Britain’s longest running soap on BBC Radio 4, has been accused of ramping up the sensationalism to almost unbearable levels. The ongoing saga between husband and wife Rob and Helen Titchener reached a crescendo last week when Helen (Louiza Patikas) seeing a threat to her son Henry, repeatedly stabbed Rob in their kitchen with a bread knife.
The controversial story line, which began last year with a scene of marital rape, has divided fans of the Ambridge soap set in rural – and, I might add mythical – Borsetshire. It became clear then, if it hadn’t already, that the new man in Helen’s life was going to turn out to be yet another bad ‘un. She simply has no luck with men does that Helen Archer.
It was the classic domestic violence set-up, beginning with criticising and undermining the spouse, which then led on to oh so subtle elements of control, and bizarre admonishment as Rob almost became parent rather than husband.
A campaign of misinformation followed with Rob dividing and ruling the Archer clan and Helen’s immediate circle of friends. He created such a tangle of different stories, among the whole cast of characters, it’s a wonder that it didn’t all come out in the wash, during one of BL’s famous board meetings.
The controlling behaviour got worse and with Helen’s imminent pregnancy, Rob had the perfect excuse to spirit her away under the guise of ‘caring’, to become isolated and locked up at home. The poisonous passive aggressive atmosphere grew and grew, until I could hardly bear to listen to the scenes between them. The sound of Rob’s voice made me feel very, very uncomfortable, the way he twisted everything and used it to batter Helen into submission, it was just relentless. Rarely has a fictional soap character, provoked in me, such a response.
We must commend the actor (Timothy Watson) and the writers for imbuing him with so many horrendous and unpleasant qualities. Naturally any violence and bullying is abhorrent, but because this is radio and the pictures come from your own imagination, that transforms Rob and Helen’s story into something truly monstrous.
Unusually for the Archers the omnibus edition ended with one of those, ‘If you have been affected by the issues raised in the programme please contact… etc… etc.’ That week’s edition of Countryfile on BBC 1 also featured a story on domestic violence in rural communities, proving if it ever needed to be, that this sort of thing doesn’t just happen in the deprived inner cities.
I open up that day’s local paper there’s a dreadful story on domestic abuse leading to a vicious assault, the next day the same, then on the evening news, a truly horrific story of suspected infidelity leading to a brutal murder.
I wrote a paper on Domestic Violence, a short and limited study, during my ‘A’ Level Sociology. At the time I was shocked at the figure that two women die each week at the hands of their partner – that figure still stands a decade or more on – that successful prosecutions are extremely rare – for a whole host of reasons including witness intimidation, social attitudes, patriarchy in the judiciary. I got hold of some police figures and I found that back then, the response to and resources for dealing with domestic violence, differed wildly throughout the country, and perhaps most importantly wasn’t one of the crimes that forces were measured on.
Whether that has changed I do not know, I imagine that due to funding cuts right across the board, from front line policing to reduced capacity within auxiliary agencies, that the chances of achieving a satisfactory outcome – let alone justice – is even less likely now.
I have been privy to three cases of domestic violence. I have seen at first hand the slow diminishing of a person as they become a shadow of their former self; a complete inability to think for themselves, to act for themselves: completely dependent on the abuser. I have been there during the aftermath washing out bloodstained clothing, while the victim sits and weeps justifying the attack, suggesting it was somehow their fault. Hearing raised voices through the wall, then the screams and the sickening thuds, imagining the blows raining down once more and being powerless to stop it, that can drive you truly demented.
The second time I was in this position with a domestic violence situation playing out in the flat above, I did do something about it. I repeatedly called the police, but to no avail. It would seem if you live in certain residences in Hull, the police take a view on responding and then do nothing. This isn’t an attack on the police but when after a few months I learned that the fighting had escalated leading to one partner fatally wounding the other, my words at three am in the phone box to the duty officer, ‘they are going to kill each other’ suddenly become an easy stick to beat the police with.
It is incredibly strange realising, that the violence that I did see and not just hear through the walls, does not sit so readily in my mind. That a daily thing that I witnessed became almost routine. It is a terrible thing that one could be come desensitised to the abuse so it could be viewed as routine. I was naught but a child then, so looked on incredulously as one person wielded total and utter domination, over another. It is terrifying what one person can do to another.
So this week I can return to Ambridge (Omnibus Edition Radio 4 Sun 10 – 11.15am) and hopefully some kind of calm will have descended once more on the village and its inhabitants. I can listen again and enjoy the pictures in my mind of rural life, imagine having a pint of Shires in The Bull, walking in the fields around Home Farm, bumping into Elizabeth down a bridle track and nipping in to Underwoods for some of the finer things in life. Helen faces a charge of attempted murder if Rob succumbs to his injuries, but at least while he is in laid up in hospital, at death’s door, he won’t be pouring poison into my ears anymore.
The appearance of Rob’s family doesn’t bode well, that mother-in-law is a piece of work… as for the other new arrival, Lord only knows what ill will he will bring.
Contact Hull Women’s Aid 01482 446099
24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline 0808 2000 247 Run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge
Useful sites: http://www.hullwomensaid.org/