When my TV editor posted the feature ‘retro reviews’ the first show that came to my mind was Only Fools and Horses. After thinking this, the next thing I thought was, maybe that’s too retro for the world renowned, on-the-pulse, culture magazine Vulture Hound. To my doubt Grae replied, nothing’s too retro…
Then let us begin.
Only Fools and Horses was a British sitcom created by John Sullivan about the escapades of wheeling dealing ‘entrepreneur’ Derek Trotter and his younger brother; the hapless Rodney, living together in a council flat in Nelson Mandela House in Peckham constantly ‘working’ towards the ambition of one-day becoming ‘mwill-yin-airesssssss’.
The show first aired in 1981 running for 7 series with 64 episodes (excluding specials) played through to 2003, and if there was one programme in the entire gluttonously rich history of British television that I would want to review, this would be it.
The strengths of Only Fools were abundant. Its concept, its settings, its scenarios, its cockney slang dialogue. But above all these artistic weapons in its fearsome arsenal none were as powerful and engaging as its characters- culture vulture Boycie and his wife Marlene, Trigger, Denzil, Mike, Mikey Pearce, Uncle Albert, Raquel, Cassandra, and, in an all-too-brief foray by the fantastic Jim Broadbent in his early years, the corrupt copper ‘Slater’.
There you go! You got a show! But this show went one even better than all the above. Well, two better actually… Derek and Rodney Trotter. Two brother’s whose father left them and mother passed away and now they’re left to fend for themselves and each other, one the get-up-n’at’em bouncing bumping he-who-dares dreamer, the other the skulking down-on-his-luck teenage pessimist with a GCSE in maths and art.
I’ve continually said, and I’ll continually keep saying half the battle of producing great TV and film is to make a good first impression. I haven’t seen many better first impressions made than the impression of Only Fools. I was enraptured from the opening minutes of the pilot episode (available in the Complete Collection BBC boxset). We first meet the brother’s stood in a cemetery in the snow at the end of their mother’s funeral, and I remember it was the appearance of Del, Rodney and Granddad (Ted Trotter), that stuck in my mind. Del looked a million dollars in a double-breasted suit, sheepskin trench coat, slick back air, sunglasses and his necklace with the initial ‘D’ on it, worn over his shirt and tie. Rodney, stood beside him, looked the exact opposite to his brother- ripped jeans, a tattered army print jacket and bed hair. In the middle of them was Granddad in his customary broken fedora and stained neck-scarf. The strangest family I had ever seen. That moment hooked me, and the show never let go my attention from there on.
‘Big Brother’ is the episode where it all began, the first ever official episode of Only Fools aired way-back when in 1981 (I was minus 7…). It is in this episode that Rodney took to his destiny (or his demise) by agreeing to go into the employs of his older brother- chairman and CEO of “Trotters Independent Traders”.
In ‘Big Brother’ we’re also introduced to Trigger at the Nag’s Head, over a pint of lager and a Baileys and cherryade (the combination of Del Boy’s ‘exotic’ cocktails became more and more disgusting as the seasons kept coming). Whilst the men enjoyed their drinks they also made use of their time by devising the first of many a scam. This particular scam was performed by Trigger, selling Del a load of hooky suitcases. Del thinks he’s onto a winner when he negotiates the price of each suitcase down from 17 pounds to 8, and tries his luck further by tricking the simplistic Trigger into paying 175 quid for 25 cases. Rodney quickly intervenes, making rare use of his GCSE in maths, by explaining to Trigger that the actual cost of the cases is 200 quid on the price he and Del agreed upon. And so begins the comedy capering slap stick to and fro antics of the many deals made on wheels by the company based in the markets of London in the three-wheel van with the slogan; New York – Paris – Peckham.
From here we’d watch the Trotter boys convince the world of a miracle when their local church gets a leak in the roof, and fight over the affections of women using the tools of a sunbed and a hand glider, and visit America for the first time only to arrive and be accused of being the most wanted drug Lord on the Keys. At the very least everyone must remember Del and Rodney roaming through the streets at night dressed as Batman and Robin.
This didn’t become a great TV series, it became a part of British culture. The strength of Sullivan’s writing was found in the simplistic genius with which he held up a mirror to the way of life on the island nation that took over the world.
Personally, as a wannabe scriptwriter, take all the creative writing courses across all the internet and all the world and cram them into the perfect course guide into comedy, characterisation, timing, meter and rhyme. You won’t learn as much from that as you would a season of Only Fools and Horses.
Sheer and utter brilliance. And a very rare (from me)…
Dir: Martin Shardlow, Bernard Thompson, Ray Butt, Susan Beldin, Mandie Fletcher, Tony Dow
Scr: John Sullivan
Cast: David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Lennard Pearce, Buster Merryfield, Roger Lloyd-Pack, John Challis, Tessa Peake-Jones, Gwyneth Strong, Sue Holderness, Paul Barber, Patrick Murray
Prd: Ray Butt, Bernard Thompson, John Sullivan
Run Time: series 1-5 30minute episodes, series 6 & 7 50minute episodes, specials 35-90minutes.
Only Fools and Horses is continually played on the UKGold channel and quite often reprised on mainstream channels during the Christmas season.