking in the wash! A few days ago the introduction, “And now . . . Rob’s been enjoying the autumn countryside in The Archers,” was delivered so tightly as virtually to hiss: “A day out in a sadistic nunnery is going to be more fun than this.”

The scale of the loathing! On the show’s Twitter page, the complaints range from needing emergency dental treatment, so acute is the Rob-induced gurning, to flat-out calls for his murder. “Smack him in the head, dump him in the barley . . .” And this from my own mother in full oracle mode: “The baby will be a girl and he will abort it. He will kidnap Henry or kill him on a hunt or hold him as a tool. He will make off with any money. I’ve stopped for a few days. We need revenge.”

But all this is nought. Consider for a moment the following, unspeakable prospect: once Rob is discovered, and doubtless violently despatched, having to listen to HELEN. Hadn’t thought it through properly now, had you? Helen – previously the most rank­ling, narcissistic character in all Ambridge – given full licence to drag around the terrible freight of her wrongedness, a poor convalescent creature, fit only for Ian’s chicken broth and Lynda Snell’s show tunes. The long silences, the sense of nervous adjustments being made around her, the village-wide tidyings and straightenings. Now this, I truly dread. Viva Rob!

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This article appears in the 11 Nov 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the threat to Britain