Written by Angela Barnes

In The News

If this makes one person pick up the phone, it’s been worth it

We have a verdict in the Archers trial, but what, asks Angela Barnes, comes next for Helen? Contains SPOILERS, obviously.

Courtroom artist Julia Quenzler's depiction of the trial of Helen Titchener (right). Image: BBC.

Courtroom artist Julia Quenzler’s depiction of the trial of Helen Titchener (right). Image: BBC.

Well, it’s over. This bipolar week that has had me throwing things at my radio, screaming in the street, punching the air victoriously, threatening to never renew my TV licence, and weeping with pain and joy in equal measure.

In last night’s hour-long special of The Archers we were in the jury room during deliberations, as they tried to decide if Helen Titchener was guilty of attempted murder or wounding with intent after stabbing her husband following months of abuse. Some stalwarts of British performing arts were drafted in for the jury: Nigel Havers, Catherine Tate and Dame Eileen Atkins all giving it some welly.

Radio is a difficult medium through which to portray a jury deliberation, with lots of conflicting voices. The misogynist, the sweet but naive girl, the lad, the “speaking as a muvver” were all spouting off, and it did feel, at times, like a production of Twelve Angry Stereotypes. The show was stolen for me by Dame Eileen Atkins’ Jacqui, who brought some cookies of much-needed sense and space into a stormy jury room.

I found these scenes frustrating at the time, because I am an Archers fan and I was desperate to see justice in a storyline that has been paining me for months. There were clunky references to Brexit and some not very naturalistic dialogue about various issues. However, on reflection, I’m pleased the scenes played out as they did.

The jurors had very strong and conflicting views about domestic violence. The foreman (Havers) being particularly anti-women and claiming society thinks it is “always the man’s fault”, despite women driving them to their actions. Abhorrent views, of course. When he spoke, I found myself thinking, “It’s 2016, nobody actually believes that rubbish.” I felt the same when Lisa (Tate) expressed how women should “obey” their husbands and put up with their lot. Nah, I thought, nobody thinks like that.

“Perhaps one of those millions of people listening might make a phone call tomorrow. A phone call to a friend they’ve been meaning to call, because they haven’t seen much of them since they got that new partner and they don’t seem to come out much any more.”

It’s like I haven’t learned anything from the EU referendum. Sometimes, those of us who maybe lean a little leftwards, live in cities, who maybe read The Guardian, don’t make ourselves too aware of what is going on out there in people’s minds in the parts of the country we are not in. The same could be said about attitudes to issues like domestic violence. Social media and real-life friends tend to provide an echo chamber, where we surround ourselves with folk who share our values and we are blissfully unaware anybody could disagree with us.

But, of course, there are people who perpetrate domestic violence and there are also those who feel that it is for behind closed doors. There are people who justify perpetrators’ actions as if they are somehow forced into doing it by the behaviour of their victim.

Sometimes we need to hear people express these views, albeit in slightly unnatural dialogue in a radio soap, in order to remember those people are out there. To remember that the issue of domestic violence is far from solved. To remember to look out for each other. Yes, the deliberations were difficult to listen to. Yes, some arguments felt simplistic, and more than once I uttered “Oh, come on!” as I listened.

But, millions of people listened. That’s the point. They listened and they were reminded about an issue that affects thousands.

Perhaps one of those people might make a phone call tomorrow. A phone call to a friend they’ve been meaning to call, because they haven’t seen much of them since they got that new partner and they don’t seem to come out much any more, and they seemed to behave unusually when they did see them last. And if one person makes that phone call, then what a powerful thing this storyline has been.

Helen Titchener (Louiza Patikas)

Helen Titchener, as played by Louiza Patikas. Photo: BBC.

But, back to the matters in hand; despite some false starts and a lot of dashed hopes along the way, the verdict is in. We are not entirely sure how the jury got there, but they got there in the end: Not Guilty. And a nation threw their heads back and said, “Thank fuck for that.” Helen Titchener, no, Helen ARCHER is a free woman.

The verdict was 24 minutes ago (as I am writing this), so I’ve had time to have a little think and, while we can allow ourselves a small victory dance and a dollop of readymade custard with our tuna bakes, this is far from over.

When Rob approached Helen in the courtroom after the verdict and she stood up to him, I allowed myself a “Go Helen!” before my lip quivered and I thought, “But what now?” Rob’s demeanour and language point to a man who genuinely believes he has been wronged. He is a narcissist and they are not a group of people known to accept their lot with grace and a measured response.

Helen will return to Bridge Farm, to her family, but what about her son Henry? Will she get custody? And Jack (Gideon, Gack)? Jack is Rob’s son; he will have parental rights. Rob will have to remain in Helen’s life.

And what about the allegations she made in the courtroom? The allegations of repeated rape, that we know to be true? Will he be arrested? Tried?

Some justice was done in Ambridge tonight. But that man needs to pay for what he has done.

Gawd, this is going to go on forever isn’t it? Thankfully, I think the Flower and Produce Show is coming up. We all need to settle down about now with a nice little largest marrow competition and a flower arranging fiasco.


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Written by Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes is an award-winning standup comedian. She is sometimes on TV and the radio and is often in a comedy club near you. @AngelaBarnes