Only Fools and Horses
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.
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.
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 find long term love; Del and his "significant other", 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).
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 currently holds the record for the highest-rated episode of a sitcom on British television, 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, The 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.
One of the major examples of discontinuity in the show is the corridor outside the Trotter's flat. Every time it is shown, its appearance is dramatically different.
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, "Stick 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 through the TV show) to have confined its currency to South London. This line provided an answer to the many questions regarding the show's title which were received by the BBC during the transmission of the first series.
Born after the war, Del became his family's main moneymaker before he left school. His gift of the gab make him a natural salesman, no matter what the quality, safety, legality or suitability of the goods in his possession. Devoted to the memory of his mother and hateful of the way his father left after her death, Del puts family high on his agenda, refusing to put Rodney into care as a child and looking after Grandad in his frailty until his death. That said, Del was never afraid to stitch up Rodney to save his own skin or pride. Popular with the ladies, Del was engaged numerous times during the 60s and 70s but never got close to marriage, only finally settling down after re-meeting Raquel and having a son with her. Del misuses French phrases as part of his wish to appear cultured but is ultimately found wanting in aesthetic situations.
Born in the early 1960s after being accidentally conceived, Rodney never got to know his parents. His mother died and his father absconded before he had barely started school, so he was brought up by his teenage brother Derek and his declining Grandad. Rodney was a bright but easily-influenced child, attaining GCE passes in maths and art before going to art college in Basingstoke, where he was thrown out after three weeks for smoking marijuana, which also earned him a criminal conviction, a fine and a suspended prison sentence. Rodney subsequently became Del's apprentice, suitcase-carrier and general whipping boy, and became the opposite to his brother cerebrally - blessed with knowledge but lacking entirely in street-wisdom or common sense, hence Del's frequent labelling of him as a "plonker". Rodney tried numerous times to take more control of the business, pursue new interests or go out on his own, but it was only after meeting Cassandra at his evening school that Del finally decided not to interfere. Rodney duly married Cassandra but continued to stay to an extent under Del's influence.
Born at the turn of the 20th century, "Grandad" on Del's father's side (Del and Rodney's absent father Reginald was his son) served in the Army during the Second World War and worked in a number of semi-skilled jobs. He was widowed early and spent much of his final years almost completely housebound, although Del made him responsible for the housekeeping and the cooking while he and Rodney went out to work. Grandad never removed his hat, watched at least two television sets at once and rarely failed to burn the meals he prepared. He died in 1985 (after the death of actor Lennard Pearce just as filming was getting underway) and was buried in the episode "Strained Relations".
Born approximately five years after his elder brother "Grandad", Albert was a seaman as man and boy, initally in the Royal Navy, then the Merchant. He married Ada but the marriage didn't work out for reasons unknown, and Albert was a pensioner alone, moving to the homes of distant relation after distant relation, until attending Grandad's funeral and moving in with Del and Rodney afterwards. He took over the Grandad roles of housekeeping and cooking, doing a considerably better job of it, and was also in the Nag's Head with frequency, drinking rum and playing the piano. Albert never stopped talking about his war days to anyone in earshot, often issuing tedious anecdotes which allowed Del or Rodney to mock him. All said, Albert's death - 15 years after moving in with his great-nephews - was mourned on as grand a scale as Grandad's. This was written into the next episode made after the death of actor Buster Merryfield in 1999.
- Raquel — Tessa Peake-Jones
A trained actress and singer whose career never took off, Rachel "Raquel" Turner married and then separated from policeman Roy Slater before joining up with a dating agency, where she was introduced to Del. They hit it off but split after a row over Raquel's part-time job as a stripper. They re-met accidentally in Margate, where Del was stranded after missing his transport back from a day trip, and Raquel was working in a club as one half of a conjurer's act. This time they got back together and Raquel moved in, taking much of the housekeeping duty off Albert while also trying occasionally to relaunch her theatrical career. She and Del survived a crisis after Del found out the identity of her ex-husband - Slater was his old nemesis - and had an unplanned but very welcome son, Damien, although they never got round to marrying. Raquel was responsible for re-furnishing and re-decorating the flat to the extent that it looked like a family home for the first time.
- Cassandra — Gwyneth Strong
An intelligent, slightly spoilt daughter of a wealthy, self-made businessman, Cassandra was a bank worker who was taking evening classes when she met Rodney, with whom she started a relationship after they danced together at a nightclub. Their love blossomed to the extent that even Del approved, and the two soon married. Cassandra's ambitious nature and Rodney's own difficulty in untying the apron strings of his family meant the marriage initially struggled to work, with the two separating after a year, although ultimately they reconciled their differences and grew stronger, especially after Cassandra miscarried their first child.
The chief supporting character throughout the show's run, Trigger was a local road sweeper, small time thief and rogue and village idiot who had no enemies and was highly valued by Del as a friend. Trigger - apparently so called because he looks like a horse - was the son of a local woman and an unknown military father, but had numerous extended family members. He went to school with Del and has always swept the roads of Peckham by day before propping up the Nag's Head bar at night. Early in the run we saw Trigger also as a mild crook and trader but eventually he stopped getting involved in buying and selling and just became a valued hanger-on. Despite being extremely dim, Trigger's generosity and good nature is respected by all in the area. He has consistently called Rodney "Dave" under the genuine belief that is his name, even though he hears everyone else using the correct name time and again.
Aubrey Boyce went to school with Del and Trigger and emerged as the most financially successful but least popular of the trio. A frightful snob with a machine gun laugh and membership of the local masonic lodge, Boycie was a ruthless businessman - mainly in used cars and movie retailing - who still socialised with his Peckham compatriots partially out of a sense of duty, although under it all he remains fond of Del and Trigger. He married Marlene in the mid 1960s but it took more than 20 years for them to conceive a child after Boycie was discovered to have a low sperm count. Their son Tyler was subsequently born and recently the family moved to the countryside for spin-off sitcom "Green, Green Grass".
- Marlene — Sue Holderness
Mrs Boyce had a prior reputation as a well loved 'entertainer' of men, including Del and Trigger, before she married Boycie in the 1960s. However, there was a consistent undercurrent of an affair between Del and Marlene throughout the programme. Marlene did not work but instead kept the Boyce home in the Kings Avenue, for a long time having her beloved Great Dane, Duke, as her only company until a long fertilisation course produced Tyler.
- Denzil — Paul Barber
An unemployed put-upon husband when first seen, Denzil was another schoolfriend of Del's although he arrived in the area from Liverpool well into his teens. A trusted and liked friend of all, Denzil was nevertheless a regular on the receiving end of Del's scams. He was married to Corinne who was only sighted once before leaving him. He ultimately forged a reasonable living as a courier and long distance driver.
- Mickey Pearce — Patrick Murray
A young, confident but largely unimaginative spiv figure - complete with hat - and friend of Rodney's, often on the receiving end of Del's jibes whenever he issues one of his regular boasts or exaggerations. In the early days he often targeted the same girls and high-reaching ambitions as Rodney, later just becoming a cash-in-hand delivery man for Boycie, amongst other things.
- Mike — Kenneth MacDonald
The landlord of the Nag's Head (although not from the very beginning; his predecessor was never seen, with just a succession of barmaids providing service), Mike Fisher became a respected landlord and friend of the regulars, often targeted by Del as a potential customer for any dubious gear he was selling. Mike's private affairs rarely were discussed, although he was divorced before taking over the pub. The death of actor Kenneth MacDonald in 2001 prompted a plotline of Mike's imprisonment for fraud in subsequent episodes, with the local cafe owner Sid taking over as licensee of the pub.
- Damien — Ben Smith
Damien Derek Trotter, Del and Raquel's son, grew up into a typically moody and brash teenager and was a constant threat to Rodney, who viewed him as a 'devil child', even suggesting the name of Damien as a joke over the Omen films, only for Del and Raquel to take his suggestion seriously.
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.
The Reliant van used by the Trotters is on display in the Star Cars exhibition at the National Motor Museum.
Even though the show never aired in Portugal, a not very successful adaption was made, named O Fura-Vidas.
Series One (30 minute episodes)
|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)
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||8.2m||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 specials
|Christmas Trees||1982-12-27||7.2m||8 minutes; Del can't shift his telescopic Christmas trees|
|Diamonds Are For Heather||1982-12-30||9.3m||30 minutes; Del falls for a girl named Heather|
Series Three (30 minute episodes)
|Homesick||1983-11-10||9.4m||Grandad becomes ill|
|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"|
|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; Cassandra gives birth|
Other (27 minutes)
|Licensed to Drill||1984||Never Broadcast  ||The lost episode; Del educates Rodney and Grandad in all things oil. Produced as an educational video for schools|
With the exception of the lost episode, the 1982 Christmas Trees short and the 1997 Comic Relief sketch, all of these episodes have been released on VHS and DVD. The 2005 DVD release of "A Royal Flush" has annoyed many fans due to the cutting of nearly 20 minutes of material and the adding of a laugh track to the episode, which was absent from the original version. The 1998 VHS & 2003 DVD release of "Miami Twice" did similar, by combining the two episodes into one and adding a laugh track to the second. The BBC have not explained why either of these were done, and it seems there are no plans to release either episode in their original forms.
The scripts, up to and including the 1997 Comic Relief sketch, have been published in three volumes as The Bible Of Peckham.
- In 2005 a follow-up to the series was produced and aired by the BBC. Called Green Green Grass, it followed the exploits of Boycie and his wife Marlene after they moved to a farm in Shropshire.