Wednesday, 5 April 2017

650 Only Fools and Horses

First  viewed : Uncertain

Like  many  people,  I  didn't  see  this  from  the  word  go. Though  I've  seen  the  chandelier  clip  - the  show's  earliest  highlight  - umpteen  times  I  don't  think  I  was  watching  when  the  episode  was  first  broadcast. Looking  through  the  episode  synopses,  the  first  one  I  can  definitely  recall  watching  is  the  Christmas  Day  special  in  1983  by  which  time  three  series  had  been  aired.

Famously,  Only  Fools  and  Horses  had  a  troubled  inception,  Despite  the  success  of  Citizen  Smith  , John  Sullivan  had  difficulty  getting  a  new  series  commissioned  and  it  was  only  the  success  of  Minder  on  the  other  channel  that  got  his  proposal  for  a  series  about   a  pair  of  brothers  involved  in  dodgy  trading  in  London  the  green  light.  Reliable  player  David  Jason  and  Nicholas  Lyndhurst,  who'd  recently  established  himself  as  a  comic  talent  on  Butterflies  were  signed  up  as  the  Trotter  brothers  Del  and  Rodney . Minder  proved  a  mixed  blessing  as  the   first  two  seasons  were  perceived  as  a  pale  imitation  and  were  only  moderately  popular. It  was  only  when  they  were  re-broadcast  in  the  summer  of  1983  as  a  warm-up  for  the  third  series  that  autumn  that  the  ratings  started  perking  up.

The  Christmas  special  was  notable  for  featuring  the  only  appearance  of  the  boys'  absentee  father  Reg, still  a  rogue  who  tries  to  con  Del  that  he's  illegitimate .  It  was  also  the  final  appearance  of  Lennard  Pearce  as  Grandad  , the  third  member  of  the  core  trio. Because  of  his  failing  health,  his  part in  the  forthcoming  series  had  been  reduced  so  the  substitution  of   his not  previously  mentioned  Uncle  Albert  ( Buster  Merryfield ) was  accomplished  fairly  quickly.

It  was  from  that  point  that  I  started  watching  regularly  and  for  me  the  show  had  its  peak  in  1985-6  as  the  supporting  cast , including  Roger  Lloyd  Pack  as  the  gloriously  stupid  Trigger. ,expanded  and  the  storylines  got  more  ambitious. I  particularly  liked  the  one  where  the  guys  get  taken  hostage  in  a  supermarket  by  a  young  gunman. When  he  dozes  off,   Rodney   creeps  up  on  him  but  uses  the  opportunity  to  grab  his  packet  of  fags  rather  than  the  pistol.

During  the  filming  of  the  fifth  series  in  1986   Jason  indicated  a  wish  to  move  on  and  the  show  went  on  a  hiatus  with  only  Christmas  special  episodes  in  1987  and  1988. In  the  latter  Del  fatefully  meets  a  woman  called  Raquel.

Many  people  would  cite  the  arrival  of  "the  girls"  as  the  point  of  no  return  for  the  series. I'd  go  half  way  with  that. Lyndhurst  was  pushing  30  by  1989 . He couldn't  go  on  playing  the  gormless  teenager  much  longer. He  had  to  be  allowed  to  mature  and  giving  him   a  steady  girlfriend  was  an  effective  device  to  achieve  that. Gwyneth  Strong  as  Cassandra  was  a  likable  addition  to  the  cast.

Besides , the  first  season  to  feature  her  was  a  strong  one. Sullivan  had  been  granted  his  wish  to  have  a  shorter  season  of   six  50  minute  episodes  and  these   showcased  a  more  political  edge  as  Del  self-consciously  adopted  the  trappings   of  the  yuppie  age  and  Rodney  tried  to  fit  into  Cassandra's  middle  class  milieu. It  featured  most  viewer's  favourite  moment  when  Del  falls  through  the  bar  at   a  yuppie  club  and  my  own  favourite  episode  with  the  inflatable  dolls  that  really  do  blow  up  , a  rather  daring  storyline  for  a  pre-watershed  show.

For  me  the  series  "jumped  the  shark"  in  the  1989  Christmas  special  by  reintroducing  Raquel  and  making  her  a  regular  character. Tessa  Peake-Jones  is  a  decent  actress  but  she  had  no  comic  timing  and  her  limitations  were  cruelly  exposed  in  scenes  with  Jason  and  Lyndhurst. There  was  no  good  reason  for  Del  to  settle  down  either ; his  dodgy  lady friends   had  provided  a  rich  source  of  humour  in  previous  seasons  and  with  Rodney  now  able  to  cast  a  more  sceptical  eye   on  Del's  enterprises  Raquel  wasn't  needed  as  a  critic. There  had  been  good  sense  in  keeping  Mrs  Mainwaring  and  Mrs  Daley  off  screen; Sullivan  failed  to  appreciate  that   and  so  the  seventh  and  final  season in  1991 was  burdened  with  this  inert  piece  of  baggage,  sat  on  the  couch  with  a  stupid  smirk,  trying  not  to  corpse  as  the  others  performed  around  her.

I  remember  in  particular  the  fourth  episode  where  the  occasional  character, bent  copper  Slater  ( Jim  Broadbent  )  returns  and  turns  out  to  be  Raquel's  ex-husband. Broadbent's  a  great  actor  but  I  never  felt  Slater  added  much  on  his  previous  appearances  and  the  whole  episode  was  barren  of  laughs  from  start  to  finish. Sullivan  had  turned  the  show  into  a  soap  opera  and  I  remember  dinner  table  conversations  at  work  lamenting  how  much  it  had  deteriorated.

After  that  season  ended  with  Del  becoming  a  father, the  series  continued  as  Christmas  specials  which  had  their  moments   but  the  law  of  diminishing  returns  set  in. The  1991 two-parter  sent  the  brothers  to  Miami  which  was  no  doubt  good  fun  for  them  but  the  story  was  overblown  and  laboured. The  1992  one  concerning  Del's  fake  spring  water  was  much  better. From  the  synopsis  it  looked  like  I  opted  out  of  the  1993  episode.

Two  years  went  by  without  a  visit  to  the  Trotters  and  then  there  was  a  three  parter  over   Christmas  1996. This  provided  the  last  great  comic  moment   of  the  series  when  the  brothers  disturb  a  mugging  dressed  as  Batman  and  Robin  but  even  so  it  felt  leaden  and  Jason  was  now  evidently  too  old  for  the  role. I  might  have  missed  the  middle  one. The  last  one  ended  with  the  Trotters  finally  becoming  millionaires  in  a  contrived  way.

That  was  intended  to  bring  the  series  to  a  close  but  it  was  revived  for  three  more  Christmas  specials  beginning  in  2001. The  subsequent  two  were  actually  filmed  at  the  same  time  but  held  over. Merryfield  had  died  in  the  meantime  so  the  first  one  opened  with  his  funeral. I  watched  the  first  quarter  of  an  hour  which  was  dreadful  and  that  was  it  for  me. A  year  after  the  final  episode  it  was  voted  Britain's  Best  Sitcom. I  ignored  both  spin-off  series.

Sullivan's  death  in  2011  would  appear  to  be  the  final  curtain  for  the  series.



  1. One of those shows that was just "there" when I was a kid... I don't know if it was repeated a lot, or the episodes just stick in my mind strongly.

    The original "ending", with the brothers finally earning their riches, was a good a conclusion as could have been. I've no idea why Sullivan brought it back, unless he needed the money.

    And I always chuckle at the luck in picking Trevor Francis as a reference in the ending theme, bearing in mind he was still playing fairly regular top flight football as late as 1992.

  2. Arguably my families favourite sitcom when I was growing up, (and weirdly we did watch from day one!) Only Fools will always have a special place in my heart, but once it ended in '96 (it's original ending, and where it should have ended) the Beeb repeated it to death so often that even now it's hard to watch an episode in its entirety. I got the sense that the Beeb really pushed for Sullivan to pen some more and the ill advised early 00s revival was the result. Woefully unfunny, I remain to this day surprised these eps came from the same writer.

    I completely agree with you Mike that the series really did suffer with Del settling down. Cassandra was a lovely addition to the series and well-played too, but Raquel just zapped the life from the whole thing.

    The Rock and Chips prequels weren't too bad, but The Green Green Grass was the kind of laboured, hehe aren't yokels funny sitcom that belonged to the early 70s. It was like Grace and Favour , the Are You Being Served? spin off, all over again.

  3. I'm glad my turning off the 2001 episode was well judged !