Arthur Heffer, BBC agricultural liaison executive, explained: ‘Without the scrutiny of a qualified agricultural advisor, it would be sheer madness to let a script go into production. We here at Radio 4 can barely imagine the anarchy that would result if we let one slip out unchecked. Meanwhile, the scripts keep arriving.’
The striking advisors are refusing to tackle Archers scripts on account of the low pay, long hours and immense tedium of the work. ‘We have to read every word,’ said one. ‘Every bloody word.’
The calamitous approval backlog is playing havoc with production schedules, leaving some of the nation’s plummiest and most theatrical voice actors struggling to find work.
The problem, says Heffer, is that listeners pick up on the slightest inaccuracy.
‘Take this line, for David Archer: “Sorry, Brian, I said I’d see you in The Bull, but I still have two cows to shave.”
‘See, “two cows to shave”. We’re not sure about that. We just don’t know how many cows a skilled farmer like David would reasonably be able to shave single-handed. Get it wrong and you can imagine the outcome – there’d be tutting in the streets. And as for ‘see you in The Bull’…the consequences of getting it wrong.
“In another script, one of the Grundys is about to give birth. What is a typical gestation period for a Grundy? How many vets would need to be on hand? That’s where we need that expert judgment. Our listeners will soon let us know if we’re not spot-on – there’ll be letters, if not more tutting and possibly disgruntled protesters outside Broadcasting House.’
The BBC has warned the government that Britain has only about two weeks’ supply of unbroadcast Archers. If the stoppage continues much longer, there is a real threat of radios falling silent twice a day at 2pm and at 7pm – with a danger of severe civil unrest among some quarters of British society.
‘That would be ten times worse than the mad cow crisis, believe me,’ Heffer warns.