An everyday story of birdwatching

Joanna Dobson, author of Big Telephoto Lens, Small Ticklist: Birdwatching, Class and Gender in Ambridge
Joanna Dobson, author of Big Telephoto Lens, Small Ticklist: Birdwatching, Class and Gender in Ambridge

Two of Joanna Dobson’s passions in life are listening to The Archers and bird-watching and she has brought them together in a contribution to a book which takes a scholarly approach to the Radio 4 soap.

Custard, Culverts and Cake is the fruits of research by members of the Academic Archers network who share a mutual love of programme.

Jo’s chapter - called Big Telephoto Lens, Small Ticklist: Birdwatching, Class and Gender in Ambridge - examines the role of ornithology in The Archers, asking what the activity says about social classes and why it is only Ambridge’s men who seem to do it. 

“I saw something about the Academic Archers conference on Twitter and realised some of the ideas they had about bird-watching on The Archers was similar to those in the literature of the 1940s I was studying,” she explains.

Since giving a paper at the conference last February an Archers storyline provided a new line for Jo’s theories. Former eco-warrior Kirsty Miller, recovering from a failed relationship and a miscarriage, re-discovered her love of nature and organised a Dawn Chorus Walk which had a mixed reaction.

“When I heard it – and several people alerted me to it on Facebook - I thought, hurrah, there’s something different going on.” So she added that to the article for the book.

“I think the editors of the book are using a popular bit of British culture as a way of making their research a lot more accessible than academics often do.”

When Jo was growing up family holidays were bird-watching excursions in a VW camper van. After moving to Sheffield nearly 30 years ago she introduced her children to the joy of birds but not with the same level of intensity.

“My relationship with ornithology is different from my parents who would tick rare birds whereas I have always been more interested in their behaviour. On our allotment there’s a robin that I watch intently and I can recognise all the birdsongs.”

Joanna Dobson formerly taught at Sheffield College and now works as an English Language assessor. She is completing an MA English by Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

Custard, Culverts and Cake, Academics on Life in the Archers, edited by Cara Courage and Nicola Headlam (Emerald Publishing, £19.99).