editor's choice



When I was asked if I wanted to review The Archers: Ambridge at War, penned by novelist Catherine Miller, it was a no-brainer. Like so many, growing up, Sunday mornings were given over to listening to The Archers’ omnibus on Radio 4. As soon as the iconic music came on, everyone would fall silent: my mother wouldn’t allow anyone to speak while we were whisked away to the quintessentially English world of Ambridge. Years later, I still listen to The Archers, although now admittedly most often via BBC Sounds, and its familiarity, its characters, the fact it’s been running since 1950, broadcasting more than 19,000 episodes in that time, are all supremely comforting. It’s a safe world, enshrined in British culture. So, I’m delighted to say Catherine Miller has done a fine job of honouring all that in this novel.

Opening at New Year in 1940, in a nation at war, the book captures all that is magical about the series: the minutiae of country life, of living in a place where everyone knows everyone’s business (or do they?), the wonderful eccentricities of the characters who live and inform Ambridge and that truly British attitude of being able to keep calm and carry on when faced with adversity. Here we meet the Pargetters of Lower Loxley, the Archers of Brookfield Farm, and a host of others, in a world well before the radio series was first broadcast on a local level in 1950. And the residents of Ambridge are not just dealing with the everyday pressures of country life, but the outer stresses of a global conflict, the menfolk going off to fight and strangers arriving, in the form of evacuees, to spice things up. Throw in a Machiavellian someone intent on airing long-kept secrets and you’ve got a great read.

To be frank even if you haven’t heard of The Archers and have never listened to an episode, this would be an enjoyable book. It’s also very beautiful, with a gorgeous illustrative cover and, my personal favourite, colourful maps on the front and endpapers. Gosh, I’m such a book nerd. That apart, I hope, if you haven’t caught up with Ambridge before, Miller’s novel will be the hook for you to go off and stream an episode, tune in live or listen to the omnibus on a Sunday morn. It’s worth it. And if you’re a diehard fan, well, it goes without saying The Archers: Ambridge at War is definitely the book for you.



The Archers: Ambridge at War | Catherine Miller | 29 October 2020 | hardback | £12.99 | Simon & Schuster

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Some The Archers weird facts:

– Billy Connolly once called for The Archers theme tune, ‘Barwick Green’ to replace the National Anthem.

– Norman Painting (Phil Archer) also penned well over 1,000 of the scripts for the series between 1966 and 1982, reportedly trying to write his character out. He also composed ‘Waiting for a Wonder’, Phil Archer’s favourite hymn and produced a memoir, Reluctant Archer.

– In 1962, after Harold Macmillan fired members of his Cabinet, he reportedly commented: ‘Interfering with the Cabinet is as serious as interfering with The Archers.’

To listen to The Archers: BBC Sound https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/b006qpgr

Also of interest:Podcasting the Pandemic‘ with the cast of The Archers


Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of the book tour organised by Random Things Tours. Many thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation and to the publisher for supplying a review copy of this beautifully produced book. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved. Please check out the other reviews on this tour.

See also: Kamala Markandaya’s beautiful words’; ‘Alice Walker and the power of poetry’;‘Helen Fitzgerald’s Ash Mountain’‘Jane Harper’s debut The Dry, murder and mayhem in small-town Australia’;CWA’s Vintage Crime’; ‘Amanda Craig’s homage to Highsmith‘; ‘Chris Whitaker’s small-town America’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Sanctuary: an Old Familiar’; Carver’s Nothing Important Happened Today’; By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Remembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Also of interest: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956). Hitchcock (2012).

This review is copyright © 2020 by The Literary Shed. All rights are reserved. All opinions expressed are our own. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please contact us for permission and provide the necessary credit. Thank you so much. We welcome your feedback.





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