Troy Kennedy Martin’s groundbreaking cop-in has to be the front runner for extended fan worship. Not only is it a bona fide milestone in British TV, it ticks all the right fannish boxes. Missing episodes and convoluted character histories are there to be traced in abundance. Weeks can be spent speculating on the precise location of Newtown. (“But surely it’s Kirkby?” “Ha! A schoolboy error! Allow me to explain…”) Best of all, the traffic of big and little stars that passed through the programme could keep a convention circuit in guests for decades. (“Bad news, Colin. Bellingham’s dropped out. But Nicholas says he might be interested if we’ll let him do ‘Grandma’s Party’ at some point… no, don’t worry, Blessed’s rock solid.”)
And the spin-offs! My word, the spin-offs. Think of the cod-academic fun to be had debating the relative merits of Softy, Softly and Softly, Softly: Task Force. As monolithic a character as DCI Barlow was, did he merit an entire series of his own? Then there are the wonderfully bonkers “true crime” programmes where Barlow and Watt re-open real historic cases as a sort of after-dinner entertainment, complete with period reconstructions. Is that canon? And if it is, what about Norman Bowler’s advert for Mac Markets? So many imponderables.
IF WET: Bergerac. If only for tax purposes.
Bit of a cheat to put a hardcore soap up for consideration, as they already have fan followings of their own to varying degrees (although when you get down to Albion Market, the following can be easily accommodated on a single Thorpe Park log flume). If we’re thinking practically, though, it’s not that much of a struggle to take one to the Championship soaps and give them a hefty push into fandom’s Premier League. What could fit the bill more snugly than Crossroads? Long and chequered history, guest cast to die for, and – here’s the clincher – lashings of set-wobbling camp to help ease the non-adept into the game. The threadbare bulk of Kings Oak (apostrophe or no apostrophe? Thereby hangs a thesis) imposes but does not daunt. There’s something here for everyone, especially fans of big chunky telephones looming ominously in the foreground. And move over Whovians, Crossroaders got the remake dilemma out of their system a decade ago!
IF WET: Crown Court: episodic adventures in which an oversized public service wooden box looms large. And the Fulchester connection can inspire sub-Viz speculative fan comics without end.
Sitcoms, with their spoilsport insistence on tightly-crafted, self-contained worlds with single figure populations, generally lack the plethora of woolly loose ends and slipshod lacunae that can feed a fandom for years without a drop of new product in sight. With Croft and Perry’s finest hour, though, there’s plenty to get your hyper-interpretative teeth into. It’s not just about the usual unseen character speculation: Joe Maplin and Miss Cathcart are A-list offstagers, but can’t hold a candle to, say, Margot Leadbetter’s positively Waugh-esque unseen social circle. No, the devil here is in the combination of backstories lightly hinted at (Ted’s quiet desperation to better himself before it’s too late, which he often suspects it already is) and extra-curricular touches that lift the characters out of their stereotypical boxes (Simon Cadell allowing himself the occasional naughty half-smile in the presence of smut, before remembering his upbringing and sadly suppressing it). And for heaven’s sake, look at the costumes! Hire a Pontin’s for the weekend and the convention will organise itself. Not to mention the potential that sexually fraught chalet neighbourhood has for the randier fanfictioneer. We’ll have to have a few words about the main character’s regeneration, mind.
IF WET: The Likely Lads. Five whole years of off-screen action to colour in for yourself! And just who was Lugless Douglas?
Seriously. Well all right, a bit of rule bending might be required here, but what was the ‘Wide team if not an extended, occasionally fractious, family, with Michael Barratt/Frank Bough at the head, a host of regional tykes at the foot, and Bob Wellings manfully holding the centre? The emotional dynamic is there to be grasped, don’t argue. We’re moving into the realms of speculating on behind-the-scenes events, so the usual legal caveats apply, but the Lime Grove posse’s addiction to self-mythologising, from Barratt’s ceremonial national rail tour to Stilgoe’s songs about Bernard Falk’s interview technique are ideal starting points for a faithful fanbase to take over and turn into a cottage industry or three. Costume potential might fall a tad on the beige side, although you could always go as a swingometer.
IF SNOWED IN: That’s Life! Why not replace the George Formby impersonator with the Doc Cox impersonator?