ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES
By Mark Nobes
Often rated as the best British sitcom in reader polls and surveys, Only Fools and Horses was one of the best-loved sitcoms of the 1980s. It followed the antics of the Trotter family, which included a wannabe YUPPIE market trader from Peckham, Derek "Del Boy" Trotter (played by David Jason), and his hapless brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst), who was called Dave by the dim-witted friend of Del Boy, Trigger (Roger Lloyd-Pack).
The comedy series was created and written by John Sullivan, who also created Citizen Smith and Just Good Friends. In series 1-5, each episode lasted for 30 minutes, but this was extended to 50 minutes for series 6 and 7.
Del, Rodney and Grandad (Grandad was replaced by Uncle Albert in 1985) lived in a council flat on the 13th floor of the Nelson Mandela House tower block in Peckham.
Del and Rodney drove around in their iconic yellow three-wheeler Reliant Regal van, which was plastered with their business name Trotter Independent Traders Co. (T.I.T. co.). Displayed underneath were their trading destinations "New York - Paris - Peckham", which was amusing in itself. The van was mainly used for transporting sub-standard or illegal goods.
In the first four series, Del and Rodney lived with their grandad (played by Lennard Pearce). After Pearce died during the filming of the fourth series in 1984, he was replaced by his younger brother Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield).
Seven series were broadcast between 1981 and 1991, and there were sixteen Christmas Specials which aired until 2003. The most-watched episode was the final episode of the 1996 Christmas trilogy, which aired in 29th December 1996. "Time On Our Hands" attracted 24.35 million viewers, and was the last to feature Uncle Albert. This was the episode when the Trotters finally became millionaires, and it was the most-watched episode of any sitcom. However, it didn't beat the most-watched programme of the 1980s, which was on Christmas Day 1986 when Dirty Den served Angie Watts her divorce papers in Eastenders, attracting 30.15 million viewers.
Del Boy's catchphrases include "He who dares wins" and "This time next next year we'll be millionaires". He also calls Rodney a "Plonker!" on a regular basis, but also uses "dipstick", "twonk" or "wally". He frequently uses the words and phrases "cushty", "Pucker" and "Lovely Jubbly" - a Jubbly was a 1950s ice lolly. He tries to sound sophisticated by pretending to be fluent in the French language, but it is clear that he never learned any French, and always chooses the wrong words. For instance, he confuses Bonjour with Bonsoir, or mistakingly uses Pot Pourri for "I don't believe it", Bain Marie as "no problem" and bonnet de douch as "excellent".
Del is frequently trying to portray himself as more successful than he actually is, and will try to associate with the upper classes, which always ends in failure!
Many stories focused on Del's relentless attempts to get rich, and Five main characters featured in the early series. These were Del, Rodney and Grandad, and there were irregular appearances by Del's roadsweeper friend Trigger and used car salesman Boycie (John Challis).
Rodney is Del's younger brother, and is a dreamer and idealist who was expelled from art college after smoking weed. He is affectionately known as "Rodders" by Del, and is labelled as his "financial advisor", although in reality he is an assistant market trader who's main "executive task" is to load the van!
Uncle Albert (Albert Gladstone Trotter) is an old sailor who slightly resembles Captain Birdseye, and often recites his wartime stories, often beginning with "During the war...". He lived with Del and Rodney after the death of Grandad in the fourth series.
The cigar smoking Boycie (played by the late John Challis) has a fashion style very much like that of an 80s Yuppie. He was pompous, with an air of superiority, and has an ostentatious spending habit. His loud and unusual laugh can be heard above everyone else in the pub, and sounds rather like someone starting an old car!
Trigger has delivered some of the funniest lines in the series, which are spoken in a brilliantly deadpan style. He has low intelligence, and speaks in a rather monotone voice. His best-remembered fashion style is a blue suit which he wore in the 90s, although he was often seen wearing checked suits, checked shirts, and a council donkey jacket during the 1980s.
As the series progressed, further characters were introduced including local pub (The Nag's Head) landlord Mike Fisher (Kenneth MacDonald), Liverpudlian truck driver Denzil (Paul Barber), the boasting Spiv Mickey Pearce (Patrick Murray) and Boycie's coquettish wife Marlene (Sue Holderness), who was mentioned but unseen in earlier episodes. These characters could often be seen congregating in The Nag's Head.
The first appearance of Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones) came in the seventh Christmas Special "Dates", which as broadcast on Christmas Day on 1988, attracting around 16.6 million viewers. Del meets her through a dating agency.
Rodney's long-term girlfriend, Cassandra, was an intelligent employee of the local bank, and first appeared in 1989. They married in the final episode of the sixth series. The marriage later became rather troubled due to Cassandra's career ambitions.
Damien Trotter (Del and Raquel's son) first appeared in 1991 and was played by six different children. Rodney is adamant that he is an anti-christ, as portrayed by the character Damien Thorn in the Omen film series.
A Touch Of Glass
My personal favourite episode was "A Touch of Glass" (first shown of Dec 2nd 1982), in which the Trotters manage to destroy a priceless Louis XIV Chandeliers. While Del and Rodney are ready and waiting to catch the chandelier, Grandad unbolts the wrong one from the ceiling of Lord Ridgemere's country mansion, causing it to crash to the floor! You can watch the official clip from the BBC in the video at the top of the page.
The episode "Yuppy Love" (broadcast on Jan 8th 1989) is notable for two reasons. Firstly, Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong) makes here first appearance. The employee of a local bank, she attends the same adult education class as Rodney. He mistakingly takes her raincoat from the cloakroom. Later at a local disco, he asks her for a dance, and she accepts.
The same episode also features one of the funniest moments ever in a British sitcom, the classic Del falling through the bar.
Heroes And Villains
Del And Rodney Dress-Up As Batman And Robin
One of the most-watched episodes was Heroes and Villains which first aired on Christmas Day in 1996 as the first part of a trilogy, which attracted over 21 million viewers. Dressed as Batman and Robin, Del and Rodney are on their way to a fancy dress party when their van breaks down. They are forced to run to the party, and encounter an attempted mugging of Councillor Murray. They inadvertently scare off the thieves who believe they are real superheroes. When they finally arrive at the party, they discover that it has been cancelled and it is now a wake for the party's organiser Harry Malcolm, who died the previous day. They burst into the room singing the Batman theme music.
Trigger's Well-Maintained Broom
There is also a classic comedy moment in the same episode featuring Trigger. While sat in a cafe with Del and Rodney, Del spots a medal he is wearing. Trigger proudly boasts that was awarded it from Councillor Murray, for owning the same road-sweeping broom for 20 years. He then reveals that it was well-maintained, "it has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles", oblivious to the fact that is, therefore, not the same broom!
The final episode of Only Fools and Horses was shown on Christmas Day in 2003. There were two spin-offs from the series; The Green Green Grass which ran for four series from 2005 to 2009 and was centred around Boycie and Marlene, and Rock and Chips was a prequel to Only Fools and Horses, focusing on the Trotters in the 1960s, with 3 episodes airing in 2010 and 2011.