Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The World According To Sweep
The Baddest Dog on Telly Turns 52

So overused a term is "genius" that, in this era of literary cliche, it should cause the reader to flinch at the inevitability of "troubled" popping up next to it, as if it had sprung from a very, very reliable toaster, probably German-made.

Yet it's near impossible to conjure a less hackneyed phrase that so neatly summarises the life and work of children's entertainer Sweep, although many have tried...

"Sweep (is) ...an artistic giant, blessed with an almost effortless, magisterial brilliance, but tragically cursed with a Herculean appetite for bones, drugs and pussy," was co-star Matthew Corbett's attempt.

"A televisual collossus with one paw upon the Olympian peak of light-entertainment nirvana and another plunged in the fetid sewers of his own personal Hades," was Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson's verdict. Writing in her 1998 work Sweep - The Lost Years, 1984-89, pseudonymous writer "A. Panda" was blunter, referring to the canine thespian as a "...goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus".

Such glowing tributes offer little more than a glimpse into Sweep's long career in slapstick, sexual gymnastics and stolen sausages. They say little of his symbiotic connection with co-star Sooty; a relationship of intense, almost erotic friendship spotted with periodic fistfights and stained by several attempted mutilations.

Little could the public suspect that, only minutes before filming the now-legendary Sweep forgets where he buried his bone sketch - a heart-warming scene ending with the actor buried upside down with only his iconic red wellingtons waggling in the air - the vodka-crazed canine had flown in about his fellow performer with a knife between his teeth and murder in his heart.

And who can explain why even that infamous 1969 incident, in which Sweep was forced to publicly explain why his car was found in a deep river near his family retreat with a very beautiful and very dead stuffed elephant in the back seat, failed to tarnish his reputation?

It says much for the high esteem in which he is held by the public that, after long decades of drama, decadence and dishonour, Sweep is entrusted with the education and entertainment of the nation's children. As did their fathers and their grandfathers, so will a fresh generation grow up to the trill of Sweep's signature squeak.

No, even as he enters his fifty second year at the top of the children's TV tree, it seems that Sweep shall remain an enigma... A complex and vulnerable artist separated from his public by the twin ironies that have bedevilled his career - the fact that only Matthew can understand him, and that he is a glove-puppet.

Sir, I salute you.

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