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.