Six years ago, on a blustery night in January, Nigel Pargetter ignored his wife’s protests and climbed out onto the roof of his stately home in the English countryside. The Happy New Year sign attached to the top of the building had come loose and he was determined to take it down. It was January 2nd, after all, and having lived on the estate all his life he knew the roof like the back of his hand. But he slipped and fell.
Nigel was pronounced dead on BBC Radio 4’s Today program the following morning. Other national news outlets quickly picked up the story, while Radio 4’s More or Less, measuring the length of Nigel’s scream against the estimated height of his home, indulged in conspiracy theories. Online forums were filled with the kind of spontaneous eulogies that had arrived after Princess Diana’s death, as individuals remembered a perfect stranger they were sure had been utterly misunderstood by the establishment: “I wept at your death, and your funeral … one feels so much for Nigel’s ‘family and friends’”; “Am very upset … This will have huge repercussions down the family, because of the potential blame factor, and every Christmas/New Year will be an awful reminder for decades to come”; “I was in love with you (even though I’m a lesbian)—you will be sadly missed.”
Nigel Pargetter was a fictional character in the BBC Radio 4 drama series The Archers, the world’s longest running soap opera and the most popular non-news program on the BBC’s flagship radio station.* Billed as “contemporary drama in a rural setting,” the program follows the daily lives of a farming community in the fictional English village of Ambridge. An episode might involve a husband and wife arguing over their herd of cows, a meeting of the village hall’s curtain committee to discuss new drapes or a grandmother saving the day with a lemon drizzle cake. Every so often, something more dramatic happens.