The Archers: Engaging with social networks and digital communities

You might not think it, but BBC Radio 4’s radio soap opera The Archers has a pretty big online following. I first became aware a few years ago of the message boards on the site, with lots of discussion around the show. I sometimes also used the Archers site to remind myself of who was who, although there’s something of an expert’s satisfaction now in understanding the relationships, just from hearing voices. It’s worth noting the site has changed this week, a pretty major overhaul, which I wholeheartedly approve of. Especially fun is the interactive map. I’ve also just noticed to the Ambridge Village website, often mentioned in the show. 

Beyond the web site though, there are also a number of people discussing the Archers on Twitter. And more weirdly, playing the roles of various characters, from key parts, to silent characters, to dead dogs, unborn babies and sheep. And yes, I’m one of them – I run the @welovethebull account, playing the role of a fictional milkman (Harry) on a radio soap, running a campaign to save a pub. Yes, the internet is an odd place. Here’s a list of some of those characters, Twitter username, followed by name of the character:

kenton_archer Kenton Archer

AmbridgeMice Ambridge Mice

JoeGrundyEsq Joe Grundy

JazzerMcC Jazzer McCreary

Sabrina_Thwaite Sabrina Thwaite

GhostofGreg Ghost of Greg

NigelPargetter Nigel Pargetter

HelensFoetus Toni Carter Jnr TBC 

TheHobhound Hobhound of Edgely

CaptainsGhost Captain

WaltersGhost Walter Gabriel

welovethebull Harry

Nelsons_Ghost Nelson Gabriel

Clarrie_Grundy Clarrie Grundy

FallonRodgers Fallon Rodgers

helenarcher30 Helen Archer

brenda_tucker Brenda Tucker

Aunt_Pat_Archer Pat Archer

ArcherRuth Ruth Archer

BartlebyThePony Bartleby

Bertfry Bert Fry

SidPerksGhost Sid Perks’ Ghost

HomeFarmBrian Brian Aldridge

JenniferAld Jennifer Aldridge

AmbridgeLabour Ambridge Labour

LyndaSnell Lynda Snell

DavidA_Ambridge David Archer

mercedesgoodman Mercedes Goodman

Jack_Woolley Jack Woolley

JazzerAmbridge Jazzer McCreary

Pip_Archer Pip Archer

AnAmbridgeSheep An Ambridge Sheep

VickyAmbridge Vicky Tucker

CliveHorobin Clive Horobin

LillianBellamy Pusscat

Mathew_Crawford Matt Crawford

eddie_grundy Eddie Grundy

See what I mean by ‘a following’? Also searching for #the archers hashtag around 7.15 ish each night offers some fun discussion of the show, as it ends. 

Facebook has it’s place as well, with The Archers Addicts page, and a sister Facebook campaign to my @welovethebull account.

However, I was wondering how else the show might integrate and dovetail with it’s passionate online fanbase? And here are some ideas:

  • Online auditions for cameos. How about getting people to submit a bit of audio using something like Audioboo and then offering the best ‘audition’ a bit part or cameo. Maybe just someone ordering a pint at The Bull, or doing one or two lines for one of the silent characters such as Sabrina Thwaite. Could get a lot of chatter online, and in mass media. 
  • Online discussions slotting into the actual show. At the time The Bull was running a games night, I asked, under the guise of Harry the milkman, who was organising it, what games people might like to see there. It would have been amazing to then slot some of those ideas into the show. The Archers has been quite good at this recently, slotting in World Cup football discussion following an actual game the night before, and more recently, characters talking about the impending royal wedding. As it’s radio, I can only assume it’s easier to add lines of dialogue like this, than it is in Eastenders (where we also see it occasionally). 
  • Online voting for storyline direction. This could easily be done using some or all of Facebook voting, Twitter voting, or a system via the new website. On the website we already see quick polls taking place. Voting for storylines (Should Helen’s baby be a boy or a girl) would allow scriptwriters to pander to popular demand, go against the grain or ignore the requests altogether but at least have an idea of how well a planned storyline might sit with listeners.
  • Fake Twitter accoun
    ts listed in the Who’s Who.
    Some people clearly put a lot of work into running the fake Twitter accounts for their characters, such as Bartleby the Pony and Eddie Grundy – it would be nice to see the favour returned by the BBC by listing them on their equivalent (equine?) Who’s Who page
  • Naming new characters. Competitions to name new characters, or animals on the show. 


That’s all for now, but I’d like to hear other ideas…  

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2 Responses to The Archers: Engaging with social networks and digital communities

  1. william perrin says:

    good stuff – always remarkable to see such an old show so well connected with modern mediayou might be interested in a write up we did on the ambridge village site over on our talk about local site with suggestions for what could happen to broaden engagement

  2. Kat says:

    Great piece! Very useful. But oh dear lord – as a longstanding Archers fan I have to completely veto the idea of online voting for storyline direction. The whole point is that the writers know how the characters behave – not always in a terribly realistic way, admittedly (Kathy Perks: mother from hell; Helen: mother-to-be from hell; Kate: hell in its purest form) but part of the fun is discussing it with other listeners. The internet stiffens with disapproval any time something occurs that is out of character or canon, but we’ve had some very interesting introductions from the writers, not least Rhubarb the robot child.Long may The Archers continue, and fantastic to have so many new forums in which to discuss it with other fans.

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