I’m pretty sure, given my vast age, cynicism and life experience, that I would never, ever camp out on a pavement to secure my place at the Big Event. Even if Jon Hamm were to skydive into a bath of melted truffles in a circus big top before dishing out diamond bracelets to his audience, I’d still take a lot of convincing that a night of discomfort would be worth the effort. (Won’t my duvet get dirty? Where are the nearest toilets? Are they clean? And the bracelets really will be made of actual diamonds, won’t they, not just paste?)
Given all of the above, I really would find the thought of kipping in the open air before the launch of a TV series laughable to the point of madness. Much as I love television (and oh my dears, how I love television, if only you knew), sleeping under the stars on a chilly night just to watch a television programme would, for me, be wilfully bonkers. Yet I admire the fortitude of others, particularly all of those Sherlock fans who secured their places at a special pre-broadcast screening of the first episode (in a brief series ending on Sunday BBC1) at a London cinema by queuing overnight. And they greeted Sherlock and Dr Watson (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) like rock stars.
I could of course wrap myself up in my special TV Critic’s Smug Blanket (unavailable from all good retailers) because I’d seen the episode well in advance, that’s the way it works. But it did my old, world-weary heart good just to know that people were prepared to do this for a TV series that would eventually be free to everyone when it was broadcast in the not-too-distant future.
But then I’m always delighted by a mass engagement with a television drama because it means that “old-fashioned” ways of watching television – most of us, at the same time – will die slowly and die hard. I’m sure a huge part of the devotion shown to Sherlock by audiences, and not just the ones who sleep on pavements, is sharing the joys of viewing in the same room and contemporaneously on social networking sites. It wouldn’t be much fun if we all watched when we felt like it – discussions would fizzle and die. So I don’t believe on-demand, watch-when-you-feel-like-it services like Netflix will kill off the democracy of regular, scheduled viewing. We still enjoy that community spirit of watching something special together (see also Broadchurch and Downton Abbey). Television can still foster enormous levels of excitement – chatter about Sherlock before it began pulsated with a real thrill of anticipation. And when he bows out for another long break after Sunday’s episode, we’ll all be bereft at once.
The very fact that Sherlock has become so adored by enormous numbers of people across all age ranges is heartening for everyone in television, both those who work in it and those who watch and love it. That it’s taken on a life of its own to be embraced globally, that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great, great character should be re-imagined so wittily, should make us all feel rather proud.
Sherlock finishes on Sunday at 8:30pm on BBC1.