A Special Not So Perfect Ten celebrating the 30th anniversary of Only Fools and Horses’ debut
This time 30 years ago, the most celebrated of UK sitcoms made its screen debut. Its opening episode, Big Brother, involved a set of dodgy suitcases which couldn’t open. That first episode got a then modest 9.2 million viewers (nowadays in our multi-channel households, this would be pretty good for Coronation Street).
Only Fools and Horses was a slow burner. On initial showing, viewing figures hovered around the 7 – 8 million mark, which in 1982 was pretty poor. The series was presumed dead in the water, though the 15 episodes included falling chandeliers, luminous takeaway kitchens and attempts at carving turkey with an unplugged electric knife.
By 1983, the BBC gave the series another chance.
In the summer of that year, audiences lapped it up. A rerun season from June 1983 saw Only Fools and Horses gain around 12 million – twice the viewing figures of the second episode ‘Go West, Young Man’ on its first broadcast. Viewing figures were more akin to ITV’s average for Coronation Street. Impressed, the BBC allowed John Sullivan to write another two seasons and the rest is Double Physics. Only Fools and Horses became a much loved institution with episodes commanding 15 million viewers and Christmas specials in the 20 million mark. Most noteworthy, the final episode of the 1996 Christmas trilogy attracted 24.3 million viewers.
Topping the list of most viewers’ favoured moments is Del falling over the bar in the ‘Yuppy Love’. It is a great moment, but there are some other great moments within its 63 episodes that are equally noteworthy. Our special Not So Perfect Ten aims to do that.
- “Cwying” – Tony Angelino (Stage Fright);
- Del and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin (Heroes and Villains);
- Falling chandelier scene (A Touch of Glass);
- The Sothebys scene – “Bidding starts at £4 million…” (Time on our Hands);
- Self-inflating blow-up dolls (Danger UXD);
- Rodney impersonating a 14 year old (The Unlucky Winner Is…);
- Exploding coach scene (The Jolly Boys Outing);
- Del’s attempt at hang gliding (Tea for Three);
- Rodney as chief mourner (The Frog’s Legacy);
- Del’s satellite dish (The Sky’s The Limit).
1. “Cwying”: Courtesy of our first moment, I have never been able to listen to the Roy Orbison song with a straight face. Ever. Faced with finding a suitable act for Eugene McCarthy (a local villain whose mother was celebrating her 82nd birthday) and the lure of 60 crispy notes (£600), they stumble upon Tony Angelino, a mate of Trigger. Dustman by day and singer by night, they find he is unable to pronounce his Rs properly and often adapted songs with lots of Rs in. Chaos ensues when Tony and Raquel sing ‘Crying’. To Del’s surprise, it turned out that Eugene’s mother liked them and wanted further bookings!
2. Batman and Robin: the first part of the 1996 Christmas trilogy opens with the news of their decorating grant being turned down. An ill-informed message later sees our dynamic duo dressed as Batman and Robin for what they thought was a fancy dress party. Instead it was a wake (“I came as a chauffeur…” – Trigger). Worried about being seen in the streets in fancy dress (“…only the Winos, they probably see Batman and Robin every night“) they save Councillor Murray from being mugged. The following day sees Del and Rodney stop the same muggers from attacking an elderly woman (Del hits one of them with his suitcase). Result: bravery medal and decorating grant approved.
3. Falling Chandelier scene: on towing Lady Ridgemere’s car to Ridgemere Hall, Del and Rodney offer themselves as chandelier cleaners. With Del Boy and Rodney holding a white sheet, Granddad was entrusted with unscrewing their first chandelier (“Now brace yourselves, Rodney, brace yourselves…“). It only turned out to be the wrong one, much to the anger of Del and Lord Ridgemere.
4. Sothebys scene: the longest running joke throughout its seven seasons and Christmas specials was that Del insisted that this time next year they’ll be millionaires. The final episode of the 1996 Christmas trilogy finally laid the running joke to rest when they found that a valuable pocket watch by J.A Harrison had been in their garage since 1981. Little did they know that it would fetch £6.2 million, which saw them fainting in the auction hall and loud celebration in their Reliant.
5. Self-inflating blow-up dolls: at the time, the sight of two naked life size blow-up dolls was seen as pretty risqué for prime time television, but it bestowed us one of Only Fools and Horses’ funniest moments. Looking for somewhere to place the dolls, it turns out that the warm air of Nelson Mandela House’s underfloor heating system inflates the two dolls within 30 seconds of each other. Then they find the self-propellent gas was the wrong type – the highly inflammable Propane. Dumped one evening on wasteland (after a failed bid to try and sell them to Dirty Barry), the dolls explode.
6. The Spanish Holiday Adventure of Rodney Charlton Trotter, Aged 14: or so we thought, but Rodders’ impersonation of a 14 year Rodney was a cheap way of spending two weeks abroad for the Trotters. How? A painting of the Marble Arch, London, was submitted to the Mega Flakes Holiday Competition which they won. This led to the surreal sight of Del Boy (brother) being his father and Cassandra (girlfriend) his mother and a 12 year old Bros fan (Trudy) having the hots for him. Groovy!
7. Exploding coach scene: the journey to Margate was fraught with difficulties already: Rodney getting a cuffing from Kent Police for accidentally kicking a football at an officer and the coach driver getting drunk. By the end of the day, the beano was an enjoyable occasion. All went well till they got back on the coach. Smoke came from the tape deck of one of Del Boy’s car radios. This was noticed by Denzil, so the rest of the party left the coach. Rodney was calling Cassandra from a nearby phone box (who claimed he always got into mischief no matter where he went with Del Boy), then the coach exploded. With the joys of a rail strike and them missing the last Green Line towards Peckham, they were forced to stay overnight before an alternative coach arrived.
8. Del’s attempt at hang-gliding: after having his face sunburned to the shade of a Ribena berry, Rodney got his revenge on Del (who turned the sunbed up whilst he was asleep) with a birthday treat he wouldn’t forget. After conversing with Lisa, they organise a hang-gliding lesson for Del. Despite his claims to experience, he is scared witless and crashes into a television tower in Redhill, landing on a couple inside a Ford Sierra. In real life, Sir David Jason enjoys hang gliding and wanted to do the stunts himself. Unfortunately, the BBC couldn’t insure him for that hence the use of a stunt double for the shots over Devil’s Dyke.
9. Rodney, chief mourner: Del lands Rodney a new job. Unknown to him, it is the role of chief mourner at a funeral directors. It turns out that Frederick Robdal (Freddie the Frog), had bought a coffin and filled it with gold, so long as they arranged a fake funeral to bury it. Cue the sight of a hacked off Rodney in funereal garb.
10. Del’s satellite dish: inspired by Boycie’s recent investment in ‘adult entertainment’, his motorised satellite dish tempted Del Boy. Elsewhere, Rodney wanted to make up to Cassandra by meeting her at Gatwick airport and booking a romantic night away. Whilst Del was trying to get Star Trek reruns or MTV on, Rodders was stranded at Gatwick as all the flights were diverted to Ringway (Manchester Airport for you young ones)! It turned out that Del Boy’s satellite dish had held London’s airports to a standstill, with the last scene showing an aeroplane flying towards Nelson Mandela House (“Switch it off…”).
Your Only Fools and Horses memories:
What memories do you have of watching Only Fools and Horses? Though many of us may have caught the older episodes on GOLD and its predecessors, I would especially like to hear from anyone who remembers them first time around. Feel free to add your greatest moments.
S.V., 08 September 2011.
Dedicated to the memory of John Sullivan OBE (1947 – 2011), creator of Only Fools and Horses. RIP.