The BBC faced complaints from loyal listeners over its online coverage of a fictional flood disaster in long-running radio soap opera The Archers.
The Archers, which debuted on 1 January 1951 is the most listened to Radio 4 non-news programme, with over five million listeners, and, with over one million listeners via the Internet,
The Radio 4 drama’s latest sensational storyline, the village of Ambridge, based in the fictional West Midlands county of Borsetshire, was flooded. Live minute-by-minute updates of the floods on the BBC website, including weather forecasts and ‘breaking news’ headlines accompanied the show. However, some listeners have complained that the graphics were ‘insulting’.
The BBC sent fake tweets and warnings from the Environment Agency, as farmland around the fictional village became inundated with water when the River Am burst its banks after severe rainfall – mirroring the flooding of the Somerset Levels that occurred in 2014.
The BBC ‘live’ coverage linked to a real-life account of floods in Worcester and even included a video forecast by Midlands Today weather presenter Rebecca Wood, who warned people to be wary of floodwater and severe winds.
On a fans’ forum one disgruntled listener wrote: ‘Cannot stand this cross over between fiction and reality, the fiction should be strong enough to stand in its own right and not need these add-on insults to intelligence.’
Another wrote: ‘A friend of mine, a loyal and forgiving listener, told me that when she saw on The Archers Homepage a ‘weather forecast’ for Ambridge that looks exactly like the real ones that appear on the BBC news pages, she felt really cross, felt that her intelligence was being insulted.
‘She loves the fictional programme but knows it’s not real life and is angry that the programme makers think she is stupid enough to want this sort of nonsense.’
A spokesman for The Archers said: “The flood storyline has been building for some time.
“The Archers has a long tradition of reflecting the agricultural world and the current storyline, which fans will know has been building for over a year, mirrors what farmers across the country experienced in recent floods.
“When developing the script, the writers spoke to real-life farmers and it is their experiences that inspired this week’s events in Ambridge.
“This is the first time we have done live blogging and it has been amazing to see audiences engage with us and experience this week’s events as if they too were residents of Ambridge.”
Telegraph Arts Journalist Kat Brown came out in defence of the story line writing: ‘One complaint, that the flood had come “out of nowhere”, is hard to argue. As the 2007 Worcester floods and last year’s terrible flooding showed, weather doesn’t give much warning, and the decision to spend five episodes following various residents through the events of a single night has been excellent.
‘The BBC’s online efforts to follow the story have been inspired. Tweets from characters, a “live” blog, interviews with the farmers whose real-life struggles inspired the storyline, and some impressive use of its own weather service have given this storyline an impact that far outlasts each 13-minute episode.’
What’s your opinion on The Archers flood story line? Do you think it raises awareness of flooding and the need to improve defences, or do you think it made light of what is a truly horrible experience?