Editorial Note: There is no-one I know who admits to listening to The Archers. But everyone in Britain knows of it – the longest running British radio soap. It begins with a horrible theme tune that has me hitting off instantly.
But all changed in the last week or two. The Archers is now featuring on the news and in the newspapers. The build-up began nearly two years ago when Rob met Helen. Whether the scriptwriters intentions were set for them then, now at least they find themselves caught in a domestic abuse script – that everyone figures is done pretty well. It’s subtle and it’s creepy. Last week things came to a head when Helen stabbed Rob – several days after starting an antidepressant (the reason for this digression from Study 329).
We invite readers old or new to offer thoughts. Did the antidepressant cause her to do it. Can she use an antidepressant as a defense? Was Rob on an antidepressant? Or is the earth round and this is just a story about domestic abuse?
There are huge overlaps here with Jane Green’s Saving Grace.
The story so far
The pair meet in 2013 – Rob is married to Jess; Helen has a son, Henry.
They end up having an affair and Rob eventually leaves Jess in early 2014.
He’s very charming to Helen’s friends and family and becomes a local hero for his help during an episode of flooding.
But there are subtle signs that things might not be as they seem – Rob refuses a meal she’s spent a long time preparing; he starts to dictate what she wears and how she does her hair.
They marry in 2015 and Rob gains parental responsibility of Henry. Rob has a more strict idea of discipline which isn’t quite in line with Helen.
There is a suggestion of abuse/rape following a ‘date night’ between the couple. After which Helen falls pregnant. There is another incident further into her pregnancy.
He preys on her history of an eating disorder as her pregnancy develops – ‘you look blooming’ ‘you’re filling out’; he forces her to eat puddings she doesn’t want and buys her clothes that don’t fit.
He consistently tells her she’s not coping and puts doubts in other people minds regarding her mental health. People start to notice she’s acting strangely at times – snappy, tired, memory problems, ‘touchy’.
Kirsty is the only friend who seems suspicious of Rob. Helen confides in her that she thinks she’s going mad and that she keeps upsetting everyone. Eventually she admits that Rob hit her during an argument (‘but it was my own fault’). Rob discourages Helen from having anything to do with Kirsty. She hides the fact that she’s in touch with her friend.
Rob undermines her memory of events, either not telling her things or lying about what might have happened, causing Helen to feel confused. Helen runs Henry a bath which Rob tops up with boiling water while Helen is out of the room, resulting in Henry getting scolded. Rob allows Helen to think it was her mistake.
After a minor car accident, Rob takes away Helen’s car keys, contributing to her feelings of isolation.
Helen has an episode of sleepwalking one night, after which Rob tells her that she was verbally aggressive and abusive towards Henry and terrified him. He suggests that something needs to be done as it seems like she’s having a breakdown. She agrees she’s not feeling herself and Rob takes her to a psychiatrist, who prescribes antidepressants. Helen refuses to take them due to her pregnancy but accepts the prescription anyway. (14th March).
Rob makes firm plans to send Henry to boarding school behind Helen’s back. When Helen finds out she loses it in front of her mother and friend, saying ‘He’s gone too far’. ‘If this is true I’m going to kill him’. To others she seems irrational. When she confronts Rob he tells her he doesn’t think she will be able to cope with two children and was looking into boarding school just as an option. Helen apologizes.
Helen’s mother doubts she’s coping. Rob drops hints that things aren’t right with Helen’s mental health, that she’s been prescribed antidepressants and referred for CBT. Helen’s mother thanks him for being such an understanding husband.
Rob encourages Helen to have a home birth against medical advice and her own feelings. She tries to hide having spoken to the midwife about a hospital birth.
After a row over Henry, where Rob throws away a favorite toy because Henry ate chocolate without permission, Rob tells Helen it’s high time she starts taking her medication (31st March), as she isn’t coping and failing as a mother. ‘It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need’. It is later confirmed that it is around this time that she does start taking the antidepressants.
Helen contacts Jess who admits he was cruel and abusive in their relationship. Helen decides to leave Rob and tries to tell him over dinner. She admits to talking to Jess and Rob is furious and becomes verbally abusive. They argue and he hands her a knife telling her to kill herself – ‘no-one will even be surprised’. When Henry appears, Rob starts toward him and Helen stabs Rob in a short but frantic attack (3rd April).
Rob suffers severe wounds but with treatment in intensive care, he survives. Helen is arrested and is now charged with attempted murder.
Back to Study 329 our long-running scientific abuse saga (that began about two years ago curiously) next week.