Felicity Finch, famous in Great Britain for playing Ruth Archer on the 50-year-old radio serial “The Archers,” knows how to draw listeners in from the start: you have to have a good hook.
Without it, she says, you can’t expect to entertain and educate, whether the audience is widows of genocide victims in Rwanda or refugees in Pakistan, both countries that have modeled radio shows on “The Archers.”
And without characters and stories that rural Cambodians can identify with, it would be much more difficult for “Lotus on Muddy Lake”—a serial radio drama set in a fictional rural village that plays three times a week on FM 95—to teach listeners about how to deal with health and social problems, Finch said.
Finch has played a farmer’s wife for 13 years on BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers,” a show that claims to be the world’s longest running drama and has more than 4 million listeners.
But Finch also works on documentaries.
She came to Cambodia last week with BBC radio producer Merilyn Harris to create a 30-minute news show about “Lotus on Muddy Lake” to be broadcast in the UK.
The drama, produced in a Phnom Penh sound studio on the third floor of British NGO Health Unlimited’s office, is part of a radio program that is educating rural Cambodians on health, sex and relationships.
“It’s a mark of the country’s stability that a project like theirs can happen,” Finch said.
Like today’s Cambodia, the UK was emerging from years of war in 1951 when “The Archers” was created. The idea was to educate farmers on social issues by portraying the everyday life of a fictional village in the English countryside.
It was a hit. These days, its 15-minute segments play six days a week.
But educating through the telling of stories was dropped in favor of pure entertainment 30 years ago, according to Finch.
The education aspect “became less and less because it was less and less necessary” once farmers in the UK became more educated and sophisticated, Finch said.
But many listeners still responded appreciatively to the mastectomy Finch’s Ruth Archer recently had on the show. One listener wrote to say that it helped her discover her own breast cancer in its early stages.
“We didn’t do that to raise awareness,” Finch said. “We did it because it was a good story.”
As a reporter, Finch has also documented similar serial radio dramas in Albania, Rwanda and Pakistan.
The show broadcast from Pakistan is geared toward Afghan refugees and discusses land mines and opium use, she said.
“The Taliban turns a blind eye to it,” Finch said. “It is the only form of entertainment [the Afghans] have.”