Tony Earnshaw: Poldark’s shirtless scything is television’s latest iconic moment

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Are you, like me, mourning the end of Poldark? The Earnshaw household will struggle to find something of similar noteworthy Sunday night programming. And my wife will have to do without handsome, hunky, hirsute Aidan Turner and his sweaty, sinewy, scythe-swinging ways.

Think Aidan Turner, think Colin Firth in his wet shirt, think Ursula Andress emerging from the surf in a crisp white bikini. They’re all at it, busily giving us iconic moments that set certain performances in stone and give us lasting memories of key scenes.

In days of yore punters had to make a return visit to their local picture palace to catch another glimpse of the delectable Ursula, her conch shells, knife and, yes, that bikini. These days it’s just a quick tap on the keyboard and, lo, there is saturnine Turner, six-pack glistening as he scythes his way into a million women’s hearts.

So, great news for Turner’s fan club. Not so great for the BBC’s revenue, though one supposes the iPlayer audience will go into overdrive and eventual DVD sales will skyrocket.

Flash forward 25 years and chat show hosts will be asking the 56-year-old Turner about that scene.

One wonders how he will react. Will it be a roll of the eyes, a shrug and a reluctant dip back into the dim and distant past? Or by that stage will he have accepted his place in popular culture, embrace it and speak with warmth and humour?

Most if not all actors yearn for their moment in the sun. Some are accepting and move on when their moment has passed. They recall triumphs (and failures) with modesty and appreciation.

Yet others don’t like to be reminded. They’ve moved on, become different people, maybe become a little too grand. They respond with a twitch, a tic or a wince.

Yet for many audiences it comes down to that moment. Or a line of dialogue that passes into the pantheon of classic movie quotes. Or a look. Or a walk. To some actors it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. The smart ones, however, recognise what it means.

I’m hoping young Mr Turner understands it. Disrobing, flashing the flesh, muscles flexing beneath the Cornish sun… somebody somewhere knew precisely what they were doing. Give the public what it wants. In the case of the hoped-for adoring female element, it comes down to a handsome lad, some (artificial) perspiration and a hardy farm tool.

For Pride and Prejudice read Poldark. For Mr Darcy’s swim in the lake, exchange healthy labour in the fields. Swap Winston Graham for Jane Austen. Colin Firth, meet Aidan Turner. It’s taken 20 years for British audiences to find another freeze-frame moment to equal Mr Darcy’s wringing-wet stroll into the pages of televisual history. Now comes Ross Poldark to do the same, albeit on dry land.

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