Richard Herring: IÂ’m obsessed with Goodnight Sweetheart but whereÂ’s the ambition?
Friday 5 Apr 2013 6:00 am
Richard Herring ponders the lack of ambition in Goodnight Sweetheart
I am becoming increasingly obsessed with the 1990s sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart (IÂ’ve got my finger on the pulse), which is on a seemingly continuous cycle of repeats on UKTV Gold.
As a younger man, I dismissed it as a run-of-the-mill, traditional sitcom, albeit with an unusual premise. But having rewatched all 58 episodes at least three times, I can tell you that my initial scathing analysis was pretty much on the button. ItÂ’s a tantalising disappointment.
The show revolves around TV repairman Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst), who discovers a time portal between the east London of the 1990s and the 1940s. He travels to the past, heads to the nearest pub and seduces the barmaid, then impresses her gullible customers by passing off popular future songs or inventions as his own. That joke never gets tired.
Sparrow is a selfish and unlikeable man. And Lyndhurst seems hopelessly miscast in the role: scarcely credible as an irresistible ladiesÂ’ man and limited to expressions of bafflement and slight moral discomfort, totally unable to convey the complexity of the emotional and ethical choices that his character must make.
But Lyndhurst is not helped by the script, which doesnÂ’t really explore the psychological effects of living this massive lie. Is Sparrow struggling with his mendacity or is he in fact liberated by the knowledge that his bigamy will never be discovered, because his wives can actually never meet (though, of course, as you doubtless recall, they do meet on one occasion when the time-rift is damaged by a bomb).
Is infidelity only a burden because the cheat is always terrified he might be discovered, or would he still feel dead inside? ItÂ’s an interesting philosophical conundrum but one thatÂ’s largely ignored in favour of farce and unsurprising sitcom-style twists.
Ironically, I wish that I had found a time portal back to the early 1990s so I could wrestle this idea from the hands of creators Marks and Gran, and maybe also have a secret affair with the young Dervla Kirwan, though not her replacement for the last three series, Elizabeth Carling Â– both of SparrowÂ’s wives were recast after series three Â– at which point I would switch allegiances to the new Yvonne Sparrow, Emma Amos.
My favourite thing about the series is Gary SparrowÂ’s paucity of ambition. He has the opportunity to travel through time and change the course of history but all he does is to go to the nearest pub and cop off with the first woman he meets.
He could have become the wealthiest man in the world or killed Hitler, or at least checked out the next pub down the road to make sure that the barmaid there wasnÂ’t better looking (certainly in the last three series).
But I love Gary Sparrow because of these limitations of scope. He is a morally dubious, self-centred idiot who takes pointless risks that might irrevocably alter history. And yet, somehow, he remains likeable.
Maybe Lyndhurst is playing him exactly right: as a kind of formless void, unable to feel emotion or understand the implications of anything he does.
ItÂ’s possible that I have been thinking too deeply about something that was never intended to be analysed to this extent. But IÂ’d love to see a sitcom that properly explored the moral conundrums of what would happen if a TV repairman found a portal that takes him back to war-time London. Or one about me finding a passage from the present to the Goodnight Sweetheart studios and tricking Lyndhurst into thinking I wrote the hits of One Direction and invented the iPod.
See Richard HerringÂ’s smash-hit show, Talking Cock: The Second Coming, on his nationwide tour. Visit www.richardherring.com/talkingcock2 for tickets.