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Love is in the Air(waves): another modern family dilemma in The Archers

Posted: 28/11/2019

BBC Radio 4’s The Archers is the longest running drama serial anywhere in the world and regularly attracts millions of listeners of all ages. Running for more than 65 years, how has this everyday story of country folk managed to embed itself into our national consciousness? Family partner and Archers aficionado Kerry Fretwell believes one of the reasons the programme keeps its loyal fan base so committed is that storylines reflect current societal problems and issues. 

Love it or loathe it, most radio listeners have an opinion on the Archers, however few would deny that it often outpaces its televised soap cousins when it comes to tackling some of the most sensitive and emotive topics affecting families today. The extraordinary story of coercive control which developed over several years between 2013 and 2017 in the relationship between Rob Titchener and Helen Archer gripped the nation and helped to highlight the sinister elements of such relationships. It also demonstrated the new powers of the courts to reappraise the conduct of a victim following the introduction of the offence of Controlling Coercive Behaviour in the Serious Crime Act of 2015. Few regular listeners will forget the scene when Helen finally snapped and stabbed Rob in the stomach, a crime for which she was initially sent to prison but later released.

More recently Adam and Ian, a farmer and a chef who entered into a civil partnership as long ago as 2006 and got married in 2015, (following the introduction of legislation in the Same Sex Couples Act in 2013), were lucky enough to welcome the birth of their surrogate baby, Alexander. Fortunately the surrogate mother, Lexi, has returned to Bulgaria; it will be up to Adam and Ian now to register their son’s birth. Same sex couples in an enduring relationship were only allowed to be legal parents to a surrogate child through legislation in 2010.

And hopefully now we have a storyline of a sweet romance later in life.

Jill Archer, a doyenne of the programme who was married to Phil Archer for more than 53 years before being widowed in 2010, is the grand old age of 89. She has recently met Leonard Berry, in a Care home, “the Laurels”. Their romance has developed over the last few months and intensified when Leonard took care of Jill after a recent fall. Leonard, a charming man, artist, gardener, dancer and bird watcher is wondering whether Jill wishes him to propose and has discussed his dilemma with David Archer, Jill’s son who runs Brookfield Farm. David seems appalled by the idea. 

If a marriage between Jill and Leonard does go ahead (despite David’s nausea), they will not be the only couple marrying so late in life. Roy Button (93) and Dorothy Moreton (87) tied the knot in June this year and were dubbed ‘Britain’s oldest newlyweds’ by the press. Roy and Dorothy first met 50 years ago but went on to marry other people. Both now widowed, they met again a year ago at a shopping centre and began dating. When asked why get married at this advanced age, they replied that they wanted to “make the most of” the time they have left together.

In marriages later in life, what should the couple and their families think about? A priority should be to ensure that Lasting Powers of Attorney dealing with property, finance and health and welfare issues are in place. From David Archer’s point of view he may want his mother to enter into a flexible life interest trust in her will. This would mean that in the event of Jill’s death, Leonard would have access to income from Jill’s estate but capital would only be advanced if the trustees of her trust agree. 

There would be no inheritance tax as the estate would be treated as spouse exempt. In such circumstances, Jill’s estate would therefore be ring-fenced. On Leonard’s death, the estate’s capital would revert to Jill’s beneficiaries. Had Jill and Leonard been a generation or two younger, then they should also certainly enter into a pre-nuptial agreement prior to marriage, to be re-executed as a post-nuptial agreement after the marriage takes place.

What is Jill likely to be do if Leonard does propose? She is no shrinking violet and it was not long ago (three years) that she received a police caution for throwing a flapjack so David will need to tread carefully if wedding bells are imminent. In the meantime, this romantic storyline gives hope to all those out there hoping to get married one day.

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