Life without Cheers is a life without cheer. Or is it?

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The Independent Online
A YEAR or two back I spent a night in hospital to have a wisdom tooth out. During the evening, I wandered, with all the other dressing-gowned inmates, to the television room, where we watched a lugubrious man walk around Oxford, talking to lots of people. I was watching, although I didn't know it at the time, Inspector Morse on the trail. It is the only episode of Morse I have ever seen. If people asked me why I never watched Morse, I would say truthfully that it gave me toothache.

Earlier this year the end of Inspector Morse was announced, and a nation mourned, with the minor exception of me. Lots of journalists with lots of A-levels wrote pieces saying that life would never be the same again, though it was, of course. And now it's happening again. Apparently the television series Cheers is coming to an end.

Did you know this? Of course you knew this. You must be blind if you didn't know this. Every time you open a newspaper these days, you find a feature by a suicidal journalist saying how terrible it is that Cheers is coming to an end. It's like the end of an era. I mean, we almost grew up with Cheers. And now Cheers is almost over, and we'll have to say goodbye to all those wonderful creatures and life will never be the same again, will it? Jeez, life without Cheers will be like life without Inspector Morse. And if only I had been in hospital for another wisdom tooth operation on a night when they were showing Cheers, I might know what everyone was talking about.

Yes, it's true, and I'm so glad you let me get it off my chest at last. I went to university. I grew up, married and had children. And then I spoilt it all by never seeing a single episode of Cheers. Incredible, eh? Oh, I kept meaning to see it. People would tell me how good it was all the time. Lovely girls at dinner parties would suddenly lose all interest in me when I said I had never seen Cheers, and turn to the bald accountant on the other side who knew every episode by heart. So I told myself that I really ought to catch up with Cheers and be in the swim. But I never did. And now the last episode of all time is coming up. And I feel that if I do watch it now, it will be a bit like going to the funeral of someone famous for the purpose of getting to know him better. So I don't think I will.

I have been through all this misery before. There are lots of other unmissable programmes of which I have missed every single episode. I did not see a single episode of Dallas and I have never seen Roseanne, Neighbours, Hill Street Blues or thirtysomething, and I never watched The Jewel In The Crown or Brideshead Revisited or Fawlty Towers.

That was the one people found it hardest to forgive - not watching Fawlty Towers. It was almost as bad as not having a dishwashing machine. 'You've never seen Fawlty Towers? I don't believe it] How could you possibly not have seen Fawlty Towers? You haven't got a dishwashing machine? Oh, how awful] I couldn't begin to live without one now . . . How could you possibly . . .?'

Well, quite easily, actually. It happens like this. What happens is that you don't watch the first episode. Then you don't watch the second episode. After that you don't watch any more episodes, and hey presto] One day there are no more episodes, and grieving journalists are writing pieces about the impossibility of life without Fawlty Towers, and you feel sort of detached, because life for you has always been life without Fawlty Towers. It's quite easy, actually.

I am not completely immune. I have been hooked on serials in my time. Two of them, actually. Soap was one. Twin Peaks was another. Er, that's it, I think. Oh, and The Young Ones. And The Prisoner for a while. The point is not whether these soaps, or series, or cult repeats are any good - the point is the way they enter the public consciousness and become part of our common references. Someone said to me in the Seventies: 'Who loves you, baby?' and I said: 'Sorry, I'm not with you' and he said: 'Kojak, you know' and I said: 'Who or what is Kojak?' and he said: 'I don't want to be your friend any more, if you don't know who Kojak is' and he never talked to me again. Not meaningfully, anyway. Such is the power of television.

Part two of this terrific new serial coming tomorrow]

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