The editor of The Archers has promised listeners the most dramatic and memorable episodes in more than 60 years, when Helen Titchener goes on trial for the attempted murder of her husband, Rob, next week.
Sean O’Connor, the editor of the Radio 4 soap opera, said that Helen’s shocking and deeply moving trial, which will begin on Sunday and is expected to last a week, will be the most exciting storyline since Grace Archer was famously killed in a barn fire in 1955.
The three-year, slow-burning abuse plot, which caught the nation’s attention in April when Helen stabbed Rob, has divided the show’s five million listeners.
Some have praised the programme’s sensitive treatment of domestic violence, but others say it has turned Ambridge into EastEnders in a field.
The BBC said that the prosecution will try to paint a picture of Helen as an unstable and volatile perpetrator, while she will claim that she acted in self-defence, fearing that her husband was about to attack her young son, Henry.
While listeners are well aware of Rob’s dark deeds, which include raping Helen as well as abusing a previous wife, many of the inhabitants of Ambridge still see him as a hero, after he was injured rescuing people from flooding last year – flooding that listeners know he caused, by deliberately blocking a storm drain.
To make matters even more difficult, Helen has so far refused to reveal to her defence barrister, Anna Tregorran, the true nature of the abuse she has suffered, while listeners have heard how Rob has persuaded his ex-wife, Jess, not to give evidence against him.
While being held on remand, Helen has given birth to Rob’s son, Jack, with the pair living within the prison’s mother and baby unit. Her first son, Henry, five, who was conceived with donor sperm, is currently living with Rob.
Louiza Patikas, who plays Helen, said: Helen is most scared of losing her children – either because the verdict goes against her, or because she performs badly in court.
There are several possible outcomes from the trial – it’s not just win or lose. It would be devastating for Helen to be found guilty and sent back to prison, thereby losing both of her children to Rob.
But it would be equally terrible to be found not guilty yet still potentially lose custody of Henry and Jack to Rob, and have to live in the village watching her children being brought up by him. The stakes here are incredibly high for Helen.
Timothy Watson, who plays Rob, said his character was a narcissistic and horrendously abusive psychopath, who believes he will be, at the trial, completely vindicated for all the hardship he has suffered at the hands of Helen.
Charities have praised the programme’s visceral depiction of domestic abuse, and Michael Gove, the former justice secretary, said it had shone a light on the position of women in our prisons and reinforces the case for reform.
Mr O’Connor, who has recently moved to become executive producer of EastEnders, said: I can promise both a shocking and deeply moving trial, as we reach the climax of this story that has had the nation gripped.
Working with charities and legal advisors, we’ve been telling Helen’s story as realistically as possible over hundreds of episodes, in all its detail and horror, and it’s a kind of realism that only radio drama can achieve.
When I joined as an editor I did wonder, was it possible in the 21st century to create a moment as dramatic and memorable as the death of Grace Archer in 1955? It turns out that you can.
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