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 TWO: 30-1
CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!
30 – STRANGERS ON THE SHORE
(Christmas special, 25 December 2002)
Putting their recent financial problems to one side, Del and Rodney honour Uncle Albert’s memory by heading to a remote village in Normandy, where a reunion is being held for the former crewmates of HMS Cod, which had sunk off the French coast in 1942.
However, unbeknownst to Rodney – who is now the de facto director of Trotters International Traders – Del has struck a deal with Sid, the Nag’s Head’s new landlord, and arranged to transport a lorryload of cheap booze back to the UK. But when the brothers run into Denzil and Trigger at a duty-free warehouse in Calais, Rodney doesn’t need his two GCEs to work out that he’s been undermined by Del. But, there’s no time for argument as they realise they’ve not set their watches to French time, and the ferry will be leaving port soon. Taking control of the situation, Del commandeers a fork-lift truck and speedily loads the booze into Denzil’s lorry, and everything appears to have gone to plan until they arrive back in London.
During the unloading of the cut-price alcohol, Denzil and Trigger discover a frightened stowaway in the back of the van – played by future EastEnders star Nabil Elouahabi – and the stage is set for a farcical final third, with the Trotter family temporarily housing both Del and Rodney’s new illegal immigrant friend, who they’ve awkwardly christened as ‘Gary’, and Boycie, who’s been forced to vacate his house due to a gas leak.
Later, Del, who has been employed as a chauffeur, heads back to France in a hired van with Rodney and Boycie, who’s on the verge of completing a lucrative deal with millionaire businessman Mr Mamoon, but it transpires he is the father of ‘Gary’ (real name: Rashid), and the trio – nicknamed by the police as the ‘Gary Gang’ – are wanted for kidnapping.
There was plenty for fans to enjoy in this more conventionally-structured comeback episode, but the critics were harder to please. The Daily Star’s writer wrote, somewhat unfairly, that they’d “rarely felt so cheated, seeing a much-loved programme lamely and lazily going through the motions”.
29 – THE MIRACLE OF PECKHAM
(S5, E2, 7 September 1986)
Fearing that he’s been placed on God’s “hit list” following a dodgy deal he’s done with Sunglasses Ron and Paddy the Greek, Del enters the confession booth at his local church and asks for forgiveness from Father O’Keefe. After being absolved from his sins, Del is encouraged to make a donation to a charity fund for renovations at a hospice that cared for both his mother and grandfather. Whilst he is about to place his money in the collection box, the priest alerts him to the statue of the Virgin Mary, which appears to have holy tears trickling down its right cheek.
Instantly, Del realises he can cash in and find the £185,000 needed to save the hospice. “Can’t you see what we’ve got ourselves?” he says. “An authentic, deluxe miracle… People will pay hard cash just to see this sort of thing.” He immediately contacts Rodney, instructing him to contact the local and national press, and it isn’t long before gullible journalists from around the world – including an American reporter, played by Monty Python stalwart Carol Cleveland – flock to Peckham to view the apparent miracle, which they are being charged an exorbitant amount to see.
But, when it becomes apparent that the miracle only occurs on rainy days, Father O’Keefe eventually comes to the realisation it’s actually the leaking church roof that’s the source of Del’s latest scam. Worse still, it was Sunglasses Ron and Paddy the Greek who had stolen the lead from the roof in the first place.
A fun, lightweight episode, it tied in nicely with The Second Time Around (1981), where Grandad tells Rodney that Del always used to slip the church a few quid towards a new roof.
28 – THE SKY’S THE LIMIT
(S7, E1, 30 December 1990)
Chez Trotter is looking a little crowded of late, particularly since Rodney – who is now regularly nursing hangovers following his latest clash with Cassandra – has now taken up residence on the sofa. Alan is so concerned about their relationship that he arranges a meeting with Del at the Nag’s Head to discuss the situation.
Del believes he has a foolproof way of getting Rodney off the couch and into Cassandra’s arms, and persuades him that a night at a luxury hotel close to Gatwick Airport – where he has been ordered to pick up his wife following a stay at Pam and Alan’s Spanish villa – will rekindle the couples’ romance (“Yer best whistle, a splash of Brut, you’ll be home and dry!”).
Meanwhile, Boycie’s new state-of-the art satellite dish, which he’s been using to record adult programmes for his video leisure company, has been stolen, and he believes it’s been spotted entering Del’s housing estate. Thinking that Del will be able to trace the dish, he offers a reward of up to £500 for its safe return, but it transpires that it wasn’t stolen at all, and the “statellite dish” that Del has acquired is nothing of the sort. It is, in fact, a similar-looking air traffic control radar dish that Marlene’s brother, nicknamed Bronco, has stolen from the main runway at Gatwick, leaving both the airport and Rodney’s love life in turmoil!
27 – HEALTHY COMPETITION
(S3, E2, 17 November 1983)
For the past fortnight, Rodney has been reflecting on his life and his role as a lookout for Trotters Independent Traders. Following an incident in which Del narrowly evades arrest, Rodney announces the end of their partnership and the formation of a new company with Mickey Pearce (played by Patrick Murray, who’d previously played an inmate in Alan Clarke’s controversial film, Scum.).
Somewhat taken aback by the announcement, Del informs his younger brother that he’ll have to stand on his own two feet from now on, but Rodney is determined to show him he has what it takes to succeed. “I’m going to prove to you that I’ve got business acumen, that I am as quick-witted as you,” he says, vowing to make an impression at a sales auction the following day.
Ignoring the fact that the auctioneer is selling rubbish like smoke-damaged fire alarms, Rodney bids on a consignment of assorted agricultural machinery, which turns out to be a pile of broken lawnmower engines that Del had bought off Alfie Flowers.
Later, when Del learns that Mickey Pearce has absconded to Benidorm with the vestiges of the fledgling partnership’s money, he takes pity on Rodney and arranges for his fellow trader, Towser, to buy the broken engines off his younger brother – he wants him to believe he’s been successful as him. However, following the resumption of the Trotter brothers’ partnership, Rodney informs Del that he’s used Towser’s money to purchase another pile of engines from Alfie Flowers’ yard, but the 42 carat plonker hasn’t realised they’re exactly the same as the ones he’s just sold!
26 – MIAMI TWICE (PART TWO: OH TO BE IN ENGLAND)
Christmas special, 25 December 1991
The Trotter brothers are in Miami, and, to save on hotel costs, Del has hired a ramshackle camper van for them to stay in during their weeklong holiday. Following a bout of sightseeing – in which they spot Barry Gibb, a “real-live Bee Gee”, on the lawn of his swanky waterfront home – Del and Rodney stop off at a nightclub en route to their campsite.
It’s here that they meet family, friends and associates of local mafia boss, Don Ochetti, who is facing life imprisonment for murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking. It transpires that Del is a dead ringer for Ochetti, who is under virtual arrest at his Floridian mansion. Realising that, by bumping off Del he can put an end to his father’s forthcoming trial and pack him off abroad until the dust settles, son Rico takes the Trotters under his wing and plies them with drinks while his goons steal their money and luggage from the camper van. Upon offering them a place to stay at Ochetti’s mansion, Rico puts his dastardly plan into action. But, while dressing Del in the Don’s clothing is simple enough, bumping him off isn’t so easy, as a botched assassination attempt at a popular restaurant attests.
Safely ensconced at the mansion following another death-defying incident involving a jet ski, the Trotters are herded on to the tennis court while Ochetti waits for the arrival of two Colombian drug dealers. Irritated by Del’s gamesmanship, Rodney cuts the tennis match short and heads into the mansion, where he manages to locate a working telephone, having previously been told by Rico that the phone lines had been wiped out by a recent tropical storm. After calling Cassandra, he finds out that Del had booked the holiday, knowing full well that she was in Eastbourne that week.
An enraged Rodney confronts who he thinks is Del, but when he spots his brother in his tennis attire, he soon realises he has seen his doppelganger. An incredulous Del doesn’t believe him, until he ends going for walkabout of his own and ends up organising a cocaine deal with the two Colombians. Realising the schtuck they’re in, Del and Rodney manage to escape, and end up in the Everglades, where, somewhat conveniently, Boycie and Marlene are enjoying the latest excursion of their East Coast holiday.
Even by Only Fools’ standards, the plot was both far-fetched and terribly convoluted, but there was still plenty to enjoy about the second part of 1991’s Christmas special, not least David Jason’s dual role as Del Boy and Don Ochetti. (Unsurprisingly, Jason later cited it as his favourite episode.) The critics weren’t as kind, however. “Instead of exploring the potential embarrassments and excitements of Del Boy deploying his entrepreneurial skills in the Sun Belt, it lapsed into a preposterous and long-winded thriller yarn,” wrote The Independent.
25 – THE YELLOW PERIL
(S2, E5, 18 November 1982)
In order to use up some of the hooky paint that Trigger and Monkey Harris have stolen from a storage shed in Clapham Junction, Del blags a painting and decorating job at a local Chinese take-away after making an anonymous call – posing as a health inspector – to the owner, Mr Chin. With errands of his own to run, he now just needs to persuade Rembrandt Rodney to put his GCE art to good use and do the job.
When Rodney arrives at the Golden Lotus, he is horrified to discover the filthy state the kitchen is in (“The whole place looks like an explosion in a dripping factory”), but, thankfully, apprentice Grandad is on hand to help with the cleaning. Curiously, they fail to notice that the yellow paint is luminous, and Del is horrified when he later learns that it’s primarily used to paint signs in railway tunnels. Worse still, he soon remembers that he’s used some of his new so-called energy-saving paint to tart up his late mother’s tombstone, which, according to Grandad, lies on the main flight path to Heathrow. “Our mum’s grave is now going to become a beacon for every Satanist and acid head in England,” jokes Rodney. “There’s going to be white witches dancing round that on a full moon – there’s going to be chicken blood everywhere!”
24 – AS ONE DOOR CLOSES
(S4, E7, 4 April 1985)
In this memorable episode, inspired by an article that John Sullivan had read in the Sunday Times about a rare butterfly, the Trotters become lepidopterists, with hilarious results.
With the promise of a healthy return on his investment, Del needs to find two grand to pay for a consignment of 166 louvre doors that painter and decorate Brendan O’Shaughnessy requires to fit out a new housing estate in Nunhead. After their bank loan applications are turned down, Rodney believes he has a solution. He’s just finishing reading an article in a colour supplement about a rare butterfly that’s worth £3000, and it’s been spotted in nearby Greenwich Park.
Dismissing Rodney’s far-fetched idea outright, Del, instead, manages to con Denzil out of his £2000 redundancy money after spotting him in the market following his attempts to flog some razor-sharp, deluxe trimming combs (as hilariously demonstrated on Rodney’s Barnet). Unfortunately, after picking up the louvre doors from bulk-buyer Teddy Cummings, Del learns that the housing estate architect has done a u-turn and now wants Victorian panel doors. Now lumbered with a consignment of louvre doors and a two grand debt to Denzil, Del heads to the cemetery and his mother’s grave for inspiration (“I always come here in times of trouble, Rodney,” he says).
Amazingly, Del’s prayers are answered when Rodney discovers a butterfly that is identical to the one in his magazine. Following the brothers’ comical escapades, they manage to catch the Papilio humerus, but they haven’t counted on a fast-approaching Denzil – on roller skates – who’s about to do his usual double dap!
23 – IT’S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL
(S4, E4, 14 March 1985)
When Del learns the Dublin Bay Stormers are unable to play at the Shamrock Club on St. Patrick’s Night, he cons the owner into believing he has a band of Bachelors soundalikes who can step in. Step forward Pop Protest, fronted by ‘Mental’ Mickey Maguire – played by Daniel Peacock, who would later turn up as a rock promoter in 1985’s The Jewel of the Nile – a four-piece band who, according to fledgling drummer Rodney Trotter, are styling themselves on the then high-flying Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Del now just needs to head to the rehearsal room and persuade the veritable bunch of wallies – who are practising an original song titled ‘Boys will be Boys’ – that he is the right man to become their manager. Since Rodney is playing packing cases instead of drums, the band are soon lured in by the promise of brand new instruments.
However, following a riotous performance at the Shamrock, Rodney is fired when the rest of the band discover that Del has simply used them in order to earn a quick buck, while it also transpires that the wannabe impresario had rented the band’s new instruments on a sale-or-return basis and has returned them to the shop. His dreams shattered, Ringo Trotter is further dismayed to discover his former band – now renamed A Bunch of Wallies – performing ‘Boys will be Boys’ on a Mike Read-presented edition of Top of the Pops.
22 – MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU
(S3, E4, 8 December 1983)
Detective Inspector Roy Slater – played with convincing guile by stage actor Jim Broadbent, who’d actually been offered the part of Del Boy before David Jason – is in the Nag’s Head and on the trail of a stolen microwave oven.
A fortuitous meeting with Rodney, who unwittingly implicates Slater’s former classmate Del, leads to an awkward reunion at Nelson Mandela House, where wally-brained Grandad is attempting to tune into The Dukes of Hazzard on a suspicious-looking microwave. It transpires that Slater was picked on at school and has something of a chip on his shoulder, and takes great delight in arresting Del, Rodney and Grandad for possession of the oven.
Slater, whom we also learn has a penchant for collecting informants, believes he can persuade Del to reveal the name of the person who stole the microwave, intimating that he can fit Rodney up on a drugs charge if he doesn’t cooperate. Now backed into a corner, Del has to choose between safeguarding his reputation and protecting his family, and this skilfully written episode has viewers guessing what would happen right up until the last moment. “It was such a lovely, tidy set-up,” recalled David Jason, “and a classic piece of Sullivan in the way that it danced you through a whole range of emotions on the way.”
21 – SLEEPING DOGS LIE
(S4, E5, 21 March 1985)
Del believes he’s pulled off a “genuine coup”, telling Rodney that he’s arranged to look after Boycie and Marlene’s new puppy for a fortnight while they holiday in the Seychelles. We learn that the couple have been having trouble in the fertility department, and Boycie has bought the puppy – a Great Dane – to alleviate Marlene’s broodiness.
It’s clear that Duke is being treated like a baby and fed the finest foods, and Del’s eyes light up when he sees that he’s been left a bag of fillet steaks, chicken breasts and veal escalopes to feed the dog. “That thing’s gonna get a bowl of Kennomeat every day and think itself lucky,” says Del, who declares that the Trotters will eat like kings for the next few weeks.
However, the curse of the Trotters soon befalls Del as a somewhat lethargic Duke fails to clamber out of the back of the van during his first morning walk, and he’s promptly taken to a vet. When the vet is informed by Del that Duke has been fed warmed-up pork leftovers for breakfast, he immediately suspects salmonella poisoning. Worse still, following a call home, Uncle Albert reveals he’s eaten some of the pork, along with some crusty bread and pickles. As a precaution, Albert is hospitalised for tests. But, following his discharge a few days later, it’s revealed that Rodney has given him Dukie’s vitamin pills, while the cursed canine has been fed sleeping pills!
A highly entertaining episode, Sleeping Dogs Lie marked the debut of Sue Holderness as Boycie’s long-suffering spouse, Marlene. Originally, it was meant to be a one-off appearance, but, as she told Country Images Magazine in 2018, the show’s writer had other ideas: “John Sullivan wrote such a wonderful scene for my handing over the dog that a couple of weeks later he rang up and said, ‘We’ve decided we like Marlene and she’s coming back’.”
20 – STAGE FRIGHT
(S7, E3, 13 January 1991)
In this highly memorable episode, Del manages to talk Raquel – who is three months pregnant – into singing at the Starlight Rooms, both as a favour for his old friend, Eric, whose musical duo have pulled out at the last minute, and the promise of £600. However, since Raquel has insisted she’s too nervous to perform on her own, Del needs to find another singer to perform with her, but at very short notice.
Remembering Trigger had told him about his friend, Tony Angelino (brilliantly played by actor and musician, Philip Pope, whose numerous credits include Spitting Image’s No.1 hit, ‘The Chicken Song’), Del heads to the Down by the Riverside club, where the singing dustman is performing in front of an audience of adoring housewives. Del believes the corny crooner is the perfect fit for Raquel and promptly signs him up, ignoring the fact that his new client has revealed he can only sing certain songs.
With Del due in court on a fly-pitching charge, someone is also needed to ferry Raquel to the rehearsals, sweep up and make the tea. Step forward wannabe roadie Rodney Trotter, who is desperately looking for a new job.
The episode culminates in a hilarious pay-off, where it soon becomes apparent – during the opening number, ‘Crying’ – that Tony has a speech impairment, and can’t pronounce his Rs. Knowing that local villain Eugene McCarthy, who has booked the cabaret in honour of his mother’s 82nd birthday, is in the audience, Del promptly does a runner, leaving the fledgling duo to perform a “wepertoire” that includes ‘Congwatulations’, ‘Please Welease Me’ and ‘The Gween, Gween Gwass of Home’!
19 – RODNEY COME HOME
(Christmas special, 25 December 1990)
Fresh from playing a flower seller in My Fair Lady on a theatre tour of the US east coast, Raquel has taken up residence in Rodney’s old room in Nelson Mandela House. Meanwhile, a smitten Del, who is trying to offload a caseload of children’s dolls, still has Uncle Albert on the payroll as his security lookout.
As for Rodney, he has settled in nicely as the head of the computer section at Alan Parry’s printing company, and even has his own secretary, replete with fingernails that would make Freddy Krueger “dead jealous”. But on the domestic front, he’s clearly struggling to adapt to married life. Having already been thrown out of the flat once, after punching Cassandra’s former boss, Rodney is now on tenterhooks after inviting Mickey Pearce and Jevon round.
With Cassandra now devoting more time to the bank, both in a business and social capacity, Rodney can’t grasp that his new wife is simply playing career catch-up, leaving little time to cook him a pie and chips. “You zoom in and out of here like a bluebottle with the runs,” he tells her. “I’ve had double-glazing spend more time in here than you!” Eventually, Rodney storms out, taking a bagful of belongings and a bottle of ketchup back to his old flat, much to Del’s disgust, who is on the verge of asking Raquel to stamp his card!
Following a week of drowning his sorrows, Rodney foolishly takes up the advice of Mickey Pearce, who believes that making Cassandra jealous will make him look more desirable. But the plan backfires when Rodney takes Del’s ailing three-wheeler van to the Peckham Exhaust Centre and asks its attractive receptionist, Tania, out on a date to see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
When Rodney eventually comes to the realisation that he’s been acting childishly, it’s too late. Del, on a damage-limitation mission, has already told Cassandra about Tania, and Rodney ends up being thrown out of the flat once again.
Effortlessly straddling a fine line between comedy and high drama, this superbly written Christmas special found John Sullivan at the peak of his powers, impressing fans and critics alike. “Rather than keep the Trotter brothers in a time warp, their creator John Sullivan has taken the risk of moving them on with the times,” wrote Today’s Pam Francis. “By doing so, and getting Rodders hitched, he’s been able to tackle relevant issues.”
18 – TO HULL AND BACK
(Christmas special, 25 December 1985)
Heartened by the success of Only Fools’ transitional fourth series, the BBC commissioned the show’s first feature-length episode, which would end up going toe-to-toe with ITV’s Minder in a well-publicised Christmas Day ratings battle.
In this highly enjoyable amphibious yarn – which, like the second part of 1991’s Miami Twice, was devoid of an audience laughter track, and shot entirely on film – Del agrees to be the courier in a diamond-smuggling operation for local businessmen Boycie and Abdul, in exchange for £15,000. (Abdul was played by Tony Anholt, who would have been familiar to viewers of the then new BBC drama, Howards’ Way.) However, when Del is accosted in the local market by his old foe, the recently promoted Chief Inspector Roy Slater, he soon learns that the police are on to the ringleaders of the scam.
Undeterred, Del arranges to meet Boycie and Abdul in the back of Denzil’s lorry, where he is given £50,000 to take to Mr Van Kleef’s office in Amsterdam in exchange for 30 top-of-the-range diamonds. However, following a tip-off that three men have been spotted attempting to break into a lorry outside a transport café, Slater and his trusty sidekick, Hoskins, soon arrive on the scene, and chaos ensues. Del ends up being locked inside the lorry, which an overworked and completely oblivious Denzil is about to drive to Hull, with freshly-jilted Rodney – who has been roped into the deal – in not-so-hot pursuit.
Finally, when the brothers are reunited in Hull, a somewhat dishevelled Del has a brainwave. Knowing they’d be unable to “waltz through the customs at Gatwick”, he decides they’ll simply hire a boat and sail to Holland. And, luckily, Del knows of an experienced sailor – someone who’s been round the world more times than Phileas Fogg – who can captain his dilapidated vessel: Uncle Albert. However, it soon becomes apparent that their seafaring relative lacks any sort of nautical nous, and couldn’t navigate his way out of a phone box – luckily, a British Gas rig worker is on hand to point them in the right direction.
When the Trotter clan eventually arrives in Amsterdam, the business transaction with Van Kleef is seemingly smooth, unlike their return journey across the North Sea. Eventually, after following the Norland – the Zeebrugge-Hull ferry – back to port, the family heads back to Peckham to initiate the exchange with Boycie and Abdul, but they are promptly busted by the sombrero-wearing duo of Slater and Hoskins. However, it soon becomes apparent that Slater is as bent as Boycie’s counterfeit notes and he plans to use the diamonds to fund his pension. Sadly for him, the police have been monitoring him for months and Hoskins ensures their sting is successful.
As for Del, he’s managed to substitute two of the diamonds for two cats eyes, but he undoes all his good work by lobbing his well-earned £15,000 off his flat’s balcony, thinking it’s counterfeit. What a plonker!
17 – THE CLASS OF ’62
(S7, E4, 20 January 1991)
Del, Boycie, Denzil and Trigger, four former classmates of Martin Luther King Comprehensive, have been invited – along with Rodney – to a school reunion in one of the rooms above the Nag’s Head. No one knows who the organiser is. Could it be their old headmaster, Bend over Benson? Or could it even be Jeremy Beadle?
To their consternation, it turns out to be their old foe, Roy Slater, recently paroled following a five-year stretch for diamond smuggling (see 1985’s To Hull and Back). Slater, now working as a undertaker in Colchester, attempts to convince them he’s a born again Christian, and gains some sympathy when he reveals his father had passed away while he was inside.
Gradually worming his way into the embarrassed party’s good graces, the prodigal plonker ends up enjoying drinks and trading stories at Nelson Mandela House, before eventually passing out on the sofa. However, it soon becomes apparent that Slater has an agenda. He’s not a changed man at all, and has simply used the reunion to get into the flat so he can see an incensed Raquel, who we’re shocked to learn is his estranged wife. (In The Chance of a Lunchtime, Del discovered that Raquel was married to a copper, but no other details were disclosed.)
Slater, we learn, is seeking a post-nuptial agreement with Raquel, essentially asking her to waive her rights to an incoming inheritance, though in reality it’s his ill-gotten gains. In the meantime, he’s happy to dine out on the fact that Del would be hung out to dry if his business associates learned he was co-habiting with the former spouse of Slater, who is “hated and loathed throughout the parish”.
However, Del soon puts an end to the blackmailing when he informs Slater he has used his fax machine’s photocopying facility to duplicate damning evidence that a Bond Street jeweller has deposited ten of his stolen diamonds. Slater is left with little option other than to keep his silence or face another lengthy prison sentence – little does he know that the photocopier doesn’t work!
Once again, Jim Broadbent was brilliant as the weaselly ex-DCI, but there were terrific performances all round in this beautifully-written crowd-pleaser. “I didn’t really expect to appear more than once,” Broadbent told the Sunday Post in 2020, “so I was delighted to get the chance to be the villainous copper a number of times… Only Fools and Horses was a great series and I was thrilled to be a part of it.”
16 – STRAINED RELATIONS
(S4, E2, 28 February 1985)
By the time it came to recording the fourth season of Only Fools in the winter of 1984, the show was on something of a roll. Ratings were up, and a deserved BAFTA nomination for ‘Best Comedy Series’ consolidated its standing as one of the nation’s most popular sitcoms (the Jimmy Perry and David Croft-penned Hi-De-Hi! scooped the coveted award on this occasion).
However, the cast and crew were left devastated when they received the news that Lennard Pearce had died suddenly on 15 December. “We’d been shooting some scenes that didn’t involve Grandad and we were in make-up when Ray [Butt] came in with the news,” David Jason recalled. “We couldn’t even think about working that day. It was just too upsetting.”
Following some meetings at BBC Television Centre, it was decided the series would continue. Immediately ruling out replacing Grandad with another actor, the show’s makers recruited relative rookie Buster Merryfield, a retired bank manager, to play the Trotters’ estranged uncle, who has something of a naval past. (This ties in nicely with 1982’s It Never Rains, in which Grandad mentions that the Trotters have never been good sailors.) “They were looking for a naval connection, and I must have looked the part,” he recalled to The Independent. “The producer of Fools and Horses explained to me that Lennard Pearce, who played Del’s grandpa, had died. I didn’t want to step into dead man’s shoes, but they assured me that I would be an entirely new character. All they wanted to know was whether I could put on a Cockney accent. Being brought up as a working-class kid in Battersea, I didn’t have a problem.”
A bittersweet episode that showcased Sullivan’s extraordinary ability to make viewers laugh and cry in equal measure, Strained Relations also marked Merryfield’s introduction to the series, and begins with graveside scenes that were filmed just weeks after Pearce’s actual funeral, with the raw emotion on the actors’ faces clearly evident. Amongst the mourners are the North London branch of the family, who include cousins Jean and Stan, plus Grandad’s brother, Albert, a former sailor, who, as we discover during the wake at the flat, has something of a penchant for nautical yarns. Somewhat disgracefully, Jean and Stan have used the sad occasion to up sticks in their mobile home, leaving a hung-over Albert back in the flat with the Trotter brothers.
As is evident throughout the episode, Del and Rodney are dealing with their grief in very different ways, and this is captured in a beautifully-written and perfectly-executed monologue from David Jason. “It’s a great outburst, that,” he recalled. “Del’s heart comes off his sleeve and it all comes pouring out. It was such a clever way to get at Del’s true feelings without in any way dissolving the character of Del. You’re reminded of how much Del gave up in order to raise Rodney and look after Grandad.”
Del is initially reluctant to allow Albert – who we learn has no intention of bedding down at the local Seaman’s Mission – to stay at Nelson Mandela House, but eventually comes round, paving the way for an exciting new era for the show.
15 – A TOUCH OF GLASS
(S2, E7, 2 December 1982)
It was John Sullivan’s father who provided the inspiration for this unforgettable episode, in which the hapless Trotters unwittingly end up in the chandelier cleaning business. Back in the 1930s, Sullivan senior was one of eight people to lose their jobs following a botched job at a mansion where they were installing a new heating system. “They had to take this chandelier down to protect it when they ran the pipes over the joists where it was,” John Sullivan explained. “My dad was up on a ladder with his mates waiting to catch the chandelier. But they hadn’t properly organised which chandelier they were all working on and the young guy upstairs undid the wrong one; it came crashing to the ground. They’d assumed he knew which one they were working on but he’d gone to another one.”
When the farcical incident was relayed to David Jason and producer Ray Butt, they thought it was hilarious and soon persuaded the writer to incorporate it into the show. With the hilarious pay-off – which was voted the second-best Only Fools moment by Gold viewers – already in place, Sullivan just needed to create a scenario in which the Trotters found themselves in a mansion. No problem.
In the first Only Fools episode to be viewed by over 10 million people, it’s the International Year of the Wally-brain and Del and the gang are on their way back from an auction in Dorset, having just purchased a consignment of faulty porcelain cats that play ‘(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?’. Along one of the country lanes, they stop to help a lady whose car has broken down, and tow it back to the stately Ridgemere Hall. Realising he is in aristocratic company, Del feels an earner coming on. Overhearing that Lord Ridgemere is shopping around for an estimate on the cleaning of two Louis XIV chandeliers, Del manages to convince him that the Trotter name is synonymous with chandeliers and offers to do the job for a significantly reduced rate, which his penny-pinching lordship gleefully accepts.
With a touch of Windolene and Superglue, and Grandad in charge of loosening the bolts, what could possibly go wrong…?!
14 – FROM PRUSSIA WITH LOVE
(S5, E1, 31 August 1986)
It’s kicking out time at the Nag’s Head and the landlord is having some trouble explaining the concept to a “foreign tart” – played by Erika Hoffman, who would later join the cast of hit comedy Brush Strokes – who is intermittently bursting into tears. Del offers to assist – for a price, of course – and eventually deduces that the girl is German. Seduced by Fräulein Anna’s good looks, the chivalrous Rodney offers to take her back to her hotel, but his amorous ambitions are immediately curtailed when he discovers she is heavily pregnant.
There’s a further complication when Anna reveals she doesn’t have a hotel room booked, so Rodney leads her back to Nelson Mandela House, much to Del’s horror. “I’ve got more relatives crawling out the woodwork than Blake Carrington,” he declares, “and now I’m taking in the waifs and strays of Europe!”
However, having learned that Anna has lost her job as an au pair after falling pregnant to her employers’ champagne-swigging son, Del is soon sympathetic. And, when he also learns that Anna, who fears being disowned by her parents in her fatherland, plans to put her baby up for adoption, he immediately thinks of a cushty way to profit from Boycie and Marlene’s fertility struggles. (This was first hinted at in 1986’s Sleeping Dogs Lie, where Marlene is gifted a dog, Duke, to temper her broodiness.)
Unable to adopt due to Boycie’s extensive criminal record, the couple are convinced by Del that Anna’s baby – apparently a boy – is the answer to their prayers, and it’s only going to cost them a mere three grand! However, when Anna eventually gives birth, the illegal plan hits something of a snag. For one, the baby is actually a girl (“Everything you buy off him’s got something missing!” jokes Boycie), and, secondly, it transpires that the baby’s father is of West Indian descent!
Another sensitively written episode that dealt with authentic social issues, From Prussia with Love was also one of Sue Holderness’s favourites. “As an actress it was very rewarding to work on the episode,” she said. “Marlene went through a great deal of emotion because having a baby had been overriding thing in her life since she was sixteen… It was beautifully written – as good as any Chekhov or Shakespeare play.”
13 – CHAIN GANG
(S6, E3, 22 January 1989)
Following a series of meetings in the One-Eleven Club with a decidedly smug retired jeweller named Arnie – played by future Bad Girls star, Philip McGough – Del agrees to buy a consignment of 250 18-carat gold chains for a bargainous £12,500. In order to raise the money, Del forms a consortium that includes Boycie, Mike, Trigger, Uncle Albert and, later, a sceptical Rodney, who puts in the remaining £36.24.
Having confirmed with an independent jeweller that the chains are pukka, the boys are confident of doubling their investment. However, the champagne is put on ice when Arnie receives the news that a nasty character named Maxi Stavros is back in town to buy the chains for the previously agreed price of £25,000. Del’s solution is that the consortium simply sells the chains to Mr Stavros, via Arnie, with all parties receiving a cut of the profits – “Everyone’s a winner! Après moi, le déluge.”
Everything appears to be going to plan until Arnie, who has a history of heart trouble, collapses with an apparent “connery” whilst waiting for Mr Stavros to arrive at the Italian restaurant he has booked. With the gold chains and cash still on his person, the ailing jeweller is promptly whisked off in an ambulance, to the astonishment of the onlooking consortium. Back at the Trotters’ flat, the boys receive the sad news from a doctor that Arnie has passed away.
Once they realise that it’s virtually impossible to trace Arnie’s widow, the dejected consortium disbands. But, later, upon picking up Cassandra from Gatwick Airport, Rodney realises the consortium have been the victim of an elaborate scam, after spotting Arnie being loaded into the back of an ambulance by two paramedics (who are actually his sons, Gary and Stephen). Still unable to trace Arnie, who has apparently been spotted performing his dying swan act all over London, the chain gang receives a lucky break when they learn that Denzil and his brothers are about to be similarly scammed. Brandishing a large pair of bolt cutters, Del plots his revenge…
12 – TIME ON OUR HANDS
(Christmas special, 29 December 1996)
Having only recently reconciled with her parents, Raquel is nervously preparing for their imminent arrival. Dinner ingredients are being collated, while Denzil has been tasked with supplying a comically-elongated dining room table and chairs.
Meanwhile, Rodney, who has a tendency to bottle up his emotions, is struggling to deal with Cassandra’s recent miscarriage, drinking to such an extent that he’s been banned from the Nag’s Head. Uncle Albert suggests a “counter-worry” might distract him from his recent heartache, but when Del feigns illness, Rodney is decidedly unresponsive.
Later, when the brothers leave the garage – where Rodney has been cataloguing Trotters Independent Traders’ old junk – Del engineers a breakdown in the routinely-unreliable lift, with the intention of getting his brother to finally open up. “I wanted to go for the tears because I thought it would be realistic,” said Nicholas Lyndhurst of the emotional sequence. “We only recorded the scene once because it worked right first time and that was the one that was used.” After agreeing with Del that the miscarriage was, in the words of their late mother, “a dropped stitch in life’s tapestry”, Rodney eventually realises that he’s been conned into opening up, but accepts it was done with the best intentions.
Things don’t go so well following the family’s introduction to Raquel’s parents, Audrey and James. For one thing, Del hasn’t exactly made a great first impression with his daft French phrases and frivolous banter, while Albert has somehow managed to confuse the coffee and gravy labels, resulting in “Maxwell bleedin’ House” being poured over the diners’ lamb noisettes and veg.
The following morning, James – who is both a successful antiques dealer and an amateur horologist – meets Del and Rodney in the garage and spots a pocket watch that the Trotters had picked up in a house clearance in Deptford many years ago. James claims that the timepiece – humorously miscatalogued as a Victorian egg timer – could be the long-lost work of John Harrison, a renowned 18th century clockmaker. Fortunately, the Trotters are able to prove it’s their property since Rodney used to keep receipts dating back to the early days of his partnership with Del. (This ties in beautifully with the show’s first episode, Big Brother, where Rodney is seen leafing through the receipts.) Following its authentication, the so-called Harrison Lesser Watch is later auctioned at Sotheby’s, eventually selling for a mind-blowing £6.2 million. As Del says, they’ve certainly had worse days!
Later, following a well-crafted montage – effectively soundtracked by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s ‘Our House’ – a maudlin Del is seen returning to Nelson Mandela House for a final look around the flat, with the voices of Grandad and his mother and father ringing in his head. Although he’s finally achieved his dream of becoming a millionaire, he realises the chase is over, and reluctantly tells Lenny Morris – who has a consignment of carpet steamers for sale – that Trotters Independent Traders has ceased trading.
Certainly, Time on Our Hands was the perfect ending to a remarkable series that had enraptured millions of viewers for the best part of two decades, and it’s arguable that the show’s legacy was slightly tarnished with the subsequent trilogy of episodes, but with perennial risk-taker Del announcing that the Trotters now had money to invest, the door was always open for its return.
11 – THE FROG’S LEGACY
(Christmas special, 25 December 1987)
Due to the commitments of the show’s principal writer and its two leading actors, there was no new series of Only Fools in 1987. Although John Sullivan’s other hit show, Just Good Friends, had finished after three successful seasons and a Christmas special, the in-demand screenwriter was committed to penning a second series of Dear John. Meanwhile, David Jason had broadened his acting palette by starring as Skullion in a 4-part adaptation of Tom Sharpe’s satirical novel, Porterhouse Blue, while co-star Nicholas Lyndhurst had signed on for another series of ITV’s hit comedy, The Two of Us. However, despite the critical failure of A Royal Flush in 1986, there was still plenty of demand for more antics from the Trotters, which the cast and crew duly satisfied with a high quality Christmas special that included both an engaging treasure hunt storyline and a further exploration of Rodney’s true parentage, which would eventually be confirmed in 2003’s Sleepless in Peckham.
As a partner in Trotters Independent Traders, Rodney is now reduced to feigning back pain as Del attempts to demonstrate his latest line of deep-penetrating, infrared massagers to a largely uninterested crowd in the market. If only he could pass his computer course at the adult education centre and get a real job. Luckily – or unluckily, in this case – Del is sympathetic, particularly since he’s been lumbered with a load of faulty computers he’s having trouble shifting. With the promise of a regular income coming into the flat, he points Rodney in the direction of Mr Jahan, who’s apparently recruiting a trainee computer programmer – no experience is necessary, the desperate employer just needs someone who can walk. Rodney accepts, and Uncle Albert is promptly promoted to Del’s marketplace stooge.
Meanwhile, the Trotters have been invited to the wedding of Trigger’s niece, Lisa (first seen in 1986’s Tea for Three), where the audacious Del swaps his present of second-hand crockery from the now-bust Golden Lotus Chinese takeaway (see 1982’s The Yellow Peril) with Boycie and Marlene’s Royal Doulton dinner service. It’s here that Del is reacquainted with his late mother’s bubbly best friend, Reen – played by legendary Carry On actress Joan Sims – whose major slip of the tongue significantly piques his interest. “If things had worked out a bit better, you and Rodney could have been millionaires for now,” she says. “I remember visiting your mum in hospital and her saying to me, ‘If only I knew where he’d hidden it, Reen. My boys could be set for life!’”
Reen tells Del that Joan Trotter had befriended a likeable villain named Freddy ‘The Frog’ Robdal in 1959, who later robbed a bank, escaping with £250,000 in gold bullion. After hiding the gold, Robdal was killed in a freak accident, which Albert later revealed was the result of a bungled Post Office robbery which saw the dozy twonk accidentally blowing himself up, along with explosives expert Jelly Kelly, after sitting on the detonator!
Del vows to find out what happened to the gold (“This is Peckham not the Bermuda Triangle”), and gets an unexpected lead from his brother. Having just about calmed down after learning his new job was as a Chief Mourner, Rodney tells Del that one of his many duties involves computerising paper files, and he’s learned that a man named Alfred Broderick – an anagram of Frederick Robdal – had ordered a coffin, which he deduces was used to hide the gold bullion. Although Del has been told by Mr Jahan that the funeral was a “private affair”, he later learns from the vicar, who’d married Lisa and Andy, that he’d conducted Alfred Broderick’s funeral… at sea. As Robdal was a keen frogman – hence his nickname of ‘The Frog’ – he just had to wait for the dust to settle after the robbery, before diving for the bullion.
A disappointed Del still believes there’s a way of retrieving the missing treasure, but a dismissive Rodney has other things on his mind. He’s heard rumours that Freddy had fathered a child after having an affair with a woman on his estate, a child that would be around his age by now…
10 – HEROES AND VILLAINS
(Christmas special, 25 December 1996)
By the time of Heroes and Villains’ broadcast on 25 December 1996, it had been three long years since the last original episode of Only Fools – the sombre, soap-styled Fatal Attraction – had aired. Both David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst were, by now, busy in their respective roles as DI Jack Frost and Gary Sparrow in the hit shows, A Touch of Frost and Goodnight Sweetheart, while John Sullivan had penned two new dramas in Roger, Roger and Over Here. But, while viewers were spoilt for a choice of new programmes to satiate their sitcom cravings (Father Ted, The Thin Blue Line, The Vicar of Dibley, et al), there was still sufficient demand for new episodes of Only Fools, and Sullivan was keen to give the Trotters one final outing – eventually stretching to a trilogy – that would include a number of classic moments.
The episode, which in a 2001 poll was voted the UK’s favourite Christmas show of all time, begins with Rodney enduring a dystopian nightmare in which Damien is the head of TIT Co Global PLC, a Virgin-style multinational company that has closed down Cassandra’s bank and reduced his wife to the role of a maid. Meanwhile Del is living it up with Raquel as the Lord of Peckham in the swanky Trotter Towers, while Rodney is a mere messenger boy for his dastardly nephew.
Back in the real world, birthday boy Rodney – who’s been gifted a knocked-off gold identity bracelet, inscribed Rooney – has apparently been at it like a rattlesnake as he desperately tries to keep up with Cassandra’s exhausting fertility schedule. When she reveals she’s booked a week-long break to the Costa del Sol, there’s a palpable sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Del’s had his application for a home improvement grant turned down by Councillor Murray, while his latest investments – including 125 Latvian alarm clocks and 200 horse-riding crash helmets – haven’t reaped any rewards. As for Uncle Albert, he’s not relishing the thought of another “little sod” being born, and, later, to Rodney’s consternation, ends up mistaking one of his urine samples for apple juice!
There’s better news for Trigger, however, as he reveals he’s been given a medal for saving the council money with his beautifully-maintained broom, while Raquel has made contact with her estranged parents – years after a huge falling out over her showbiz aspirations – and arranges to take Damien with her for a visit.
With their respective spouses out of town, Del and Rodney head for a rare night out, clutching tickets to a fancy dress bash at a local publican’s house. With the first prize of a lucrative new stereo system up for grabs, Del pulls out all the stops, and organises his and Rodney’s Batman and Robin costumes. But, en route to the party, the spluttering three-wheeler van breaks down. Rather than call the RAC’s ‘Broken-down-whilst-dressed-as-a-couple-of-prats’ department, the caped crusaders decide to cut through town on foot, inadvertently scaring a gang of muggers off a frightened Councillor Murray in the process. “Trying to do the scene in the van with Nic Lyndhurst looking like the boy, Robin, and me looking like Batman, and trying to be serious. Well, we couldn’t do it. It took us ages,” David Jason told the Radio Times in 2020. “We couldn’t do the scene, because we’d get halfway through or a quarter-way through, and we’d just fall about laughing at each other. That is an abiding memory that will live with me forever, because it was so silly, and so funny, and it reminds me of how much fun we had working together.”
Later, it turns out the party is actually a wake since the host had passed away the previous day, leaving Del to rue the purchase of a faulty answerphone from Ronnie Nelson. But, his mood is lifted when he later receives both a medal – and, later, a home improvement cheque for five grand – from Councillor Murray for his have-a-go heroics in the market. And, there’s great news for Rodney, too, as he announces he and Cassandra have finally cracked the pregnancy case. “Not a bad old world is it, bruv?” says Del.
9 – THE LONGEST NIGHT
(S5, E3, 14 September 1986)
Chamboussiz Nouvelle! In this highly underrated episode – which was inspired by a true story John Sullivan had heard about a man deliberately getting caught shoplifting – the Trotter family are at their local supermarket, and Rodney is in a somewhat foul mood. Already irritable after trying to give up smoking, he’s just been whacked in the shin by Uncle Albert’s intellectually-superior shopping trolley.
As they leave with their groceries, they are accosted by the store’s head of security, Tom Clarke, who asks them to accompany him to the office. Believing one of them has been selected as the store’s one millionth customer – with a grand on offer to the recipient – the hapless trio willingly follow him. However, to their dismay, they are accused of shoplifting, and they’ve somehow managed to lose their receipt for £29.48.
While they are being held by the store’s henpecked manager, Mr. Peterson, Clarke ends up apprehending a real shoplifter who’s deliberately stolen – with great comic effect – a number of items. When the cocksure young villain arrives in the office, he pulls a gun on the manager and demands the safe is opened. But, despite declaring that “no detail is left unturned, no stone unchecked”, he’s wearing a dodgy watch and the dipstick has arrived fifteen minutes after the safe’s time lock has been activated. Albert hilariously suggests he comes back the following morning, but the boys are forced to have an office sleepover, whereupon, Rodney’s craving for a cigarette hilariously comes to the fore.
Eventually, Gilbey – brilliantly played by Vas Blackwood, who would later turn up in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) – realises it was Del who had sold him his dodgy watch down the market, and also remembers that his mother was one of the trader’s former clients. In a fabulous twist, it also transpires that Gilbey had been employed by the store’s debt-ridden manager to pull off the robbery, aided and abetted by Clarke, who has supplied the desperado with a gun from the toy department. Luckily for the three veritable wally-brains, Del decides against going to the police, since he’s got a funny feeling that he’s going to be the store’s millionth customer…
8 – DANGER UXD
(S6, E2, 15 January 1989)
On the outskirts of newly-gentrified Peckham lies Nelson Mandela House, where Del the Dipstick has just purchased a consignment of videotape recorders that were manufactured for use in mainland Europe and not the UK. (The said recorders are later sold to Boycie, who eventually pays for them in Sickness and Wealth.) Meanwhile, Rodney is still in the early stages of his courtship with Cassandra, who’s just about forgiven him for pretending to own a Mercedes and a big house (see Yuppy Love). Del, who is still wearing his trendy trench coat and Gordon Gekko braces, suggests to Rodney that he needs to abandon his lumberjack’s coat and Gordon Bennett boots and emulate his older brother’s high-profile image.
In the Nag’s Head – where Del is making a rare visit, having been barred from most of the local wine bars and bistros for his faux yuppy antics – Rodney delivers several boxes of supposedly ‘fresh’ Jersey tomatoes that have been sitting in Chez Trotter for several days, ruining his new suit in the process. Over a drink and a plate of bœuf bourguignon, the brothers catch up with Denzil, whose life is apparently treating him the same way Paxo treats a turkey. He’s just started up a grandiosely-named haulage company called Transworld Express, and was hired by a shop in High Wycombe to return a consignment of faulty dolls to the factory that made them. But, after prioritising an anniversary meal with Corinne, he was unable to make the drop-off as the factory had since gone up in flames, leaving him with an unsigned delivery docket and a truckload of dolls. Sensing a potential earner, Del takes control of the situation and provides Denzil with a forged docket to take to the shop. “Me and the tomato kid here get fifty dollies to flog down the market,” the daft dealer declares, “and the great British public have another bargain of a lifetime. Everyone’s a winner! Petit déjeuner!!”
It soon transpires that the life-sized inflatable dolls Del’s acquired are for big boys and not little girls, and he’s keen to junk them until he discovers they sell for up to £60 a pop in the adult entertainment market. But there’s a further surprise in store for the Trotters when the dolls start to self-inflate, somewhat hilariously, when a chilly Rodney turns up the thermostat in the flat. Desperate to get rid of the dolls without arousing suspicion, the boys dress them in their late mother’s clothing and bundle them into the van. While Del and Albert attempt, in vain, to flog them to Dirty Barry, who’s had the licence for his sex shop revoked, Rodney heads out to meet Cassandra at a restaurant, where he learns that Lusty Linda, Erotic Estelle and co have been loaded with a highly explosive gas!
Although a highly entertaining episode, the BBC still received a number of complaints from viewers who said that some of the scenes were unsuitable for younger children, leading David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst to appear on daytime television show to set the record straight. “We were happy to go on and defend the episode,” said Lyndhurst. “The dolls in the show had been specially adapted by our special effects people so that they weren’t that explicit.”
7 – DATES
(Christmas special, 25 December 1988)
Although it appeared Only Fools was back on track with 1987’s superlative Christmas special, A Frog’s Legacy, John Sullivan shared some of the concerns of departing producer Ray Butt – who had been offered a new position with Central Television – that the show’s format was becoming stale. Since Del had been “engaged more times than a switchboard” and Rodney had been “blown out more times than a windsock”, Sullivan felt it was time that the boys settled down a bit, and 1988’s Dates went some way to achieving that. “I decided to do Dates because I felt Del had to start meeting more mature women,” he said. “I couldn’t have him continually hanging round discos chasing twenty-year olds, so I brought Raquel in.”
In the BAFTA award-winning special, business is booming for Trotters Independent Traders, with Del and Rodney having recently sold 400 ladies electric razors. Uncle Albert will soon have something to celebrate, too, and drops one or two not-so-subtle hints to the prosperous brothers about his forthcoming birthday.
On the love front, Del is inspired by the fact that Trigger has managed to land an attractive date, having signed up with a dating agency that’s just opened on the High Street. The discerning Trotter, who’s looking for a refined “bit of a sort”, follows his blue-suited friend’s lead and registers with Technomatch, who promptly pairs him up with a struggling actress named Raquel Turner. Following their meeting under the main clock at Waterloo Station, Del splashes the cash on a steak meal at the Hilton. However, unlike Raquel, who comes clean about her struggles as an unemployed actress, Del – using the pompous surname of Duval – maintains his bravado as the managing director of a successful transatlantic business.
Meanwhile, Rodney has managed to land a date with the Nag’s Head’s attractive new barmaid, Nerys. The problem is, perennial prankster Mickey Pearce has managed to convince him that Nerys is turned on by macho men, claiming that Rodney’s “machismo” has given him the advantage over Jevon, who’s been trying to date her for months. Reeled in by Mickey’s banter, Rodney arrives for his date sporting a leather-jacketed James Dean look, unshaven and with his hair greased back. Indecisive about what their date will entail, the fledgling couple decide to cruise around the estate in the Reliant Robin, but Rodney ends up in a high-speed car chase with some Cortina-driving yobs, incurring the wrath of two police officers – who vow to track him down – in the process. As for the accurately named “Nervous Nerys”, she is reduced to a quivering wreck by Rodney’s high-octane shenanigans.
So smitten is he with the beautiful and talented Raquel that Del coerces freemason Boycie into recommending him for membership of his Masonic lodge, with a view to persuading a fellow member, who is a TV director, to give his new girlfriend a showbiz break. Matters unravel during Albert’s birthday party in the Nag’s Head, however, when Boycie tells Del that he’s been blackballed. And things get worse when it’s revealed that the wren-dressed strippergram he’s booked for Albert turns out to be a skimpily-attired Raquel, who’s been stripping off to pay for her drama lessons. Although humiliated, Del soon calms down and is about to reconcile with Raquel, who is on the verge of heading to Addis Ababa for a revue in the Middle East, when he is accosted in the Nag’s Head by the police officers who’ve been looking for the driver of a dangerously-driven three-wheeler van. However, Del believes they’re not real officers, and further hilarity ensues in this terrific episode.
6 – WHO’S A PRETTY BOY?
(S3, E7, 22 December 1983)
After being tucked up Brendan O’Shaughnessy, who’s sold him some paint that’s battleship grey instead of apple white, Del vows to get revenge. Learning that Denzil – played by Paul Barber, who’d previously been seen in Minder, Porridge and To the Manor Born – has employed the Irishman to paint his lounge, Del scuppers the deal after claiming the painter had left an unattended blowlamp in a house that burned down while he was in the pub.
Claiming to be a former painter and decorator himself, a cunning Del manages to land the job, despite the fact that henpecked Denzil’s disapproving wife, Corinne, clearly hasn’t forgiven him for the botched catering at their wedding. “What was it we were supposed to have, Del?” she says. “Lobster vol-au-vents, game pie, kidneys with saffron rice, beef and anchovy savouries… And what did we end up with? Pie and chips all round!”
On the day, the boys are left a note to stay out of the kitchen, but Grandad believes they’re entitled to a cup of tea (“I mean, it’s in the Magna Carta or something!”). Unfortunately, dozy little twonk Rodney has forgotten all about the kettle that’s been left to boil on the stove, but a ruined appliance is the least of their problems. In a scene evoking Monty Python’s iconic “Dead parrot” sketch, it appears that Corinne’s beloved canary, Sylvester, has been sautéed in the steamy kitchen! Quick-thinking Del sends Grandad to Louis Lombardi’s pet shop with £50 to buy an emergency canary while he and Rodney clean the kitchen, but, hilariously, it transpires that Sylvester was already dead and had been laying in state overnight!
Despite losing the decorating job, which mouth almighty Brendan claims to have taken over, Del still manages to find a way of profiting from his self-satisfied adversary. Upon meeting Mike Fisher, the new landlord of the Nag’s Head, for the first time, Del proposes his innovative profit-sharing scheme.
Although regularly touted as one of the best of the series’ 30-minute episodes, there was something of a sad post-script to Who’s a Pretty Boy? Eva Mottley, who played the feisty Corinne, committed suicide on Valentine’s Day in 1985, and any plans to include this well-written character were promptly abandoned. “Her death was a great shock,” said producer Ray Butt. “She was a very vivacious lady and great fun to have around, and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. I’m sure she would have been back in the show at some later date because she and Denzil were good characters.”
5 – MOTHER NATURE’S SON
(Christmas special, 25 December 1992)
Following the enjoyable, but decidedly decadent Miami Twice special, there was some speculation that the end was nigh for Only Fools, particularly since David Jason was now committed to starring in both A Touch of Frost and The Darling Buds of May. However, there was nearly always a gap in his and the cast’s schedule for a Christmas special, and plans were afoot for Del Boy to partake in his most elaborate scam to date…
It’s the festive season and the Trotter brothers are down on their luck, having not bought or sold anything in months. Rodney is also suffering from a touch of executive stress, while Del appears to have lost his joie de vivre, having received the news that he now needs to find over two times what he pays in rent to buy the flat. Meanwhile, a visibly worn-down Raquel hasn’t left the flat in months, and Uncle Albert is complaining about his runny egg.
On top of all this, Del has turned Damien’s nursery into a junk room, filling it with Bros LPs, commemorative Royal Wedding plates and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ t-shirts. However, when Raquel tells him that the council have sent a letter advising they’ve been given two weeks to sort out Grandad’s environmentally-hazardous allotment, Del realises there’s an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and return the nursery to its former glory. (The allotment was first mentioned in 1981’s The Russians are Coming.) Rodney and Albert are roped into helping take the unsold rubbish to the allotment shed, while Denzil and newly-upgraded “environmental hygienist” Trigger are recruited to remove a number of barrels – containing “some sort of yellow stuff” – that have been dumped there.
Later, when the brothers call in at a health food store belonging to a successful businessman named Myles that Rodney had become acquainted with at evening school, Del has an epiphany after seeing how much is being charged for mineral water. “Something happened to me, Rodney,” he says, somewhat dramatically. “It was like a blinding flash of light – like St Paul on the road to Tabascus.” Soon after – in cahoots with a carefree Albert – Del invites Myles to the allotment and deceives him into believing there’s a natural source of mineral water in the vicinity, known as the Peckham Spring. “It’s certainly sprung up from somewhere,” says a sarcastic Rodney, who’s already cottoned on to his brother’s outrageous tap water scam, which involves handing Myles a sterilised baby bottle containing shop-bought mineral water.
With financial backing from the bank – where Cassandra is in charge of small business investment – and a certificate of purity from Myles’ Spa Water and Natural Springs (SWANS) committee, the Peckham Spring soon becomes a hit, and the Trotter brothers and their respective spouses later head to Brighton to celebrate their new-found wealth. But, in their swanky adjoining rooms at the Grand Hotel, the two amorous couples are oblivious to a news report informing viewers that a reservoir has been contaminated by the barrels of waste that Denzil and Trigger have dumped there.
4 – THE UNLUCKY WINNER IS…
(S6, E4, 29 January 1989)
In this veritably groovy classic, Del is hooked on entering competitions and is on the verge of winning a brand new Ford Sierra, a free manicure for a year and a night out with Maria Whittaker! When he is alerted to a competition on the back of a packet of Mega Flakes to draw or paint a picture of a world-famous landmark, Del decides to send in Rodney’s old school painting, ‘Marble Arch at Dawn’, which is part of an art portfolio he’s recently been showing off to Cassandra.
Soon after, Del shamelessly opens Rodney’s mail and is shocked to learn that his brother has won a sumptuous holiday for three people to Mallorca, which includes a luxury stay in a five-star hotel, à la carte dining and spending money. Rodney is delighted to receive the news, but is slightly suspicious that the prize is for three people. What Del has failed to tell him is that he’s won first prize in an under 15s category and all the winners of the prizes are kids and the parents are their guests, but he slyly waits until he and Rodney and Cassandra have passed through customs with their luggage and duty-free goods before finally coming clean. (Albert is spending a week in the flat wining and dining Elsie Partridge, a widow he’s met at the bingo.)
Del convinces Cassandra that they’ll be fine once they’re at the hotel, and they only have to pose as parents for a while, but the promoters – who are understandably sceptical of the couple and their lofty son – have other ideas. While the “old fogies” are whisked off to the hotel for a glass of sangria, Rodney is conscripted into ‘The Groovy Gang’ for a week of breakdancing, cycling, go-karting and skateboarding, while Cassandra is reduced to competing with a 13-year old Bros fan named Trudie for his affections.
With Rodney injuring himself on his skateboarding and Cassandra revealing she’d rather be self-catering in Beirut, the holiday is something of a disaster, until they learn that they’ve won a million pesetas in the Spanish lottery. The problem is, the winning ticket – which needs to be claimed by someone over 18 – is in Rodney’s name and Del’s doctored his passport and student card. “It was a really hard episode to shoot,” recalled Gwyneth Strong to Gold, “because we shot it with very long takes which was challenging. When it came out I just thought it was hysterical and when I watched it, it was almost like I forgot I was in it, which never happens.”
3 – TEA FOR THREE
(S5, E4, 21 September 1986)
In this classic episode, it’s Talent Night at the Nag’s Head, where Uncle Albert is singing a version of ‘Hey There’ in tribute to his former wife, Ada, who is in hospital. Watching on are Del and Rodney, whose eyes light up when they are introduced to Trigger’s attractive niece, Lisa – played by Geraldine Cowper, who, as a teenager had starred in 1973’s The Wicker Man – who is in town for a few days. Both believing that romance could be on the cards, they invite Lisa round for a meal and a catch-up at the flat the following evening.
Prior to their meal of Chicken Italienne and Smash, Del believes he can gain an advantage over his amorous rival, Rodney, and turns up the timer on the ultraviolet sunbed that his brother’s fallen asleep on in the flat. Left with a comical Lobster-red tan, Rodney soon becomes the butt of Del’s cruel jokes, and is further incensed by his brothers’ brazen attempts to woo their blonde-haired guest. However, after learning that Lisa has some friends that belong to a hang-gliding club, Rodney realises there’s a way to get his revenge on his sibling rival, who’s just been bragging about being a paratrooper and freefalling from 20,000 feet.
The following morning, Del is horrified when he learns that Lisa has arranged a surprise hang-gliding session for him. Desperately wanting to keep his feet on the “old terracotta”, Del appeals to flush-faced Rodney to help him out of the situation. Rodney deviously persuades him to get dressed up for his flight and feign enthusiasm, and says that he’ll come rushing up to him at the last minute and pretend there’s been a call on the (fake) car phone requesting his urgent return to London. A gullible Del plays ball, but soon discovers it’s all been a ruse, and he’s left with no option but to take flight. “Get up as high as you can, Del,” says a smug Rodney, “You might get a tan!” According to David Jason, he wanted to perform the iconic scene’s stunt himself, but the BBC had other ideas. “They wouldn’t let me for insurance reasons so they got a stunt man instead,” he said. “I could see their point of view because, when you are filming a series, you’d be in real trouble if your leading man broke his leg or something, because it would delay filming.”
Twelve hours later, Trigger and Mike wheel Del back into the flat, where it’s revealed that the fledgling spaceman had spent three hours up in the air before crashing into a television transmitter in Redhill, but Rodney is unimpressed by his claim that he’ll never walk again. “Hospitals do not send home paralysed people by bus!” he says. “What is it you are after, Del? Sympathy from Lisa or a disabled sticker for the van?” Diffusing the tension, Trigger reveals that Lisa is getting married to her hang-gliding friend, Andy, meaning that the Trotters’ squabbling has all been for nothing. “So she was engaged all the time,” laughs Albert. “What a couple of wallies!”
2 – YUPPY LOVE
(S6, E1, 8 January 1989)
It hasn’t escaped Del’s attention that, in the gentrified environs of Peckham, property prices are booming and wine bars and bistros are popping up all over town. Ever the trend follower, Del believes he can ride on the coat-tails of a new generation of money-loving yuppies, and adopts a new image based on Gordon Gecko, the cut-throat protagonist in Oliver Stone’s award-winning movie, Wall Street (1987). “He doesn’t seem to realise that Gordon Gecko had brains,” says Rodney. “Del thinks all you need’s a Filofax and a pair of red braces and you’re a chairman of the board!”
Aside from ditching his camel hair coat, Del’s also set his sights on new digs, declaring that he’s applied to buy his council-built Lego set – in line with the Housing Act of 1980 that gave council tenants the ‘right to buy’ – and sell it on to “a chinless wonder at a vastly inflated price”. Rodney, too, has been keeping an eye on his future; he’s been poncing about on his computer, preparing for that evening’s class at the local adult education centre, where he’s been attempting to complete a three-month course he started two years ago!
Following a stop-off at The Kings Avenue to admire the luxurious houses, Del drops Rodney off at the centre. It’s here that a smart-dressed lady – Cassandra Parry – catches Rodney’s eye, and, following their respective lessons, they are formally acquainted in the cloakroom due to a mix-up with their similar-looking raincoats (Del has, amusingly, written Rodney’s name in his coat for a laugh). Later that night, after meeting friends Mickey and Jevon in a nightclub, Rodney spots Cassandra with her friend, Emma, and wins a bet that she’ll dance with him.
Meanwhile, Del is holed up in a trendy, jazz-playing wine bar, where he’s been attempting to blend in with the yuppy sorts by flashing his Filofax and drinking ‘spitzers’. It’s here that he meets Trigger – who’s been barred from the Nag’s Head after stealing Mike’s pork pies – who plays his part in one of the funniest moments ever broadcast on British television, and one influenced by a real incident in a pub that John Sullivan had witnessed. Believing that he’s caught the eye of one of the ladies in the bar, Del manages to go “arse over head” after failing to realise that the bar flap he’s about to coolly lean on has been lifted up by the barman. (The incident was later parodied in 2014’s Comic Relief skit, Beckham in Peckham.)
Rodney’s evening ends up in a similarly farcical fashion, despite a successful rendezvous with Cassandra. Unable to admit that he lives in a council tower block, he implies that he lives in The Kings Avenue, and asks Cassandra to drop him off outside a swanky house that has a Mercedes parked in the driveway. However, what he hasn’t realised during his long walk in the rain back to Nelson Mandela House, is that there’s been another mix-up with the coats, and she’s returned to the posh house to swap the coats. Realising what’s happened, she ends up telephoning Uncle Albert at Rodney’s real abode, whereupon, Del takes full advantage of Rodney’s snobbery.
Boasting a script as sharp as Cassandra’s bob, Yuppy Love – the first regular episode to include a 50-minute running time – successfully blended great comedy with an engaging romantic storyline, setting the Only Fools franchise up for a new era of greatness.
1 – THE JOLLY BOYS’ OUTING
(Christmas special, 25 December 1989)
Fabrique belgique! Barely a minute is wasted in this fabulous, feature-length seaside yarn, which saw the Trotters and all of the ensemble cast providing a plethora of memorable moments. It begins with Del in the familiar surrounds of the market, where he’s attempting to flog Albanian cassette players that come with a free Kylie Minogue vinyl LP. Meanwhile, now that Rodney has landed a job in the computer section at Parry Print Ltd, Uncle Albert has unwittingly ended up as Del’s “Executive Lookout”, but he’s easily distracted and soon incurs his new employer’s wrath when he stops to talk to Cassandra. “You’re supposed to be on the lookout,” says Del. “I haven’t seen you look at anything! The entire massed bands of the Metropolitan Police Force could march through here playing ‘I Shot the Sheriff” and you wouldn’t see nothing!”
Albert learns that Cassandra is on the cusp of promotion at the bank, particularly since her snotty new boss, Stephen, has promised to put a good word in for her. Forced to stay on his good side, she’s invited him and his wife Joanne round for her and Rodney’s first anniversary meal. Rodney thinks that yuppy Stephen is a bit of a prat, but Alan – who’s also been invited, along with his wife, Pam – encourages his new son-in-law to make a good impression, and says that Cassandra could do with the dinner party practice, especially if she gains her promotion. However, when Rodney reveals that Del and Albert have also been invited, Alan’s hopes for his daughter are soon crushed!
During the anniversary do, Del predictably exposes his intellectual shortcomings during a post-meal chat and a game of Trivial Pursuit, while Cassandra and Pam are somewhat narked when their spouses reveal that they’ve agreed to join Del and the regulars of the Nag’s Head for the bi-annual beano – known as the ‘Jolly Boys Outing’ – to Margate over the bank holiday weekend. It’s an event that doesn’t get off to the greatest starts when the coach driver, Harry, passes out after drinking a lemonade at the halfway house. (In reality he’s inhaled fumes from the coach’s new stereo, which, of course, has been supplied by Del.) Meanwhile, Rodney is arrested after doing a poor Ruud Gullit impression in the car park, booting a football into an unimpressed copper. Still, by the time the boys eventually reach Margate, a good time is had by all, and this is beautifully captured in a montage soundtracked by Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’.
The return journey is even more eventful and, in another of the series’ iconic moments, the now-not-so-jolly boys’ coach blows up, leaving them stranded in Margate. Unable to get a bus or a train back to Peckham, the gang splits up, and the Trotter clan end up booking into the somewhat drab Villa Bella. Del believes the unpopular guest house isn’t as bad as it looks, but Rodney thinks otherwise (“Look at it! It looks like the Munsters’ weekend place!”).
Reduced to sharing a bed with Albert and his dopey white beard, Rodney is eventually persuaded to join Del at the Mardi Gras nightclub, where they spot Raquel – last seen in 1988’s Dates – in a double act with a magician named the Great Ramondo. Seemingly picking up where they left off, Del takes Raquel’s address and phone number and encourages her to join him in Peckham after her contract’s ended. However, when he and Rodney are locked out of the Villa Bella – which closed its doors at 11pm – he ends up seeing her much sooner than he anticipated. Unable to wake the old man of the sea from his slumber, and not wishing to get the manager, Mrs Cresswell, out of her coffin, the brothers call round at Raquel’s flat, which she is sharing with Ramondo.
After assuming that Ramondo is providing Raquel with a job and lodgings in return for sexual favours, Del punches him, but it transpires that the magician is gay and Raquel is simply his flatmate. Back at his flat in Peckham, Rodney takes a leaf out of his brother’s book and takes similarly decisive action against Stephen, who he believes is trying to move in on his wife. But he hasn’t spotted Stephen’s wife, Joanne, who has been in the kitchen preparing drinks, and promptly ends up being turfed out of the flat… and not for the last time!
Part 1 : 64-31:
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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