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Only Fools and Horses

From Academic Kids

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Only_Fools_and_Horses_1.jpg
The original lineup of Only Fools and Horses, featuring Rodney, Del Boy and Grandad, lasted from 1981 to 1985.

Only Fools and Horses is a hugely popular British sitcom, created and written by John Sullivan, and made and broadcast by the BBC. Seven series were broadcast between 1981 and 1991, with special Christmas episodes occasionally until 2003. The show was selected as 'Britain's Best Sitcom' in a 2004 BBC poll.

The programme title is based on an old saying: "Only fools and horses work (for a living)", a reference to the protagonist's tax- and work-evading lifestyle. The theme song is written and sung by Sullivan. In the first season a different theme was used: this was changed to help viewers understand the meaning of the programme's title.

Contents

Situation

Derek "Del Boy" Trotter (played by David Jason) and his younger brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) share a flat with their elderly Grandad (Lennard Pearce) several floors up Nelson Mandela House in a high-rise estate in Peckham, South London (Although the actual high rise shown in the show was in Acton, West London). Del Boy runs Trotter's Independent Traders — he's a fast-talking Cockney market trader, a wheeler-dealer, a wide boy, always looking to try to make a quick buck, cash in hand, no questions asked.

At the start of the first series Rodney joins Del in the business. Their mother died when Rodney was young, and their father disappeared long ago. Del's been Rodney's surrogate father for most of his life.

Del will do any deal to make money: "This time next year we'll be millionaires", he says. But most of the deals are too dodgy to succeed. Their flat is often piled high with dodgy gear they can't sell, from briefcases with the unlocking code locked inside them to sun tan lotion in the middle of winter.

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The more familiar lineup of Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert lasted from 1985-1996.

The brothers' friends include a used car dealer, Boycie, and his wife Marlene; a slow-on-the-uptake road sweeper, Trigger, who always calls Rodney "Dave"; lorry driver Denzil; Mike, the barman at their local pub the Nag's Head; and Del-wannabe Mickey Pearce.

The show's one constant is the bond between the brothers. Unafraid of mixing comedy with tragedy, over the years we see their successes and failures, their loves and their losses. Grandad dies, and they're joined by their Uncle Albert; Del and Rodney both marry; Del and his wife Raquel have a child, Damien; Rodney and his wife, Cassandra, split up and get back together; Uncle Albert dies; Cassandra miscarries, but finally she and Rodney have a child too. The Trotters strike it rich, but lose it all again.

About the programme

Only Fools and Horses was relatively unpopular when it began, but the BBC persevered. Audiences grew steadily, and episodes like A Touch of Glass (in which Del, Rodney and Grandad try and spectacularly fail to clean a chandelier) contained scenes that became instant classics.

Series four in 1985 saw the death of Grandad. This was hastily written into the series after the death of the actor Lennard Pearce some way into filming. The programme showed Grandad's funeral – uncommon territory for a sitcom – and quickly introduced a replacement character, Del and Rodney's Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield).

The first episode of series six in 1989, Yuppy Love, included what has been voted the funniest moment in a British sitcom: Del falling behind a bar through a hatch he thought was closed. Another hilarious moment is from the Christmas special in 1996, Heroes and Villains, where Del and Rodney are running through the back alleys to reach a fancy dress ball, dressed as Batman and Robin, scaring off some teenage muggers as they emerge.

Much of the success of the programme was credited to the quality of the principal cast — in particular David Jason, an award-winning actor in both serious and comic roles. John Sullivan is also regarded as one of Britain's best comedy writers, able to move from comedy to tragedy and back again in a single line of dialogue.

Although the programme ran from 1981 to 2003, there were only seven series. The final series in 1991 ended with the birth of Del and Raquel's son, Damien. Ten special episodes were shown between 1991 and 2003, around Christmas time. The three specials shown at Christmas 1996 culminated in Del and Rodney and their families achieving their ambition to become millionaires; it was the highest-rated programme on British television for over a decade, with 24.3 million viewers. A further, short ten-minute insert was shown in 1997 as part of the Comic Relief telethon. Set just before their windfall, Del and Rodney (primarily, although Uncle Albert, Racquel and Damien also feature) discuss world hunger and poverty, whilst making clever references to each other's television characters (David Jason as Inspector Frost in the detective series A Touch of Frost; Nicholas Lyndhurst as time-travelling Gary Sparrow in another sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart). The sketch ends with the brothers making a direct appeal from the flat for the Comic Relief charity.

The Christmas 1996 trilogy was intended to end the series, but three further episodes shown at Christmas 2001, 2002 and 2003 carried on the story. Actor Buster Merryfield had died in 1999, and so Uncle Albert died too. Kenneth MacDonald, who played Mike the landlord of the Nag's Head pub, had also passed away in 2001, and Sullivan wrote around this by keeping his character in prison for fraud. The Trotters had lost their millions in the stock market crash, but Rodney and Cassandra finally had a baby. These three episodes were neither as successful, nor as acclaimed as the earlier trilogy, and no further episodes are expected. A spin-off show, Green Green Grass, centred on the characters of Boycie and Marlene and their plans to move out of Peckham and into the countryside, began filming in June 2005. Sullivan has reportedly also been developing a second spin-off, Once Upon A Time In Peckham, which would show Del and Rodney as youngsters in the 1960s.

Theme music

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Only_Fools_and_Horses_car.jpg
The Trotters' Reliant Regal in front of Nelson Mandela house. The van has reached iconic status in the UK.

The theme music has been the source of many misconceptions down the years. First of all, the famous theme songs (different ones at the beginning and end of the show) are not the original themes. For the first series, theme music composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst was used, however for the second series John Sullivan persuaded the BBC to use two of his own compositions instead. The first series was subsequently re-edited to use the new theme songs, though the very first episode, Big Brother, was left untouched and is still regularly repeated with the original Ronnie Hazlehurst music intact.

The theme songs are performed by Sullivan himself, and not - as many people think - by Nicholas Lyndhurst, though the voice Lyndhurst uses in the series is quite similar and the confusion is understandable.

The exact lyrics often cause confusion as well. The lines that cause most head-scratching are the first line of the opening theme and the closing refrain of the end theme, which are respectively, "Put a pony in me pocket" ("pony" being common London slang for 25 pounds cash) and "c'est magnifique, Hooky Street".

The line "Why do only fools and horses work?", which explains the somewhat oblique title of the show itself, refers to a genuine though somewhat obscure saying which seems (prior to its exposure throught he TV show) to have confined its currency to South London.

Regular cast

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Del Boy with regular cohorts Boycie and Trigger.

Guest cast

  • DCI Roy Slater - (known at the Met as 'Bullshit of the Yard) — Jim Broadbent


Cultural impact

Only Fools and Horses — and consequently John Sullivan — is credited with the creation or popularisation in Britain of at least two words/phrases (both used by Del Boy regularly):

  • Plonker — a fool ("Rodney, you plonker!")
  • Lovely jubbly — excellent! ("A grand? Lovely jubbly!")

The latter was originally an advertising slogan for an obscure 1960s fruit drink. John Sullivan remembered it and reckoned it was exactly the sort of thing Del Boy would say.

Episodes

Series One (30 minute episodes)

Title First broadcast Audience Notes
Big Brother 1981-09-15 9.2m Del employs Rodney
Go West Young Man 1981-09-15 6.1m Del wrecks Boycie's car
Cash and Curry 1981-09-22 7.3m The Indian statue episode
The Second Time Around 1981-09-29 7.8m Del's murderous ex-fiancee
A Slow Bus To Chingford 1981-10-06 7m The bus tour episode
The Russians Are Coming 1981-10-13 8.8m The Trotters build a nuclear war shelter

1981 Christmas special (35 minutes)

Christmas Crackers 1981-12-28 7.5m

Series Two (30 minute episodes)

The Long Legs of the Law 1982-10-21 7.7m Rodney dates a police officer
Ashes to Ashes 1982-10-18 9.8m The Trotters dice with death
A Losing Streak 1982-11-04 7.5m The Trotters have money trouble
No Greater Love 1982-11-11 8.6m
The Yellow Peril 1982-11-18 8.2 The cutting corners episode
It Never Rains 1982-11-25 9.5m The holiday episode
A Touch of Glass 1982-12-02 10.2m The Chandelier episode

1982 Christmas special (30 minutes)

Diamonds Are For Heather 1982-12-30 9.3m

Series Three (30 minute episodes)

Homesick 1983-11-10 9.4m Grandad becomes ill
Healthy Competition 1983-11-17 9.7m
Friday the 14th 1983-11-24 9.7m A fishing trip turns nasty for Del, Rodney and Grandad
Yesterday Never Comes 1983-12-01 10.6m
May The Force Be With You 1983-12-08 10.7m Slater nicks Del
Wanted 1983-12-15 11.2m Rodney thinks he's a wanted criminal
Who's a Pretty Boy? 1983-12-22 11.9m The canary episode

1983 Christmas special (30 minutes)

Thicker Than Water 1983-12-25 10.8m Del and Rodney's Dad reappears

Series Four (30 minutes)

Happy Returns 1985-02-21 15.2m Del thinks he has a daughter
Strained Relations 1985-02-28 14.9m Grandad dies; Uncle Albert appears
Hole in One 1985-03-07 13.4m Albert gets the Trotters in trouble
It's Only Rock and Roll 1985-03-14 13.6m Rodney's rock group
Sleeping Dogs Lie 1985-03-21 18.7m The Trotters have dog trouble
Watching the Girls Go By 1985-03-28 14.4m Rodney bets he can get a girl
As One Door Closes 1985-04-04 14.2m The butterfly episode

1985 Christmas special (90 minutes)

To Hull and Back 1985-12-25 16.9m Diamond smuggling from Holland

Series Five (30 minute episodes)

From Prussia With Love 1986-08-31 12.1m The Trotters take in a pregnant German girl
The Miracle of Peckham 1986-09-07 14.2m The weeping statue episode
The Longest Night 1986-09-14 16.7m The supermarket hostages episode
Tea for Three 1986-09-21 16.5m Paragliding Del
Video Nasty 1986-09-28 17.5m Rodney is asked to make a film
Who Wants to be a Millionaire 1986-10-05 18.8m Jumbo offers Del a new start down under

1986 Christmas special (75 minutes)

A Royal Flush 1986-12-25 18.8m Rodney befriends an aristocrat's daughter

1987 Christmas special (60 minutes)

The Frog's Legacy 1987-12-25 14.5m Del learns of a gold legacy left to him

1988 Christmas special (80 minutes)

Dates 1988-12-25 16.6m Del meets Raquel

Series Six (50 minute episodes)

Yuppy Love 1989-01-08 13.9m "Play it nice and cool son... know what I mean?"
Danger UXD 1989-01-15 16.1m The Inflatable Dolls episode
Chain Gang 1989-01-22 16.3m Del organises a big jewellery deal
The Unlucky Winner Is... 1989-01-29 17m Rodney wins an art competition
Sickness And Wealth 1989-02-05 18.2m Del's ill, Rodney's engaged to Cassandra
Little Problems 1989-02-12 18.9m Rodney marries Cassandra

1989 Christmas special (85 minutes)

The Jolly Boys Outing 1989-12-25 20.1m Del meets Raquel again

1990 Christmas special (75 minutes)

Rodney Come Home 1990-12-25 18m Rodney and Cassandra split up

Series Seven (50 minute episodes)

The Sky's The Limit 1990-12-30 15m Del nicks an air traffic control dish
The Chance Of A Lunchtime 1991-01-06 16.6m Raquel's pregnant
Stage Fright 1991-01-13 16.6m Del forms a singing duo
The Class of '62 1991-01-20 16.2m Del attends a school reunion
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle 1991-01-27 17.2m Albert is mugged
Three Men, A Woman And A Baby 1991-02-03 18.9m "It's a baby, Rodney"

Christmas specials

Miami Twice (part one) 1991-12-24 17.7m 50 minutes
Miami Twice (part two) 1991-12-25 14.9m 95 minutes
Mother Nature's Son 1992-12-25 20.1m 65 minutes; the Peckham Spring episode
Fatal Extraction 1993-12-25 19.6m 85 minutes
Heroes and Villains 1996-12-25 21.3m 60 minutes; the Batman and Robin episode
Modern Men 1996-12-27 21.3m 60 minutes; Cassandra miscarries
Time On Our Hands 1996-12-29 24.3m 60 minutes; the Antique Watch episode
Comic Relief 1997 Sketch 1997-03-14 10 minutes; special appeal
If They Could See Us Now 2001-12-25 20.3m 71 minutes; broke again
Strangers on the Shore 2002-12-25 16.3m 75 minutes; the Illegal Immigrant episode
Sleepless in Peckham 2003-12-25 15.5m 75 minutes


Most of these episodes have been released on VHS and DVD. The scripts, up to and including the 1997 Comic Relief sketch, have been published in three volumes as The Bible Of Peckham.

The Reliant van used by the Trotters is on display in the Star Cars exhibition at the National Motor Museum.

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