When soap stars are interviewed they are inevitably asked about being recognised in public, not as themselves, but as their characters. We scoff as they tell colourful tales of being hit with handbags in the frozen food aisle of their local supermarket, or uninvited hugs in the street as ardent fans empathise with 'their' misery.
Of course, we, the sane majority would never buy into this unreality, except at some level we all do. I am sure I am not the only one who has cried at the end of a book which I simply didn't want to end; I didn't want to 'break up' with the characters.
I remember discussing the film The Full Monty with someone who'd just seen it; I had yet to see it. 'I came out in tears. It was so depressing and I can't stop thinking about them' she said, with the same emotion as if she were talking about her kith and kin.
She went on to explain that she couldn't get out her mind the fact this group of unemployed men after their moment of (naked) glory, would make just enough to see them through a few more days, but still be stuck in the unemployment rut with little else changed.
Lately, I have found I am just as keen to find out what has happened to some of my favourite characters, like tracking down long lost relative or old school friends.
I was sat in a hospital waiting room the other day, opposite Terry Collier. Except it wasn't Terry because Terry isn't real, and I haven't entered delusion soap fan stage just yet. But he was as I imagine Terry would be at this moment.
Few comedies have touched me as much as The Likely Lads/Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? to the point they have taken on a reality in my mind and memories. There are many comedy characters who are so absurd as they could never exist, to those who I wouldn't mind if they met a double decker bus with no hilarious consequences. Characters who just 'were'. Not so Terry and Bob who I can only think of as 'are'.
Not that this is a wish for Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to reveal what has happened (and a revival would never be on the cards after Rodney Bewes and James Bolam fell out over a misunderstanding). As wonderful as Clement and La Frenais are, I would dread to think they sent Terry and Bob on a different path to that I am sure they took (I am still recovering from 2003's Life Beyond the Box: Margo Leadbetter).
Surely we are all agreed that Bob and Thelma are still married? It goes without saying they have a boy and a girl, now grown up. A boy, with a middle name that's classier than Scarborough, and the first in the family to get a University degree (accounting). Married to a divorcee with children, much to Thelma's chagrin. A daughter who's a doctor's receptionist, with two small children and a husband who works for his family's building firm. A daughter who brings home the weekly gossip, (an extra good dose if Audrey's girl has been into the surgery with her brood). Poor widowed Audrey, who hasn't made the mistake of moving Terry in but, once a week takes round frozen home cooked meals to his council flat and collects his washing.
Retired Bob and Thelma, with their comfortable pension pot, take days out from the Elm Lodge housing estate, to visit National Trust tea rooms in the Dales and Northumbria. Of course they don't like to go away for more than a day what with Bob's bad stomach and dodgy hip. Not that it stops him going to the pub to meet Terry for a pint. Ah Terry, four times married, state-pensioned, roll up smoking, Terry and his aches and pains. Moaning about which hospital waiting room he's been stuck in this week and the strange woman opposite him who stared as if she knew him....
So, which characters do you wonder about?