ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES

British Situation Comedy

Only Fools and Horses, a long-running situation comedy series concerning the misadventures of a cockney "wide boy" and his naive younger brother, was first screened by the BBC in 1981 and over the next decade became the most popular and acclaimed sitcom on British television. Reflecting the capitalist fervour of Thatcherite Britain in the 1980s, a time of contrasting economic fortunes, the series celebrated the proverbial optimism of the archetypal cockney street trader, with his dreams of a wealthy future and aspirations for a better life.

The programme began as an idea by writer John Sullivan, who constructed the first scripts under the title Readies and finally persuaded the BBC to risk making a whole series based on the dubious dealings of a personable cockney "fly-pitcher," who made a precarious living selling shoddy goods and--quite without malice--duping customers (including his own family and friends) at every opportunity. Retitled Only Fools and Horses after the time honoured proverb "only fools and horses work," the first series failed to attract much attention, but the quality of the scripts and the excellence of the actors gradually won a huge devoted audience and by the mid-1980s special festive episodes topped the BBC's Christmas ratings.

The leading role of the brash, streetwise "Del Boy" Trotter, decked out with chunky gold jewelry and well versed in cockney rhyming slang, was developed to perfection by David Jason, who deftly realized the character's combination of sentimentality and scheming unscrupulousness. Determined to improve his place in the world in the face of every setback, his Del Boy--like Minder's Arthur Daly--became a byword for shady practices, though his endearing incompetence (embodied in the rusty yellow three-wheeled van he drove) and his breezy vulgarity ensured he always remained sympathetic. Time and again Del Boy's ambitious plans had to be abandoned in order to extricate another of the Trotter clan (or himself) from trouble. Often he was his own worst enemy, even when his motives were at their most pure. when he felt moved to touch up his mother's monument in the churchyard, for instance, he used his own supply of dodgily acquired paint--and when night fell found out to his horror that it was luminous.

Del Boy's foils was his younger brother Rodney Trotter, gauche and easily misled ("a right plonker" according to his sibling, who used--or rather misused-him) and played with pained indignation by former child actor Nicholas Lyndhurst. The relationship between Del Boy and Rodney lay at the heart of the series' success, veering as it did from conflict and petty deceptions to pathos and genuine warmth and reliance upon one another. The premise was that Rodney had never known his father and could not remember his mother, who had died when he was a baby, thus leaving him in the care of his scornful but devoted brother. The Trotter trio was completed by dotty old Grandad, played by Lennard Pearce and, after Pearce's unexpected death from a heart attack in 1984, by Grandad's brother home from the sear, Uncle Albert (played by Buster Merryfield).

The format changed little over the years--neither did the tasteless decor of the Trotter flat in high-rise Nelson Mandela House, Peckham, or the memorable clientele of the East End pub where the brothers congregated with such "business associates" as the shady but often fooled Boycie, nicknamed Jaffa (because he was sterile, thus like a Jaffa seedless orange), and the even more dimwitted roadsweeper Trigger (so named because he looked like a horse). There were, however, some changes in the Trotter household, notably Rodney's disaster-strewn romance and eventual marriage to City banker Cassandra and Del Boy's liaison with actress Raquel, which led ultimately to the birth of the first of a future generation of Trotter entrepreneurs, the ominously-named Damien.

After a glorious run of some ten years, with both Jason and Lyndhurst successfully involved in various other television projects, the series petered out with the exception of occasional specials that effortlessly proved that the tried and tested formula still worked. The achievement of the series was recognized by a BAFTA Best Comedy prize in 1989 (the year of Rodney's wedding to Cassandra).

-David Pickering


Only Fools and Horse
Photo courtesy of BBC

CAST

Del Trotter.................................................. David Jason Rodney Trotter................................. Nicholas Lyndhurst Grandad............................................... Lennard Pearce Uncle Albert........................................ Buster Merryfield Trigger............................................... Roger Lloyd Pack Boycie....................................................... John Challis Micky Pearce .........................................Patrick Murray Mike ..............................................Kenneth MacDonald Marlene................................................ Sue Holderness Denzil........................................................ Paul Barber Alan............................................................. Dennis Lill Cassandra............................................ Gwyneth Strong Raquel............................................ Tessa Peake-Jones

PRODUCERS Ray Butt, Gareth Gwenlan

PROGRAMMING HISTORY   33 Half-hour Episodes 13 50-minute Episodes 8 Specials

BBC
September 1981-October 1981                       6 Episodes October 1982-December 1982                        7 Episodes November 1983-December 1983                     7 Episodes February 1985-April 1985                               7 Episodes 25 December 1985                              Christmas Special August 1986-October 1986                            6 Episodes 25 December 1986                              Christmas Special 25 December 1987                              Christmas Special 25 December 1988                              Christmas Special January 1989-February 1989                          6 Episodes 25 December 1989                              Christmas Special 25 December 1990                              Christmas Special December 1990-February 1991                       6 Episodes 24 December 1991                              Christmas Special 25 December 1991 (continuing)            Christmas Special 25 December 1992                              Christmas Special

 

See also British Programming; Jason, David; Lyndhurst, Nichlas