The long-running BBC Radio 4 soap, the Archers, which is set in the fictional village of Ambridge, has a long-standing, very faithful fan base. Its dramatic storylines are followed avidly and attract as much media attention as any of its television counterparts. The programme has a well-deserved reputation for accuracy and realism. Recent examples include the exploration of the issue of lack of affordable rural housing and an acclaimed portrayal of domestic abuse. Archers’ outcomes are not always of the “live happily ever after” variety and usually, there is an element of drama free social realism that one does not generally encounter in 21st Century TV dramas.
Currently, family conflicts are very much to the fore in the Archers. Accordingly, those who tuned in to the Sunday 6th July omnibus edition will have been brought up date on two family conflicts: – one involving Alistair and his estranged wife Shula and other involving the Aldridge family.
Shula and Alistair’s marriage which has been punctuated by infidelity and the latter’s gambling addictions and business concerns, ended a few weeks ago. Shula dramatically announced that she no longer loved Alistair and that she did not wish to continue living in the confines of a relationship that no longer meant anything to her. It would be fair to say that Alistair did not react well and much of the dialogue since has focused on the difficulties that he has had in very reluctantly accepting that his marriage is over. His difficulties are exacerbated by his valued business partner, Aneesha, unexpectedly terminating their partnership which has left him feeling doubly betrayed. He is concerned not just about the financial implications of his divorce but also about the money that he will have to find in order to buy out Aneesha.
I was one of many who was delighted to hear on 6th July that Shula and Alistair have gone to mediation. Listeners were treated to Alistair explaining the process over a beer in the pub with one of the other characters. Much of the focus of this explanation was on the requirement for full financial disclosure, something that both he and Shula appear to have complied with.
I was struck not so much by Alistair’s misgivings as by the detail and accuracy of his explanation about the attendant processes. This is in very sharp contrast to the occasional mediation portrayals that I have seen in television soaps. The section of dialogue was short but informative and very much to the point. The emphasis of his account was very much on he and Shula resolving matters themselves.
The virtues of mediation were not extolled as much as mediator Archers fans might have liked but it will have been apparent to all that by going down this path, Alistair and Shula have taken the cost-effective path and one trusts that there will be sufficient resources over to help resolve the partnership issue as well. I have high hopes, not just for some sort of happy or satisfactory ending that often materialises but that in forthcoming episodes the scriptwriters will seize the initiative and focus on how things transpire.
The hitherto quite rich Aldridge family comprises Brian, his wife, a number of adult children of differing outlooks and one underage son whose interests are looked after by his rather forthright guardian, Ruth, who although related, is not a member of the close family. Because of past misdemeanours on the part of Brian, the Aldridge’s very substantial family farm, Home Farm and adjoining land, has been partially contaminated by some noxious chemicals. In addition, the much-loved River Am have been badly affected. The UK Government’s Environment Agency has been called in and Brian has had to commission very expensive independent contractors to undertake substantial work to put things right.
The Home Farm finances which are overseen by a family partnership are none too rosy. The “solution”, the selling off of a substantial piece of unaffected land has been vigorously opposed by one of Brian’s more controversial children, Kate, who is threatening to sue. As one might imagine, feelings are running high. There is talk of dissolving the hitherto rock-solid partnership and different family partners are espousing differing, very contentious views. Ambridge may never be the same again!
As yet there has been no talk of the Aldridge family going to mediation. However, this is something that they need to do. Different characters have different roles in the Home Farm scenario but all including the youngest have considerable financial and emotional stakes in Home Farm. Brian has been engaged in instructing his solicitor to issue rather inflammatory rebuttals to other family members. His wife, Jennifer, is in despair and common sense is definitely not prevailing.
In the course of all this drama and intrigue, realistic options have been identified but so far, neither scriptwriters nor Aldridge family members have as yet really grappled with the implications of their scenario. In one way or another, all of the members of the Aldridge clan will lose out both financially and emotionally. Different siblings will bear grudges and might not communicate with one another for years to come. Brian and Jennifer’s not always very stable marriage may not survive and we avid fans may yet have to bear the anguish of another marriage breakup!
Accordingly, a plea to both the Archers writers and the Aldridge family – confidential, low cost-mediation involving all the family members, highlighting their interests and identifying some appropriate workable options will save fans’ sanity and provide an excellent storyline. Mediation will be as beneficial to the Aldridges as it is already proving to be in the case of Alistair and Shula.
The scriptwriters have the opportunity of demonstrating to many thousands of Radio 4 listeners what many have already very discovered namely, that that in family and civil contexts, mediation works and that for the 21st century, it is the way forward. Who knows, perhaps in 10 years or so one Aldridge sibling or another may reminisce and say in all seriousness, “thank goodness we went to mediation!”
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.