Is Reopening the Doors of Arkwright’s Such a Good Idea?

Which sitcom favourite would you like to see make a return? Only Fools and Horses? Gavin & Stacey? Fawlty Towers? Perhaps Blackadder?

Whatever your preference, it is unlikely to be Open All Hours. Nevertheless, the BBC have seen fit to revive the 70s classic for a Christmas special, in celebration of its fortieth anniversary.

I have to say, my first feeling when I read about this was – despite my love of the programme – one of disappointment and, if I’m honest, dread. I just think that the stakes are so high. Open All Hours is much-loved and well-remembered by many, having received a huge 67,237 votes in the 2004 Britain’s Best Sitcom poll, placing it in an impressive eighth place, and Arkwright being voted the nation’s favourite shopkeeper ever in a 2010 Which? survey. Therefore there will be a lot of pressure for this new special to live up to fans’ expectations.

But then do fans even want it to happen? I consider myself a huge fan of Open All Hours but it certainly wouldn’t be top of my list of dream sitcom revivals. I don’t think I want to see an Arkwright-less shop, being run by Granville and his son. Yes, that’s right: his son! Wasn’t part of Open All Hours‘ charm the fact that Granville was eternally dissatisfied, desperately trying to break free from his uncle’s clutches and live the life of the trendy Jack-the-lad that he yearned to be? But now he has a son! Now Arkwright isn’t there, so there’s no antagonist, no one to stop him from living his life as he sees fit. So with the freedom that came with the miserly old Arkwright’s death, we surely have to ask ourselves, really, would Granville have stayed in the shop? Or would he have grasped the opportunity to escape the business, and perhaps even South Yorkshire, to live the life he wanted?
I would be inclined to say yes, but hopefully Roy Clarke will provide a decent reason as to why he didn’t in the special. Or perhaps he did, but felt that he had to return for whatever reason to fulfil his uncle’s wishes and take ownership of the grocer’s. Whatever his reason for still being there, it needs to be explained – else Clarke will be failing before he has even started.

The trouble is we tend not to like seeing sitcom characters moving on, even in the small way that Granville apparently has. When another David Jason favourite, Only Fools and Horses, came back for a series of three Christmas specials in 2001, after a five year-long absence, many viewers were disappointed, claiming that it should have ended with Del and Rodney realising their dream and walking off into the sunset. What you have to admire John Sullivan for, though, is that he didn’t try to keep the Trotters in those millionaire lifestyles: within minutes of the 2001 special, ‘If They Could See Us Now…’, they were back in their humble old Peckham flat, coming up with new, innovative – if legally questionable – ways to make money once again. When The Vicar of Dibley made a successful return, Geraldine was still stuck with Alice and surrounded by her mad parishioners: nothing had changed, so people loved it. Ditto Ab Fab, Rab C Nesbitt, To The Manor Born, Red Dwarf, The Likely Lads…need I go on? I have a feeling that Granville’s son will be just too big an adjustment for long-term fans.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh and rubbishing this return before it has even been recorded. I suppose I’m just protective of the characters and the series, and don’t want to see its reputation muddied by a single thirty minute special. I know that I’ll be watching Still Open All Hours – the show’s new title – on Christmas Day, whatever happens, though. It could prove to be a waste of time and money, but then it could be hugely popular, find a legion of new fans and spawn a spin-off series.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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