Why The Archers domestic abuse plotline is almost too close to the knuckle

Long-running radio soap ‘The Archers’ has stirred up emotions with a gritty ongoing storyline of domestic abuse. The unfolding of Rob Titchener’s emotional manipulation of his pregnant wife Helen has gripped the programme’s loyal followers including LGFL Ltd partner Anne Leiper, who is a life-long Archers fan.
The archers in studioThe gritty storyline has shone an uncomfortable light on the issue of emotional abuse for weeks, highlighting what The Telegraph described as
“The little discussed and much underreported issue of domestic abuse among the Barbour-wearing, organic-food-eating middle classes. It has hit an emotional seam with women (and men) all over the country.”
 The gradual reveal of Rob’s true character in a radio drama format has made this particularly disturbing. It is like eavesdropping on their private conversations and hearing Rob chip away at Helen’s self-esteem, and isolating her from friends and family. As writer and broadcaster David Hepworth commented: 
“There is no great drama. There hasn’t been a major confrontation or outbreak of violence or cathartic event such as you might have had in television. Rob never says anything particularly extreme.”

Radio drama, real life scenario

The dark plotline is, however, all too familiar to LGFL partner Anne Leiper. With her extensive experience in cases involving domestic violence and emotional abuse against both women and men from all walks of life, Anne says the storyline has her gripped both professionally and emotionally. 

“It is remarkably accurate, mirroring the decline as one partner breaks down the other over time. I have found myself literally shouting “Get out of there!” at my radio, desperate to tell Helen’s character that this isn’t right, this isn’t how it should be.”

This is no coincidence. The drama’s scriptwriters have worked closely with domestic abuse charities to ensure that Rob’s behaviour sets alarm bells ringing with everyone – except Helen. As chief executive of the charity Refuge, Sandra Horley, explained in an article for The Guardian

“The grinding impact of emotional abuse can chip away at a woman’s sense of self. She may begin to believe her abuser when he tells her that she is worthless, that no one will believe her, that no one cares about her but him. Distorting a woman’s reality is the kind of mental torment used so successfully by torturers and terrorists, who know they can keep their prisoners compliant by frightening and disorientating them.”


Gripping story,and welcome exposure

The storyline has opened up the hidden world of emotionally abusive relationships to national attention and condemnation. The Archers’ loyal fan base has responded with generosity, donating more than £60k to domestic abuse charities to help real life Helens (or Henrys) caught up in similarly abusive relationships. It’s also, hopefully, allowed those caught in the insidious web of emotional abuse to recognise their situation for what it truly is, and give them the confidence and strength to change it, once and for all.


“About as glamorous… as the Green Cross Code”

Domestic abuse was also the subject of a documentary narrated by actress Olivia Coleman, who is patron of the prevention charity Tender. Coleman says that her involvement with the cause has become something of an obsession.

“Imagine a world where the prevention of abuse is possible, where all of our children have lessons about these issues, rather than where we are now… Prevention is such an important element. But it’s about as glamorous to the media as the Green Cross Code.”

The documentary, Behind Closed Doors, is certainly not glamorous. Instead, it features three strong women who have chosen to speak out and tell their stories. It’s not easy viewing by any means. However, Coleman’s work with the prevention charity has given her hope that the current situation, where two women a week are dying at the hand of current or former partners, can be turned around:

“I want everyone to know what they deserve in relationships: that they can demand equality and kindness. Because everyone will have a relationship at some point in their life. It’s what we all do, every day, and we need to know how to do it. At the moment, the odds aren’t great that it’s going to be great, and that’s not good enough. Not for my children. Not for anybody.”

 If you are affected by emotional abuse in your relationship, as a wife, husband or partner, LGFL can help you. Call us in complete confidence, email us, whatever way you can, and we can discuss your legal rights and a way forward, in our discreet, countryside offices.