FOR those of us who can remember 22 September 1955 when Grace Archer died in her farm's burning barn as she tried to rescue the horses, last Sunday's 60th anniversary edition of The Archers was tame stuff. We were promised a story line that would shake Ambridge to the core but all we got was Nigel Pargetter falling to his death from the roof of his ancestral home -- an event that could have taken place whenever the cast list had to be cut to save money -- and Helen Archer being rushed off to hospital for an emergency Caesarian operation.
In September 1955 The Archers had been on the Home Service for a couple of years but the significance of the date of Grace Archers's tragic death was as a deliberate spoiler to divert attention from that night's launching of Associated Rediffusion, Britain's first commercial TV station. Obviously, nothing comparable was available to the script editor for the 60th anniversary but even so Helen Archer's hospital dash carried the kind of contemporary social commentary which The Archers is still clever at introducing; as a single mother Helen's child had been conceived by anonymous sperm donation, an arrangement which had shocked her father Tony but will probably be forgotten as he enjoys being a grandfather. The Archers still attracts a weekly audience of five million people -- proof that its editorial judgement is usually sound.