As always, there is something immeasurably reassuring about the existence of a (fictitious) community where the big, the good and everyone come together at Christmas. Ambridge and his vibrant seasonal spirit make it seem like he embodies the best of us, meaning he has a distinctly early 1950s vibe. For some reason, British nostalgia hovers around the corner. still between a Hovis ad and All Creatures Great and Small.
And although most of us now live in cities, we can’t resist the emotional pull of rolling pastures. Not even Jeremy Clarkson. We love an old-fashioned nursery too, despite the fact that, according to a YouGov survey five years ago, the majority of white adults in the UK say they have no religion.
And Ambridge, for all of his Sturm und Drang – Tom and his bossy Missus invading Bridge Farm, the poignant death of Bert Fry, the supernatural specter of Hazel Woolley – offers a vision of our nation as we would like it to be.
Particularly at this time of year, we draw on the everyday history of Radio 4’s farmers to skillfully strike a balance between verisimilitude and evasion. Petty arguments, cast members passing AWOL, stray props, and arthritic donkeys are just part of the familiar tale.
And despite all of the opening night’s edginess, fluffy lines and extravagant improvisations, the Christmas show is still considered a huge success and receives rave reviews from Tristram Hawkshaw, the Borsetshire Echo’s response to Pauline Kael.
As the curtain falls all’s well that ends well and while the first rule of drama is that not everyone is guaranteed a happy ending, there is great emotional satisfaction in knowing that, at Christmas, kindness prevails. In Ambridge anyway.
The Ambridge Mystery Plays are on Radio 4 today and next Sunday at 3 p.m.