The influence of Richard III and Dave Allen on the Archers

An unpleasant man hands a woman a sharp instrument and winds up on the receiving end of it. A 1970s television sketch based on Shakespeare’s Richard III was there long before Helen Titchener stabbed Rob

I gave up listening to the Archers when Grace Archer died after that barn fire in 1955. Until that point, the Archers had been an amiable soporific for someone so young, with its pleasant if naive little tune and old people talking to each other in Mummerset as they leaned on five-bar gates. Grace’s immolation and the sudden transition from bucolic conversation to tragedy was disturbing, as if Eeyore had been put down after a fall at Becher’s Brook or Babar had been killed by an ivory hunter.

For me now, the Archers’ opening jingle heard through the wall gives me 15 minutes’ notice of supper. I do not scorn it, as some do, just don’t want to listen to it.

Even at that level of detachment, I have become aware that the storylines in the Archers have become darker and more relevant to real life, at least as it is lived by some. It came to my notice when some chump went up on the roof in a gale and came to an inevitable bad end, but that was because even the Times carried the story. For the most part, though, the lines I hear if I happen to be in the kitchen sound much as the same as those of 1955.

The Archers has recently intruded on my Twitter timeline, however, mainly in the form of people cursing a character called Rob Titchener who, I gathered, was beastly to his wife. Twitter anger has been directed equally at “Rob” as if he were a real person, and at the producer and writers who invented him.

Rob, it seems, came to a bad end last night when his long-suffering wife stuck a knife in him (we will have to wait to find out quite how bad; if he survives, remember that Grace Archer was still alive when pulled from the fire). I had to wait until this morning to get more details. They came in the form of a blog post by barrister Matthew Scott, who appears as @barristerblog on Twitter and is the deserving winner of the 2015 Best Independent Blog award for his writing as Barrister Blogger. His specialism is to take a news story and examine the (usually criminal) law which surrounds it. I remember with particular pleasure his one on the potential breaches of planning and other law which Ed Miliband would commit if he erected his Ed Stone in the Downing Street garden. Matthew plays all these stories with a straight bat and with obvious seriousness qualified by a lightness of touch which, I suspect, works well for him in court.

The apparent stabbing took place at 19.15 or so last night. By lunchtime, Matthew Scott had published a post with the title Is Helen guilty of murdering Rob? My advice in which he goes seriously through the potential charges against Helen on the assumption that Rob is or will be dead, and gives a view of the possible outcome in court.

I had understood that Rob had invited Helen to stab him; it seems from Matthew Scott’s account that he had in fact suggested that she stab herself. I am told that events were rather confused, but the main point, for my purposes, is that the male party to the altercation put a sharp weapon into the hands of the female and unexpectedly found himself stabbed.

There is a precedent for this sort of thing. It comes in Act 1 Scene ii of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and the parallel lies not in the original but in a version of it given by the Irish comedian Dave Allen in a television sketch of about 1976.

Richard of Gloucester, yet to become Richard III, has an argument with the Lady Anne, widow of the recently deceased Edward, Prince of Wales and daughter-in-law of the even-more-recently deceased King Henry VI, whose corpse she is accompanying. She accuses Richard of killing both of them, and a prolonged argument ensues. The dispute is rather more elevated in tone, perhaps, than those between Rob and Helen; so too is the degree of manipulation involved – whatever Rob did, I don’t think he admitted to bumping off all Helen’s relatives even as he asked for her hand.

Richard gives the Lady Anne his sword. I will let Shakespeare take up the story from here in Richard’s words:

Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword;
Which if thou please to hide in this true bosom.
And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,
I lay it naked to the deadly stroke,
And humbly beg the death upon my knee.

He lays his breast open: she offers at it with his sword

Nay, do not pause; for I did kill King Henry,
But ’twas thy beauty that provoked me.
Nay, now dispatch; ’twas I that stabb’d young Edward,
But ’twas thy heavenly face that set me on.

Here she lets fall the sword

Take up the sword again, or take up me.

Dave Allen’s version is much more satisfying than Shakespeare’s, but then Allen was writing a five-minute sketch while Shakespeare could hardly dispose of his titular character with five acts yet to go. Immediately after Richard’s line “And humbly beg the death upon my knee”, the Lady Anne shoves it hard into Richard’s breast instead of dropping the sword as the original script requires. As he falls, Richard says in a croaking voice

You weren’t supposed to do that.

I don’t know if Rob had time to express such hurt surprise. I rather hope so – it’s always good when the baddies get a moment to reflect on their come-uppance. Perhaps he lives on to annoy Archers fans still longer (they are, by the way, already crowing with relief on Twitter – perhaps prematurely – at the apparent end of the storyline).

I heard a few lines of this evening’s edition. Someone said “There’s quite a lot to clear up here” which sounds something of an understatement if Helen stabbed Rob twice. More importantly, from my point of view, I heard two old people chatting about nothing much while cows gently moo’d in the background.

I will leave the last word with Matthew Scott:

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 19.29.40

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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