Richard Sharpe is a big, tough, rough-and-tumble, suffering (half anti-) hero. He’s been constantly crapped on since day one. His mother was a whore, he grew up in an orphanage, and joined the army (his body being his only means of making a living, and we know how I feel about that) hoping to die there. He was made an officer after his reckless, self-destructive courage saved Arthur Wellesley’s life, and then had to convince the (equally rough and sordid) men in his unit he was worth following. (There was contempt. There were fist fights. It was glorious.) His fellow officers, all bluebloods, do their best to humilate him and point out the shame of his background at every turn. He’s been flogged for a crime he didn’t commit (the most brutal and shameful punishment available), seen his first wife murdered, and his second wife, a seemingly sweet thing whom he rescued from an abusive uncle, left him for a ‘proper’ officer, taking all his money with her.
Women all round the world used to tune in every week to see what horrible things were going to be done to him next. We revel in his suffering as much as his toughness.
Plus, you know, Sean Bean (who I could quite happily listen to just reading the phone book). He manages to bring some necessary vulnerability to the role – the character isn’t half so attractive in the books.