All episodes ranked from worst ‘uns to best ‘uns
With no need to beat about the Shepherd’s Bush, it’s safe to say that Only Fools and Horses is both a cultural phenomenon and a national institution. Modestly described at the time by the Radio Times as a show about ‘two brothers living with their grandad in a South London flat and existing off shady deals’, the beloved comedy drama has gone from strength to strength since the programme’s first episode was broadcast 40 years ago on 8 September 1981, deservedly picking up numerous awards and accolades along the way.
But, much like Uncle Albert’s naval career, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Only Fools and Horses wasn’t an instant hit and, when it finally connected with UK viewers, the show was hit by the sudden death, in December 1984, of Lennard Pearce, an irreplaceable member of the cast who had nailed his role as the Trotter brothers’ charismatic grandfather. But the introduction of Buster Merryfield in 1985 as the boys’ seafaring uncle proved to be a masterstroke, allowing the show to successfully evolve during the next two decades, culminating in a record-breaking TV audience in 1996 when Del Boy and Rodney finally achieved their dream of becoming millionaires in a tear-jerking finale.
Due to public demand, the show was revived five years later for a series of specials, but its high ratings couldn’t disguise a poor response from critics. Several years on, the sad death of the show’s principal writer, John Sullivan, and other members of the popular cast has ensured that further episodes are highly unlikely, but its legacy remains intact, with 64 episodes to reflect on. They weren’t all perfect of course, while some – reflective of the times they were written in – haven’t aged as well as others.
In this special two-part article, we raise a large cognac and a glass of Tia Maria and Lucozade to a truly remarkable series, and separate the crystal goblets from the broken lawnmower engines in a countdown to the crème de la menthe of episodes…
PART ONE: 64-31
BONNET DE DOUCHE! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!
64 – WANTED
(Series 3, Episode 6, Broadcast 15 December 1983)
One of many John Sullivan scripts to be based on real-life incidents, Wanted follows Rodney on a night out with Mickey Pearce at the Nag’s Head. On his way home, he encounters a drunken – and somewhat sensitive – middle-aged woman, who accuses the hapless Trotter brother of trying to touch her up, hysterically declaring “Rape! Rape!” as he hastily exits the scene.
After Rodney recounts the story back at home, Del soon realises that the unfortunate tête-à-tête was with Blossom, who, as he furtively informs Grandad, is “well known for this sort of thing”. Unable to resist winding his sibling up, Del paints Rodney as the proverbial sex monster, even going to the lengths of informing him that the police were on the hunt for the ‘Peckham Pouncer’. (Del later referred to the incident in the Comic Relief skit, Beckham in Peckham, in 2014.) The somewhat irritating and painfully drawn-out joke soon backfires, though, and a gullible Rodney goes on the run. Later, a remorseful Del find him hiding out in the storage tank room at Nelson Mandela House and eventually comes clean, but it’s Rodney who has the last laugh in this decidedly lacklustre episode.
63 – VIDEO NASTY
(S5, E5, 28 September 1986)
In the mid-80s, journalists and politicians alike were criticising GLC leader Ken Livingstone for a major increase in spending on minority community groups (which included numerous arts projects), labelling it a waste of money and reflective of the future Mayor of London’s so-called ‘loony left’ policies. John Sullivan was clearly paying attention and the GLC’s perceived frivolous spending provided the inspiration for this messy episode, which saw Rodney receiving a £10,000 grant from the Arts Council to produce a local community film. (To put it in perspective, the average UK house price in 1986 was roughly £36,000, so this was a huge sum of money back then.)
Of course, Del can’t resist the opportunity to cash in and soon hijacks the project. Not content with exploiting local businesses and aspiring actors, he takes creative control with a ludicrous idea about an escaped killer rhino, which Rodney has to somehow bring to life on a newly-acquired broken typewriter. Unbeknownst to Rodney, Del has hired Mickey Pearce to film weddings at the local town hall for £50 a throw, while Boycie entrusted the fledgling director to make a blue movie, titled Night Nurse, for his so-called ‘Video and Leisure Arts’ company’.
Regularly labelled by fans as one of the least-liked episodes of Only Fools and Horses, complaints were also received at the time from some viewers, who claimed that the gags about Boycie and Marlene’s infertility problems – “He’s been firing more blanks than the Territorials” – were insensitive.
62 – DIAMONDS ARE FOR HEATHER
(Christmas special, 30 December 1982)
In this low-on-laughs 1982 Christmas special, it’s Spanish Night at the Nag’s Head and an unusually maudlin Del meets single mother Heather – played by Rosalind Lloyd, fresh from her appearance in that year’s coincidentally-titled box office hit, Who Dares Wins – who has been separated from her jobless husband for 18 months. Predictably, romance ensues, but, refreshingly, we learn there’s a more sensitive and family-orientated side to the normally brash and occasionally overbearing Del, and this is beautifully captured in a memorable montage soundtracked by Fat Larry’s Band’s hit song ‘Zoom’. But Del is knocked back when he proposes to Heather, and the episode ends as it had begun, with the playing of ‘Old Shep’, a melancholy song about the death of a beloved dog.
61 – THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
(S1, E6, 13 October 1981)
Another topical episode, The Russians are Coming was broadcast at a time when Cold War tensions were still rife, with the relationship between the USA and the then Soviet Union particularly strained.
Del has unwittingly acquired around 30 boxes of lead, along with instructions to build a nuclear fallout shelter. Fearing the imminence of World War Three, a socially-conscious Rodney states that it “only takes one little rumble in the Middle East and them missiles are gonna start flying”, and manages to persuade Del and Grandad to build the DIY shelter. An ever-impractical Grandad wants to build it in the New Forest, until Del rightly points out that journeying from Peckham to Hampshire within the window of a ‘four minute warning’ is impossible, so they end up erecting the claustrophobic shelter atop Nelson Mandela House.
Evidenced by Grandad’s lengthy wartime monologue, this was a well-written, though somewhat sombre episode that lacked laugh-out-loud moments.
60 – A ROYAL FLUSH
(Christmas special, 25 December 1986)
In this hugely disappointing Christmas special, Rodney is in the market and meets a well-spoken aspiring artist named Vicky – played by future novelist Sarah Duncan – who, it transpires, is Lady Victoria, the daughter of the Duke of Maylebury, “a sort of second cousin to the Queen”. Upon learning that Vicky is the sole heiress to her father’s fortune, an opportunistic Del soon decides that Rodney is going to be the next Duke of Maylebury and formulates a plan to get the Trotters in the Maylebury family’s good graces.
Vicky is impressed when Rodney acquires – via Del, of course – a pair of highly sought-after tickets to a performance of Bizet’s Carmen at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. But, on the night of the opera, Rodney is shocked to see that Del is in attendance. Worse still, he’s brought along his former girlfriend, June Snell – first seen in 1985’s Happy Returns – and the unwanted guests promptly ruin the night with their embarrassing antics. It’s the first in a series of painful-to-watch scenes that reveal Del in an extremely vulgar and insensitive light, culminating in an embarrassing drunken display during a shooting weekend in the Berkshire countryside, in which Rodney is humiliated in front of the gathered nobility.
David Jason’s performance was certainly over-the-top, but he could only work with the script that was put in front of him, and John Sullivan admitted he regretted not being on-set to oversee the filming (he was working on his other hit comedy, Just Good Friends, at the time). “It was written for laughs, not drama,” he said, “and I wanted David to be Del as a jolly drunk rather than a morose drunk, which is what he ended up looking like.”
When the episode was released on DVD in 2004, it was heavily edited and a laughter track – missing from the original broadcast due to time constraints – was added, but the damage, in the eyes of many fans, had already been done.
59 – CASH AND CURRY
(S1, E3, 22 September 1981)
During a night out in Peckham, Del befriends a wealthy businessman named Vimmal Malik, who, apparently, is “stone rich” and “looking for business opportunities”. But, following a somewhat comical fight in the town hall’s car park, Del – who announces that he has a “black belt in origami” – unwittingly ends up instead sharing an Indian meal with Malik’s bitter rival, Mr. Ram (played by Renu Setna, who’d also starred in an episode of Open All Hours that year).
Ram convinces Del that Malik – eloquently described as a “pig’s behind” – has stolen a sentimentally-valuable porcelain statuette from him. Sensing an opportunity to cash in on the feud, Del offers to act as a go-between, but first needs to raise £2000 to buy the statuette off of Malik in order to double his money. However, we soon discover that Del has been the victim of an elaborate ruse that the two Indian fraudsters have previously pulled off in other major cities. (In order to raise the £2000, Del tells Rodney they have to “flog all our stock that we’ve got in the garage”. We have to assume they didn’t sell the ‘Victorian egg timer’ that later sold for £6.2 million…)
A somewhat convoluted episode that lacked Grandad’s interplay, Cash and Curry was also let down by a disappointing ending.
58 – WATCHING THE GIRLS GO BY
(S4, E6, 28 March 1985)
Landlord Mike is selling tickets to a Saturday night do at the Nag’s Head, an event that Mickey Pearce assumes Rodney won’t be going to, due to his apparently failed love life. His pride crushed, Rodney bets Mickey a ‘fifty’ that he has a date for the do, but, as he later confides to Del, he neither has a date for Saturday night, nor any other night. A sympathetic Del offers to buy the bet off him and pledges to help him find a date. During a last-ditch dash through the pubs and clubs, Del furtively sets Rodney up with an exotic dancer named Yvonne who tenuously meets his younger brother’s spec (“I told Mickey she was in show business. You know, I made her out to be a bit of a film star!”).
We later learn that the ensuing date has been a disaster as Yvonne, after downing one too many gins, has done a full striptease act, humiliating Rodney in the process. We also discover that the ‘fifty’ bet was in pence, not pounds, rendering Del’s efforts – and this decidedly run-of-the-mill episode – largely pointless.
57 – FRIDAY THE 14TH
(S3, E3, 24 November 1983)
In this spoof of the Friday the 13th horror series, the Trotters head to Boycie’s weekend cottage in Cornwall for a spot of salmon fishing and Del’s latest get-rich-scheme. En route, in the midst of a violent storm, they are routinely stopped by a policeman who informs them there’s an escaped mental hospital patient on the loose, a crazed axe murderer who isn’t especially fond of weekend fishermen. Rodney and Grandad, understandably, aren’t keen to continue the trip, but Del convinces them that they’ll be “locked up safe and sound in Boycie’s cottage”. Their fears are further allayed when they are visited by Chief Robson (brilliantly played by Charles Winters, Han Solo’s snowspeeding rescuer in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back), the head of security at the mental hospital, who informs them they’re “perfectly safe”. But we soon discover that Chief Robson isn’t who he claims to be, and he’s in fact the crazed axe murder.
Later, while Rodney and Grandad explain to the police why they’ve apprehended the local gamekeeper, Del ends up alone in the cottage with the fugitive for an idiotic final scene involving an imaginary – but lucrative – game of snooker. Although not a popular episode with fans, Friday the 14th was definitely a hit with David Jason. “The whole script had some great lines in it,” he said, “but that ending was just fantastic.”
56 – THICKER THAN WATER
(Christmas special, 25 December 1983)
Notable, not just for the series’ one and only appearance of Del and Rodney’s estranged father, Reg Trotter, this key episode was also the first to touch upon the true parentage of the mismatched brothers, something that would be further explored in both The Frog’s Legacy (1987) and Sleepless in Peckham (2003).
Reg informs his sons that a routine health check has revealed that he has a hereditary blood disorder, but it’s all part of a rather unpleasant plan to replace Del as head of the household. After the concerned siblings have blood tests, Reg doctors the results to make it appear that Del isn’t a blood relative, and takes full advantage of the situation. However, it soon transpires that Reg isn’t quite the benevolent saviour he’s made himself out to be, as the ostracised Del discovers he wasn’t a patient at the Newcastle Infirmary after all. “They had a porter called Trotter,” he tells Rodney and Grandad, “but he left two weeks ago with 57 blankets, 133 pair of rubber gloves and the chief gynaecologist’s Lambretta!”
Though quite dark in tone, there were still plenty of laughs in this memorable Christmas special, which also marked Grandad’s final appearance in the series.
55 – CHRISTMAS CRACKERS
(Christmas special, 28 December 1981)
It’s Christmas Day and Rodney is relieving the boredom with a book that Mickey Pearce has lent him (“It teaches you how to say filthy things to women from great distances without actually speaking!”) Meanwhile, resident chef Grandad is in charge of the dinner, but somehow manages to incinerate the baked potatoes, undercook the turkey (“Slightly underdone? I reckon the kiss of life would revive that turkey!”) and set fire to the Christmas pudding. It’s not quite the “sacré bleu” catering experience that Del was hoping for, and an afternoon zonked out in front of the TV doesn’t improve the mood.
After Grandad heads out to the local community centre for a Christmas do, the path is clear for Del and Rodney to call in at the Monte Carlo club in New Cross. However, their night doesn’t entirely go to plan, and the brothers’ disparate pulling techniques prove fruitless.
There were some funny moments in this inaugural Christmas special, plus some acute observations about the mundanity of the festive season, but the final third – which reportedly contained recycled dialogue from a John Sullivan-penned Two Ronnies sketch – does drag in places.
54 – THE SECOND TIME AROUND
(S1, E4, 29 September 1981)
In the Nag’s Head, Del is reacquainted with the instantly unlikeable Pauline Harris, a former fiancée of his who has been asking questions at the bar about his salary. Indeed, it soon becomes apparent that the twice-widowed Pauline is something of a gold digger, and it isn’t long before her romance with Del is rekindled. A disapproving Rodney is old enough to remember their first engagement (“I may only have been a nipper, but I remember how she screwed you up”), but his warnings are ignored and a smitten Del later announces his re-engagement.
After his future wife moves into the flat, it quickly becomes obvious that Rodney and Grandad aren’t welcome there, so Trigger is persuaded to telephone Del and inform him that he’d heard that the police had concluded that Pauline’s first husband, Bobby Finch, had died of food poisoning. Since Pauline had been making noises about life insurance, a fearful Del hastily leaves a farewell note and dashes to a cottage in Clacton-on-Sea with Rodney and Grandad, thinking that their Auntie Rose lives there. After blagging bed and board with the current occupier, the threesome head back to the flat, where Rodney confesses that Trigger’s story about Bobby Finch was a ruse. Del knows he’s had a lucky escape, though.
53 – SLEEPLESS IN PECKHAM
(Christmas special, 25 December 2003)
In this lacklustre final episode, which saw a seemingly desperate-for-inspiration John Sullivan recycling ideas from previous episodes – namely Video Nasty (1986) and The Frog’s Legacy (1987) – the Trotters have two weeks to raise the £53,000 they owe the Inland Revenue, or else face eviction from Nelson Mandela House. Rodney’s fanciful solution – under the watchful eye of Del, of course – is to write a hit movie, starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. However, his attention soon turns to an enlarged photograph of the Jolly Boys’ Outing from 1960, where his uncanny likeness to Freddy Robdal finally confirms his true parentage.
Elsewhere, in a somewhat hotchpotch episode, Boycie is accused of murdering Marlene and burying her in the back garden, while poor Trigger, who has prototyped a ridiculous-looking backscratcher, is made to look even more stupid in an embarrassingly-bad scene about mistaking a disappearing star for blinking.
Thankfully, there’s a satisfying ending, with both the birth of Cassandra and Rodney’s daughter – appropriately named Joan – and the reading of Uncle Albert’s will, which saves the family from financial ruin. As well as tying up some loose ends, there’s also a poignant scene that links in nicely with Sullivan’s excellent Rock and Chips prequels (2010-11), with Rodney asking his brother if he’s anything like his father. “Freddie ‘The Frog’ Robdal was a professional burglar,” Del replies. “He was disloyal to his friends. He was a womaniser, a home-breaker, a con man, a thief, a liar and a cheat. So, no, Rodney, you’re nothing like him.” Overall, though, Sleepless in Peckham was nowhere near as satisfying a finale as 1996’s Time on Our Hands.
52 – ASHES TO ASHES
(S2, E2, 28 October 1982)
In this somewhat farcical instalment, Del offers to sell on some possessions belonging to Trigger’s late grandmother, including a matching pair of valuable-looking urns. Grandad is mortified to discover that one of the urns contains the ashes of Trigger’s grandfather, Arthur, who it seems hadn’t forgiven him for an affair with his wife. “He put a curse on me, Del,” he reveals. “He pointed his bony finger at me and said, ‘Trotter, someday, somehow, I’m gonna come back and haunt you’.”
Following a hilarious scene involving a remorseful Grandad and a late-night conversation with the urn, the Trotters assume the responsibility of scattering Arthur’s ashes. However, this isn’t quite as straightforward as they’d envisaged, and their attempts to scatter the remains at both the local bowling club and the River Thames are both thwarted. But, amusingly, in an act that Del likens to a Viking burial, their mission is completed when former road sweeper Arthur’s remains are sucked up by a bin lorry.
Though quite a funny episode, it was slightly spoiled by the groan-inducing revelation that Trigger’s grandmother had married twice.
51 – IF THEY COULD SEE US NOW
(Christmas special, 25 December 2001)
After having walked into the sunset as millionaires in 1996, by the turn of the new millennium it had been assumed we’d bid bonjour to the Trotters. Indeed, John Sullivan had moved on to other projects, including the writing of the mini-cab comedy, Roger Roger, while David Jason was busy starring in the acclaimed ITV crime drama, A Touch of Frost. Meanwhile, Nicholas Lyndhurst had completed a successful six-year stint as time traveller Gary Sparrow in the hit BBC comedy, Goodnight Sweetheart. But, following huge public demand for new Only Fools episodes, both Jason and Lyndhurst were persuaded to sign on for another round of Trotter tomfoolery, with most of the remaining ensemble cast also on board. (Sadly, Buster Merryfield and Kenneth MacDonald passed away in 1999 and 2001, respectively.)
With Sullivan rightly ruling out a show that saw the Trotters and their respective spouses enjoying their windfall (“Rich isn’t funny,” he said), the writer used Del’s last line in Time on Our Hands – “This time next year we could be billionaires!” – as the springboard for a storyline that saw the family losing their vast fortune due to a huge stock market crash.
Predictably, the family are reunited back at their old flat in Nelson Mandela House, a property that a sentimental Del has been reluctant to sell. Heavily in debt to the Inland Revenue, the family also receive the news that Uncle Albert, who we’re told has been shacked up with Elsie Partridge in Weston-super-Mare, has passed away.
Unbeknownst to Rodney, Del applies to be a contestant on a Jonathan Ross-fronted game show called Goldrush, but his bid to alleviate the Trotters’ financial woes doesn’t quite go according to plan. (Sadly, to the episode’s detriment, ITV refused to sanction the use of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?)
Although there were a number of very funny moments in this much-viewed comeback episode, which included Rodney finally playing out his uniform fantasies, there were an equal number of flat gags. The critics weren’t impressed, either. “From David Jason’s bad dye job to the toe-curling creakiness of the gags and plot lines, this was a huge Christmas disappointment,” wrote the Daily Mirror.
50 – A SLOW BUS TO CHINGFORD
(S1, E5, 6 October 1981)
Deducing that the average London tourist isn’t interested in the likes of Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the National Gallery, Del decides to launch Trotters’ Ethnic Tours, hiring an open-topped bus that will take his prospective sightseers on a £17 tour that takes in “Lee Valley Viaduct, the glow of Lower Edmonton at dusk [and] the excitement of a walkabout in Croydon”. But, in order to secure the bus, Del first needs to supply a nightwatchman for the local coach station. Step forward Rodney Trotter – currently in the early throes of a romantic relationship with braless Janice – who is persuaded to accept a position with Del’s newly-formed Trotter Watch company.
Del’s bid to become “Freddie Laker of the highways” doesn’t quite go according to plan, though, since he’s entrusted Grandad to distribute hundreds of leaflets across London advertising the laughable new venture. With not a single tourist in sight, an enterprising Grandad bets Del £50 that no one will turn up for the tour, but it later transpires that the “senile old parasite” has binned all the leaflets. However, he has a humorous excuse for his actions in this slow-paced episode: “It wasn’t me, Del Boy, it was me brain!”
49 – HOMESICK
(S3, E1, 10 November 1983)
After he is inadvertently elected as chairman of the local tenants’ association, Rodney makes the mistake of informing Del that he’s made a good impression on Miss Mackenzie, a very important lady at the local council, by all accounts. Exploiting the fact that Grandad’s been struggling with getting up the stairs due to a broken lift, Del concocts a plan behind Rodney’s back that will see Miss Mackenzie fast-tracking an application for a new bungalow.
But, after Miss Mackenzie visits the flat and discovers that Grandad isn’t quite as decrepit as he’d previously appeared, the application is immediately rejected, leaving an embarrassed Rodney with no other choice but to resign his position.
There were laughs-a-plenty in this well-paced episode, which included a hilarious Boer War reminiscence from Grandad that reportedly had the cast in stitches.
48 – YESTERDAY NEVER COMES
(S3, E4, 1 December 1983)
Del is now in the antiques business and thinks he’s acquired a valuable Queen Anne cabinet, which he promptly advertises for sale in the local paper. A “posh tart” named Miranda Davenport – played with very little humour by Juliet Hammond, who had found fame in the BBC drama Secret Army – takes the bait, but brusquely informs Del that the woodworm-ridden furniture is worthless.
However, when Miranda’s attention is drawn towards a painting hanging on the wall that Del vehemently claims isn’t for sale, she soon has a change of heart and offers to restore the cabinet at her antiques store. Sensing potential romance on the table, Del signals his interest by slapping her bottom and asking her out for a curry. A shocked Rodney can’t believe it when Miranda responds positively to this outrageous move, and later tries it out for himself during a highly amusing café stop with Del (“If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that someone had smacked you right in the eye!”).
Del’s romance is short-lived, though, as he discovers that Miranda has used him for the painting, which he’d been coerced into gifting to her. However, it’s Del who has the last laugh as he informs his latest unlikeable love interest that the newly-auctioned painting had been stolen years ago.
47 – MIAMI TWICE (PART ONE: THE AMERICAN DREAM)
(Christmas special, 24 December 1991)
Serving as little more than a prelude to an arguably self-indulgent Christmas Day special, this slight episode begins with the christening of Del and Raquel’s baby son, Damien, a ceremony that include tense godparents Rodney and Cassandra, whose marital problems are palpable.
Whilst at the church, Del believes he has a sure-fire way of earning from a lorryload of Romanian Riesling, and proposes his zany idea of pre-blessed wine to a an incredulous vicar (“The church’ll be rejoicing, the flock’ll be redeemed and you and I’ll be a nicker and a bit in front – everyone’s a winner!”).
Later, a devious Del discovers that Rodney has received £935 in “Maxwell money” from his father-in-law, Alan, and convinces him he should use the money for a surprise holiday in Miami with Cassandra, knowing full well that she is unavailable to go the week he has booked. Del is desperate for a break after running into problems with his wine shipment, but Rodney takes some convincing before the inevitable outcome.
46 – BIG BROTHER
(S1, E1, 8 September 1981)
Despite the fact there was little publicity surrounding the broadcast of John Sullivan’s new BBC sitcom, 9.2 million people still tuned in to watch the inaugural episode of Only Fools and Horses on 8 September 1981. But, during an era that boasted just three terrestrial TV channels, this number paled in comparison to the viewing figures that year for both Charles and Diana’s wedding (21.7m) and the premiere broadcast of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie, Jaws (23.3m). (With regards to sitcoms, they also still had a long way to go to match the figures for To the Manor Born, which boasted a peak audience of 21.55m in 1980.)
However, despite the apparent lack of interest, there was plenty to enjoy in Big Brother, which does its job of introducing the principal characters and all their nuances. Wheeler-dealer Del is attempting to offload some hooky briefcases Trigger has sold to him, but, amusingly, the combination codes are locked inside them. (At this point, Sullivan didn’t quite have the backstory nailed, as Trigger is portrayed as a shifty part-time villain, rather than an old school friend of Del’s.) Meanwhile, “social leper” Rodney – who has two GCEs and an 18-month suspended sentence for “the biggest reefer this side of Marrakesh” – is convinced that his brother and business partner is conning him, and appoints himself as Trotters Independent Traders’ financial adviser. But, following a tense conversation in the flat, Rodney decides to hitch-hike to Hong Kong with his old art college friend, Shanghai Lil. The trouble is, he’s left his passport behind.
45 – GO WEST YOUNG MAN
(S1, E2, 15 September 1981)
In this sophomore episode of the series, we are introduced to second-hand car dealer Boycie – played by John Challis, who’d previously played a bent chief inspector in an episode of John Sullivan’s breakthrough comedy, Citizen Smith, in 1980 – who asks Del to hide his E-Type Jaguar, a birthday present for his “bit on the side”, in the garage. As part of the deal, Boycie halves the price of a clapped-out old banger, which, as Rodney soon discovers, is somewhat deficient in the brakes department. However, a shameless Del manages to sell the “death-trap” on to a brash, but rather gullible Australian for a very reasonable profit.
With cash on the hip, the brothers head out for an event-filled night out in the West End in Boycie’s flashy sports car. Following an awkward stop-off at a gay bar, the boys think they’ve struck gold after meeting the affable Nicky and Michelle at a disco. But, in true Trotter tradition, the evening ends disastrously when, during the ride home, Rodney confesses to losing the girls’ phone numbers. As Del brings their borrowed Jaguar to a sudden halt, the hapless brothers are reunited with a highly irate Aussie.
44 – FATAL EXTRACTION
(Christmas special, 25 December 1993)
Rightly beaten in the festive ratings by a special edition of One Foot in the Grave, this slightly depressing Only Fools Christmas special saw the Trotter brothers enjoying somewhat contrasting fortunes in the domestic department.
Evidenced by their exhausting baby-making schedule, Rodney and Cassandra’s marriage is firmly back on track, but things aren’t so rosy with Del and Raquel. Frustrated with his late-night drinking and gambling habits, Raquel leaves Del and takes refuge at Rodney and Cassandra’s flat.
With just Uncle Albert and some dodgy-looking Russian camcorders for company, Del, who has been suffering with toothache, foolishly decides to ask out Beverley, an attractive receptionist at a dental surgery that Trigger has recommended. However, following some stern words from a veritably hypocritical Rodney – who had threatened to cheat on Cassandra in 1990’s Rodney Come Home – Del has a change of heart and reconciles with Raquel, claiming he’s a changed man. But, following a painful-to-watch segment featuring Del singing Barry Manilow’s ‘One Voice’, the celebrations are cut short when he becomes convinced that he is being stalked by Beverley.
Following a heated confrontation, Del heads back to the flat, but it’s Beverley who has the last laugh. She’s part-exchanged her answering machine for an old high-chair of Damien’s, but has failed to erase Del’s recorded message calling off their date.
43 – HAPPY RETURNS
(S4, E1, 21 February 1985)
Following the sad death of Lennard Pearce in December 1984, John Sullivan admirably rose to the challenge of penning a brand new episode, Strained Relations, that would not only incorporate Grandad’s funeral, but also introduce viewers to the seafaring Uncle Albert.
Not wishing to begin the fourth series on a sombre note, Sullivan also penned Happy Returns, which briefly touches upon Grandad’s ailments (“The doctors ‘ave been trying to take his hat off,” says Del, “but he wouldn’t have none of it!”). In the episode, Del encounters a young boy named Jason on the estate, who it transpires is the son of June Snell, a former girlfriend he’d first met in 1964. (June, played by Carry On actress Diane Langton, would later in appear in 1986’s flawed Christmas special, A Royal Flush.) Coincidentally, June is also the mother to Debby, a local newsagent worker that Rodney has been dating. But, when Del learns that Debby is about to celebrate her 19th birthday, he makes the assumption that he’s the girl’s father and realises that Rodney is dating his niece. After warding his devastated brother off (“This sort of thing ain’t allowed – it’s…well, it’s incense!”), Del confronts June about Debby’s parentage, but discovers that he isn’t the father after all.
42 – THE LONG LEGS OF THE LAW
(S2, E1, 21 October 1982)
Despite disappointing viewing figures, the BBC eventually green-lighted a second series of Only Fools, replete with a brand new John Sullivan-sung theme tune. (Sadly, due to the success of their memorable hit, ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’, cockney duo Chas and Dave weren’t available to sing it.)
In this opening episode – and the first to benefit from the fact that Sullivan could now write his scripts whilst visualising each character – Rodney incurs the wrath of his housemates when he declares he’s started dating a policewoman named Sandra (played by future award-winning author, Kate Saunders). “Our kind and their kind don’t mix, Rodney,” says an exasperated Grandad. “We’re like cats and dogs. I mean you’ll have to watch every word in case you say something incriminating. Them people’s never off duty.”
Rodney, who has something of a uniform fetish – first disclosed in Go West Young Man (1981) – ignores Del and Grandad’s protestations and brings Sandra back to the flat after a night out at the cinema. A frantic Del attempts to hide his dodgy gear and is further dismayed when he discovers that Rodney has gifted Sandra one of his hooky watches. Inevitably, Sandra ends the relationship, while Rodney has to break it to Del that they have just 24 hours to spring-clean the flat.
41 – IT NEVER RAINS…
(S2, E6, 25 November 1982)
It’s summer in Peckham. Unable to bless the streets with their hooky wares, Del and Rodney are holed up in various pubs and cafés, waiting for the rain to disappear. Whilst in the Nag’s Head, Del meets a travel agent named Alex, who claims business is slow. “I’ve got thousands of pounds worth of holidays just laying about,” he says, “but everybody’s skint.” Sensing an opportunity to blag a cut-price holiday, Del convinces Alex to offer an 80 per cent discount to the next customer who walks into his shop, convincing him that the gimmick will be good for business. Predictably, it’s Del who lands the holiday, and the brothers – along with Grandad, who they’ve reluctantly brought with them – end up in Benidorm, which Del somehow believes is “away from the tourists”.
One afternoon, while Del is attempting to woo a lady with his daft French phrases, Rodney informs him that Grandad – who’s been somewhat out-of-sorts since his arrival – has been arrested. But, while the “daft old git” thinks he’s been banged up in relation to a deportation incident in 1936, it transpires he’s simply been jailed for jaywalking.
Though a decent enough episode, far too much time was taken up with Grandad’s convoluted explanation for his deportation, while it was blatantly obvious that the location shots were filmed in the UK and not Spain. “Pretending that you’re hot and relaxed when in fact there’s a typical English coastal wind pounding away at your most intimate recesses calls on the very deepest reserves an actor can muster,” recalled David Jason. “They were beating down my goosebumps with a mallet that week.”
40 – HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY UNCLE
(S7, E5, 27 January 1991)
With Raquel about to give birth, Del decides that it’s time they become a two-car family and purchases a somewhat dilapidated Ford Capri Ghia that Boycie was on the verge of sending to the scrapyard. Exploiting the fact that unemployed Rodney is desperate for a job in order to pay his half of the mortgage, Del employs him as his new “director of commercial development” and promptly assigns him to clean the veritable rust bucket.
Meanwhile, Uncle Albert has joined an over-60s club and is keen to make an impression on Marlene’s mother, Dora, but he faces competition from an old school friend nicknamed Knock-Knock. Later, following an altercation with Knock-Knock on the way back home from the pub after a game of dominoes, an embarrassed Albert elaborately claims to his nephews that he’s been mugged.
A week later, whilst Albert is recovering from his ordeal, Rodney intimates to Del that their uncle is being mollycoddled and suggests a spot of tough love. However, this backfires spectacularly when a dejected Albert flees the flat. After a protracted search, the brothers finally locate him at a housing development in Tobacco Road.
Soon after his arrival at the flat, a visit from Knock-Knock finally forces him to come clean about the real reason behind his bruises. Del, meanwhile, has a confession of his own, as he reveals that he’s paid someone to beat up who he believes to be Albert’s attackers, but in reality they’re undercover policemen.
High on both laughs and pathos, this highly enjoyable episode was also notable for the highly effective use of Paul and Linda McCartney’s US No.1 hit, ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’.
39 – WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?
(S5, E6, 5 October 1986)
In the last of Only Fools’ 30-minute episodes, Del receives a tantalising offer from his old friend and business partner, Jumbo Mills – played by Nick Stringer, who’d previously played the role of an irate car buyer in Go West Young Man (1981) – who is back in town to finalise a deal with Boycie, who’s agreed to supply prestigious European cars for his new automobile business in Australia.
The entrepreneur, who also owns a chain of fast food restaurants, wants Del to become a full partner in his new venture, and the deal is sealed when he also offers to put Rodney on the payroll. However, things don’t quite go to plan. Uncle Albert is adamant that he wants to end his days in Peckham, while Rodney’s visa application is turned down due to his criminal record for drug possession.
In the original ending to this episode, which John Sullivan had penned after David Jason had informed him that he wanted to leave the show, Del emigrates to Australia, leaving Rodney in charge of Trotters Independent Traders. Thankfully, Jason had a change of heart, leading to a suitably revised ending and the abandonment of a Tucker’s Luck-style spin-off series. “The last scene was to have seen Del flying out the country to become a millionaire and Rodney walking out of the airport looking a bit lost,” Sullivan explained. “Hot Rod would have featured Rodney trying to continue the business but being constantly stitched up by people like Mickey Pearce and all the others.”
38 – SICKNESS AND WEALTH
(S6, E5, 5 February 1989)
It’s a definite case of contrasting fortunes for the Trotter brothers in a highly engaging episode that saw Del facing up to his mortality.
While Rodney is still in the honeymoon period of his relationship with Cassandra, things aren’t so rosy for Del. Aside from suffering from an undiagnosed stomach condition, he’s also dealing with the prospect of eviction from Nelson Mandela House, something that no amount of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) – his latest yuppy buzzword – can alleviate. However, when Uncle Albert lets it slip that his spiritualist friend Elsie Partridge has earned thousands of pounds as a medium, Del believes he has the solution to his financial woes.
Later, during a test run of Del’s new séance venture, there’s a surprise for Boycie as Elsie intimates he’s about to become a father. Downstairs in the Nag’s Head, Marlene delivers the shocking news that she is indeed pregnant, triggering another bout of Del’s stomach cramps. But, when Del finally plucks up the courage to visit a doctor, his reluctance to speak truthfully about his drinking and smoking habits results in him being admitted to hospital for tests.
A somewhat irrational Del fears the worst, until Dr. Robbie Meadows – played by Ewan Stewart, who would later play First Officer William Murdoch in Titanic (1997) – informs him he has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the likely result of too many piña coladas and curries (“A lot of yuppies suffer from it,” says Meadows, to Del’s delight).
Later, back in the flat, Del receives the news that Rodney and Cassandra are engaged, triggering more pains…
37 – A LOSING STREAK
(S2, E3, 4 November 1982)
Del is in financial dire straits, reduced to selling dodgy-smelling perfume and hooky mink coats. Boycie is also taking him to the cleaners during their late-night gambling sessions, and not even Grandad’s double-headed coin can rescue him from the monetary doldrums. But, a resolute Del isn’t about to give up just yet, and invites the used car dealer round for a last-gasp game of poker, with Grandad reluctantly supplying the £100 stake after a win on the horses.
Trigger soon exits the high-stakes game, with just Del and Boycie left to slug it out in a head-to-head, winner-takes-all battle. But, when the cocky Boycie produces a difficult-to-beat running flush, Grandad suspects foul play (“He knows more card tricks that Paul Daniels, don’t he?”). Del is convinced he can turn his fortunes around and suddenly produces a £500 stake – money, he claims, his late mother left to him for emergencies – and the stage is set for a dramatic and beautifully-executed climax, with Boycie finally getting his much-deserved comeuppance.
36 – HOLE IN ONE
(S4, E3, 7 March 1985)
Tensions are high in the Trotter household. In the midst of a bleak winter, Dipstick Rodney has spent the partnership’s remaining £500 on a large batch of suntan lotion. But, Uncle Albert, who has been firmly ensconced in the flat following Grandad’s funeral, assures the brothers that “something will turn up”.
While Del and Rodney continue to squabble in the Nag’s Head, they are interrupted by an almighty crash. The brothers learn that Albert has fallen through a cellar door, landing on top of the pub’s exasperated landlord. When Albert reveals that he has “a good mind to sue the brewery”, Del seizes an opportunity to make a few quid out of the incident. After recruiting their solicitor – who, according to Rodney, is “more bent than the villains” – the brewery offers to settle out of court for £2000, but an unsatisfied Del believes they’ll be awarded a far more lucrative sum in court. Cue some hilarious courtroom scenes where it’s revealed that Albert – nicknamed ‘the ferret’ by the insurance companies – has been falling down holes since the 1940s! Del is mortified, until he learns that Albert wanted to not only repay the brothers’ kindness towards him, but also fund a headstone for Grandad.
This highly likeable episode had originally featured Grandad as the cellar-tumbling fraudster, but, following the sad death of Lennard Pearce in December 1984, the script had to be revised and some of the location shots re-filmed.
35 – MODERN MEN
(Christmas special, 27 December 1996)
Del has been acting somewhat impulsively of late. Having become deeply engrossed in a self-help book titled Modern Man, the Peckham entrepreneur has been making a series of somewhat rash decisions, both in his personal and business life. Not content with a consignment of electric paint strippers, which he believes to be hairdryers, he’s also invested in some horse riding helmets, thinking they can double up as cycling hats.
Meanwhile, Rodney is depressed. “There are people on death row with more motivation than me,” he tells Cassandra. Disillusioned with working with Del, he applies for a job advertised in the local paper, which promises ‘full training, good salary and company vehicle’. But, hilariously, we discover that it’s actually Del who’s placed the advert. There’s some brief respite for Rodney as Del promotes him as Trotters Independent Traders’ new sales director, but his world soon comes crashing down when he learns that Cassandra has suffered a miscarriage.
Though a decidedly messy episode, which veered into soap-like territory, John Sullivan’s decision to deal head-on with real-life situations had to be commended, and the closing scenes certainly packed an emotional punch.
34 – THREE MEN, A WOMAN AND A BABY
(S7, E6, 3 February 1991)
Things aren’t going well in Rodney’s alcohol-sodden world, a world which the environmentally-conscious Trotter brother believes is being slowly destroyed. Still reeling from the apparent collapse of his marriage and the loss of his job with Alan Parry’s printing company, he’s also convinced himself that Del and Raquel’s imminent new arrival is going to be the next antichrist. “The polar ice cap is melting, the continental shelves are shifting, the rainforest is dying, the sea’s being poisoned,” he tells Del, “and I ain’t had a bit in months.”
Meanwhile, Del has bought a consignment of wigs which he’s pre-sold to “all the old tarts down the Nag’s Head”, but it turns out they’re actually men’s wigs. An incensed Del soon vows to get revenge on Mustapha, the Bangladeshi butcher who sold them to him. However, following a chance meeting with Cassandra’s former boss Stephen, whom Rodney had punched in The Jolly Boys’ Outing (1989), Del believes that he can flog the clip-on ponytails to all the yuppies, claiming that women are highly attracted by them.
Rodney is sucked in by Del’s patter and tries out the ‘Davy Crockett’ look on Cassandra, and inadvertently ends up in bed with her after she mistakes the ponytail for a mouse. But their reconciliation doesn’t last, as Del telephones Cassandra to tell her that Raquel has gone into labour.
Following a protracted birth, which included some dialogue that John Sullivan’s wife had used during their own childbirth experiences, Del announces the arrival of Damien, much to the consternation of Rodney, who has been watching far too many horror movies.
Another well-constructed episode, it was rounded off with a beautifully written and perfectly delivered monologue from Del, resulting in David Jason’s well-deserved BAFTA award for ‘Best Light Entertainment Performance’.
33 – NO GREATER LOVE
(S2, E4, 11 November 1982)
When Rodney calls round at Mrs Singh’s home to collect a payment towards a dinner service and two Persian rugs, he is instead greeted by an attractive 40-year old lady named Irene Mackay, who has recently moved into the area. Unbothered by the age gap, Rodney asks her out on a date, but Del is horrified when he learns that she is married to a violent villain named Tommy, who is currently banged up in Parkhurst.
Concerned for his brother’s welfare, Del secretly hooks up with Irene and asks her to end the relationship, but his interfering actions are soon revealed during a chance meeting in the Nag’s Head with her comically-coiffured son, Marcus. After an incensed Rodney exits the pub, Del is accosted by newly-released Tommy Mackay – played by David Daker, fresh from his appearance as Captain Nathan Spiker in the swashbuckling TV drama, Dick Turpin – who accuses him of having an affair with his wife. Del quickly realises there’s been a case of mistaken identity, but he is prepared to take a beating on Rodney’s behalf, ably demonstrating the affection he has for his brother.
32 – THE CHANCE OF A LUNCHTIME
(S7, E2, 6 January 1991)
Keen to reignite her acting career, Raquel has applied to audition for the part of Rosalind, the heroine in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and Del has offered to help her rehearse. Meanwhile, Rodney and Cassandra haven’t spoken to each other for ages, but the increasingly altruistic Del has a plan to reconcile them, and engineers a date for them at a Wapping restaurant. Eventually they realise they’ve been set up, but the date is a success and the newly-loved-up pair vow to meet back at the flat for a romantic evening.
While Cassandra picks up some belongings at her mum and dad’s house, a jubilant Rodney calls in at the Nag’s Head for a celebratory drink. However, when Cassandra spots him helping Trudy, another old flame of Del’s, into the back of a cab, he is soon back to square one, and things go from bad to worse when he is inadvertently persuaded by Uncle Albert to offer his father-in-law, Alan, his resignation, wrongly thinking it won’t be accepted.
Meanwhile, an unusually despondent Raquel has some news of her own – she’s been offered an incredible opportunity to join a theatre company on a nationwide tour of schools. The trouble is, the tour starts in three months, and she’s just discovered she’s pregnant.
31 – LITTLE PROBLEMS
(S6, E6, 12 February 1989)
On paper, things are looking great for Rodney. Newly engaged, he’s also received an offer from jellied eel connoisseur Alan Parry, his future father-in-law, to run the newly-expanded computer section of his printing company. (In Chain Gang, Alan is referred to by Del as a “Little fella, one blue eye, talks with a squint, walks with a stutter”, but this clearly isn’t the case.) The problem is, the role is dependent on him receiving his diploma in computer science, and Rodney fears he’s failed the exam. On top of this, he also needs to find £2000 to put towards a deposit on a swanky new flat he and Cassandra have found. “Where am I gonna find two grand?” he asks Uncle Albert. “With my savings and salary we’ll be lucky if we get a weekend in a timeshare tent.”
But, Rodney hasn’t counted on the nous of one Derek Trotter, who has recently acquired a consignment of executive mobile phones from Mickey Pearce and Jevon. Confident he can sell the phones on, which he has picked up on a sale or return basis, he offers to give Rodney £2000 as a wedding present. The problem is, the phones once belonged to local villains, Danny and Tony Driscoll – referred to in The Frog’s Legacy (1987) as being akin to the Two Ronnies: Biggs and Kray – and Del needs to either find them £2000 or incur the violent brothers’ wrath. (Interestingly, Only Fools fan Anthony Hopkins had originally been touted to play the role of Danny Driscoll, until Hollywood came calling with a certain film called Silence of the Lambs.)
Luckily, Del manages to buy some time and, later, some money, after conning Boycie into believing that the Driscolls were after payment for his recently-acquired video recorders. But, when the Driscoll brothers call in their debt during Rodney’s stag do, Del remembers that he still needs to find the money for Rodney’s flat deposit. Forced to choose between the love for his brother and a nasty beating, he admirably plumps for the latter.
Memorable for its poignant use of Simply Red’s ‘Holding Back the Years’ in the finale, this was an episode that really tugged at the heartstrings of both the cast and the viewers.
Part 2 : 30-1:
Only Fools and Horses: The Official Inside Story (Steve Clark, 2011)
Only Fools and Horses: The Story of Britain’s Favourite Comedy (Graham McCann, 2011)
The Bible of Peckham: Volume One (1999)
The Bible of Peckham: Volume Two (2000)
The Bible of Peckham: Volume Three (2001)
Only Fools and Stories (David Jason, 2017)
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