On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, Radio 4 went through a nervous breakdown. Or maybe, inspired by the many kids unwrapping chocolate eggs the across the country, they fancied a bit of child-like naivety, similar to that of a 4-year-old boy thinking Horrid Henry is a real living person. How did this disturbing radio event manifest itself? Gardeners’ Question Time. In case you don’t know of it, Gardeners’ Question Time is a programme where people across the country can ask a panel of garden-type folk lots of garden-type questions. This little harmless haven for the green-fingered middle classes was on this day hijacked by another Radio 4 show: the long-running agricultural soap The Archers. If you have enquire further on what The Archers is or what it is about then you seriously need to brush up on the history and culture of Great Britain. Wikipedia is at your disposal.
But I digress. Today, in a tie-in with the soap that has previously tackled issues such as cattle-mutilation, hallucinogenic cakes and extramarital sex, the villagers of Ambridge were the ones putting the questions to the panel of garden-type people. So these were the actors, in character, asking questions about vegetables, herbaceous borders and the like. You can just imagine all the four-wheel-drive, Labrador-owning couples across the country sitting on their verandas leaping up with joy as this mish-mash of their favourite shows started to emanate from their DAB digital radios.
Not content with some general quizzing, one of the presenters took us on a mock-up, semi-ironic, partly-satirical tour of the fictional Archers neighbourhood, calling at the dwelling of resident snob Lynda Snell who proudly talked about her garden. She seemed to completely miss the humour in the presenter’s suggestion that they should ‘get hands on’, go ‘into the shed’ and ‘look at her equipment’, but to be honest I’d rather not think of Lynda in this way.
This weird combination of reality and drama was a bizarre experience, as if I had just walked into a hair salon and found Sarah Parish from Cutting It offering customers a perm. But this made me think – what other mix-ups might the BBC have planned, ready to be wheeled out on the next religious holiday. Maybe, in a merger of Casualty and Escape to the Country, manic depressive Dr. Ruth Winters could decide she’s had enough of Holby and wants an over-priced cottage in the Cotswolds. She could make presenter Aled Jones cry as she slates one property after another, and then, in a spectacular post-watershed finale, she could attempt to do a live lobotomy on him while an iPod dock in the corner of the open-plan kitchen blasts out ‘We’re walking in the air…’. Or maybe the now jobless crime-solvers of Waking the Dead could become contestants on The Apprentice. Just think what a shout-off could be had between Detective Superintendent Boyd and Lord Sugar. The final would be a blood-bath, with Boyd screaming at Sugar ‘Give me the job! You hear me! I WANT THE JOB!’ as he repeatedly smashes Nick Hewer’s face into the boardroom table, blood splashing whatever sexy little outfit Karren Brady had picked out that morning.
So maybe we should learn to embrace these when-truth-meets-fiction tie-ins that the BBC seem to be experimenting with. They could provide an endless source for new programming. Maybe a digital television channel could be launched to showcase them to a satellite-subscription minority. A co-production deal with a US broadcaster could be on the cards. ‘Mash-ups Atlantic HD’. Now there’s a channel waiting to happen.