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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 18:57 GMT
Foot-and-mouth hits the soaps
Vets inspect a farm
Foot-and-mouth is now at crisis level countrywide
Radio 4's The Archers has won praise from Prince Charles for its up-to-the-minute scripts, but it is not the only soap opera to be affected by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

ITV's Heartbeat, although set in the 60s, has decided to defer filming at its Goathland location in Yorkshire.

"There was no way of containing movement of crew and we were due to film in a cattle mart, so we've just had to change our schedules," said a spokesman for the programme.

Emmerdale
Emmerdale Farm: The top rated drama started in 1972
Emmerdale Farm too has had to adjust its filming schedules due to the crisis.

Animals would normally feature regularly in the drama but this will have to be avoided, though Emmerdale will not be addressing the crisis head on.

Signals

"As far as I am aware, there are no plans to include a foot-and-mouth storyline in Emmerdale," said a spokesman.

A five-day-a-week soap opera like Emmerdale is filmed long in advance of its eventual broadcast and the logistical difficulties involved in adjusting its schedules would be a nightmare.

It is radio's relatively small production teams and nimble recording techniques that give it the edge in this race for topicality.


At the moment The Archers' production team are working flat out on the foot-and-mouth outbreak

Vanessa Whitburn, The Archers editor

The Archers has scored points with listeners and critics for including the issue.

Daily Telegraph radio critic Gillian Reynolds has had her faith in the radio soap restored by the foot-and-mouth storyline.

"At such moments the Archers seems like gritty reality and symptoms of plot sag have been averted thanks to these signals from the real world," she said.

But the toll on the production team is heavy.

"At the moment The Archers' production team are working flat out on the foot and mouth outbreak," said The Archers editor Vanessa Whitburn.

Heartbeat cast
The Heartbeat team celebrated their 150th episode in 2000
"We are changing the scripts almost daily to reflect how the problem is affecting the fictional farms in the programme."

Bizarre spectacle

Prince Charles, speaking at a party to celebrate The Archer's 50th anniversary, said he felt the decision to cover the topic was a gesture of support to beleaguered farming communities.

"It would have helped explain to the non-farming community how desperate and frightening the outbreak is to farmers and the rural community.

Soap watchers are undecided as to whether the intrusion of such real trauma in a soap is ever a good thing.

TV critic Richard Arnold said: "I think if soaps can do it, there is a duty to reflect the life we live and the issues that are around it.

"But because of the lead times in television it is usually impossible.

"The only time I can think of where topicality was introduced to a TV soap with any success was when EastEnders included a conversation about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales."

But because of the changes in rural filming schedules for the soaps the crisis may be reflected in the next few months anyway.

Norman Painting (l)
Norman Painting who plays Phil Archer is the cast's longest serving member
"We may have the bizarre spectacle of rural soaps like Emmerdale farm and Where the Heart Is, not featuring a single animal or outside scene," said Arnold.

The Archers was originally introduced to inform farmers about agricultural techniques as they struggled to feed a nation hit by post-war shortages.

At the time radio was the obvious medium, but now 50 years on, it remains the medium with the intimacy and immediacy to reflect current affairs.

The show has touched on BSE, which it first mentioned in 1989, long before it became a crisis, and more recently the trials of genetically-modified food.

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See also:

03 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Emmerdale goes nightly
01 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Barlow helps Heartbeat celebrate
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Prince praises Archer farm crisis
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Soaps gunning for ratings
27 Feb 01 | Entertainment
ITV attracts 'wealthy audience'
23 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Archers takes on foot-and-mouth
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