The real Archers Country
By Graham Harvey
27th April 2019
Back in my script-writing days people often asked me to name the characters I liked most. Without a second’s hesitation I’d come back with my answer: the Grundys. I could never wait to get back to Grange Farm and catch up on their daily adventures.
In my scripts I’d go there at every possible opportunity. That chaotic but warmly welcoming kitchen was one of my favourite locations in all Ambridge. Judging from the widespread public response to the news that actor Edward (Ted) Kelsey has died makes me think that a lot of other people feel the same way.
When I speak of the Grundys I’m excluding Will and Ed. They, too, are great characters played by fine actors. But for most of my time as a script-writer they were growing up and were still uncast.
The Grange Farm family meant to me that wonderful trio: Eddie, the country music-loving chancer with an endless stream of money-making ideas; Clarrie, his loyal, no-nonsense wife whose patience with the men in her life was legendary; and, last but not least, Joe, the irascible and fun-loving old farmer who Ted turned into something approaching comic genius.
All writers have their favourite characters. For me it was these three. The way they worked together made writing their scenes a delight. Sometimes inventing sparkling dialogue can be tough, something to be ground out by sheer mental effort. But writing Grundy scenes was always easy.
I’m not sure what it says about me, but sometimes when I imagined Grange Farm kitchen – with Eddie dismantling some tractor part on the kitchen table, and Joe, as likely as not, trimming the toenails of a hob ferret – it was as if I was actually sitting there listening to the banter between them. All I had to do was scribble it all down as fast as I could.
When I listened to them on air, these were invariably my best scenes, not least because of the skill with which they were performed. More than with any other character or group of characters, the Grundys made me feel an integral part of the creative process. I was almost one of the family.
One of Ted’s finest moments in the part was also among the most harrowing. The Grundys were always being threatened with eviction from their rented farm. Finding last minute reprieves was built into the family DNA. But we mischief-making puppet-masters began thinking. What if we put them in such dire straits that not even they can get out of it? Why don’t we actually evict them?
It was a risky strategy. Grange Farm and the Grundys were so right together. But we believed a temporary disruption of their lives would produce some brilliant drama, which it did! And with a long-running soap like The Archers, you know that, over the years, you can find a way to get them back.
So the Grundys suffered a damaging fire along with an outbreak of disease in their dairy herd. Finally they went bust. Joe’s eviction from his lifelong home and subsequent re-housing in a council flat brought an extraordinary performance from Ted. Finding himself in an alien environment, Joe sank into depression. It’s a measure of the actor’s considerable skills that he was able to play out the story with such sensitivity and compassion.
Thankfully the Grundys were soon back in Ambridge doing what they do best – coming up with money-making schemes. Joe represented a very English archetype, I suppose you’d call it the ‘heroic failure.’ It’s that indomitable spirit that, against the odds, will keep on fighting for survival. And always without a hint of self-pity.
You knew life was always going to be difficult for Joe. He was never going to make his fortune from the unforgiving land at Grange Farm. Those golden harvests and the easy life that followed were always going to be out of reach. You knew it and you knew he knew it, too.
Yet his unshakeable conviction that the good times were just one more scheme away is what made the character so engaging. Such relentless optimism is infectious.
Joe was also a born story-teller. If you happened to venture in The Bull while he was around, he’d be more than happy to impart of hefty slice of rural wisdom for the price of a pint. He’d probably throw in a local ghost story for good measure such as ‘The tale of John Briar and the Squire.’
13th April 2019
One of the wonderful things about The Archers, it can suddenly remind you of a storyline from the distant past. If, like me, you’ve been hanging out in Ambridge for a good old time, the memories come drifting back rather like the scent of wood-smoke on a frosty night.
9th March 2019
I’m reading a terrifying book about the nightmare future we face as a result of climate change. It’s called The Uninhabitable Earth and, as the title suggests, author David Wallace-Wells offers precious little by way of comfort.
2nd February 2019
Vet Alistair Lloyd is rapidly becoming a local hero. If he saves another sheepdog, lame pony or dairy cow injured in a farm accident he’ll surely be in line for some special honour from a grateful community.
9th February 2019
When I first arrived in Ambridge back in the 1980s Brian Aldridge was by a big margin the wealthiest of all the farmers in the village. With about 1500 acres of prime farmland and no mortgage he was about as solid as the Bank of England.
19th January 2019
I’m intrigued by the odd behaviour of Brian and Jennifer Aldridge following their enforced down-sizing from a large and comfortable farmhouse to a small cottage next to Kirsty and Roy.
Ted Kelsey played this engaging character with great warmth and humour, delivering what Archers Editor Jeremy Howe called ‘one of the great performances in the history of British radio.
‘ Ted’s Joe was idiosyncratic, warm, cantankerous yet generous, dripping with Grundy magic and wonderfully funny. It was a brilliant creation because Ted was a brilliant actor – and a truly lovely man and great company member.’
Although I’d met the actor on a few occasions, I can’t say I knew him. Not in real life, that is. But like millions of listeners I felt I knew him through the wonderful character he created. Joe was one of the main reasons so many of us wanted to return to Ambridge over and over again. We’re going to miss him.
Graham Harvey is the former agricultural story editor of The Archers