Birmingham expertise was called upon by The Archers Academic conference which brought together experts from a variety of disciplines to discuss how research and professional experience can cast a new light on the storylines of the BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers

View across a meadow

Through combining their knowledge and expertise with their passion for this iconic radio series, contributors from a wide range of disciplines and professions stimulated debate about the series and what it reveals about contemporary society. 

Rebecca Wood, Research Fellow in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham, explored with Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole of Manchester Metropolitan University, how disability is represented in the popular BBC Radio 4 series, with a focus on the character Rob Titchener and his experience of becoming disabled. This happened when his wife Helen, following months of sexual and emotional abuse from Rob, stabbed him a number of times. 

Rebecca Wood said: 

‘When disability does feature in the series, it is either temporary, or it is shown as representative of someone being 'bad' or 'evil'.  When Rob first arrives in the village of Ambridge he is portrayed as athletic, seductive and highly able, but after the stabbing incident leaves him disabled, he is presented in a state somewhat opposite to how he had been when he first arrived: disempowered and no longer sexually alluring. We discussed what role the particular choice of injury plays in the portrayal of Rob, and in turn what this shows about how disability is represented in The Archers. 

‘We would like disability to be both more prominent in The Archers but also more naturally encompassed within the different storylines. Most of us will face disability to some extent at some point in our lifetimes and whilst The Archers is only fictional, its storylines impact on real lives.’ 

This was the second Academic Archers conference, and featured a special strand on the ‘Helen and Rob’ storyline – of which Rebecca and Katherine’s was the opening presentation - alongside papers on subjects ranging from Forensic Science and Theology to Medicine and English Literature, all casting new light on the meaning of life in Ambridge, Borsetshire and beyond.