Feature Christmas 2011: Death’s Dominion

A series of unfortunate events? Morbidity and mortality in a Borsetshire village

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7518 (Published 15 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7518
  1. Rob Stepney, freelance medical and science writer
  1. 12 Walcot Farm, Charlbury OX7 3HJ, UK
  1. Correspondence to: R Stepney walcot2{at}freenetname.co.uk

Rob Stepney ponders Ambridge’s vital statistics

In a landmark paper, Crayford et al reported that the mortality rate for characters in the television soap operas Coronation Street and EastEnders exceeded those of bomb disposal experts and racing drivers.1 Many deaths were violent, and the overall five year survival of recently introduced characters was poorer than that for many cancers. Does the dramatic imperative lead the long running BBC radio series The Archers to contain a similarly high level of mortality and medical incident? Or does radio, and the bucolic setting, give everyday country folk a better chance in life?

The village of Ambridge, at the centre of the programme, is set in a rural area south of Birmingham in the English Midlands. Among the population of 700, employment in farming is higher than average but the age distribution is thought to be similar to the national average, with 20% aged under 16 years and 20% aged 65 and over.2

We are directly acquainted with 60 inhabitants but have knowledge of a further 55, giving a total—for epidemiological purposes—of 115 (58 men and 57 women). In such a small sample, few events of epidemiological significance are likely to occur in any given year. In calculating birth and death rates, I have therefore pooled data for the 20 years preceding the time of writing (September 2011). I describe significant non-fatal illnesses and medical interventions for the same period.

BBC/Archers Addicts

Mortality

Calculating a mortality rate for Archers characters and comparing it with the country as a whole requires approximations. I assume that the age, sex, and social class distribution of the population of Ambridge reflects that of England and Wales and that Ambridge’s demographics remained constant over two decades. Not censoring data at the time of characters’ deaths means that they continue …

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