Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses is a hugely popular British sitcom, created and written by John Sullivan, and made and broadcast by the BBC. Seven series were broadcast between 1981 and 1991, with special Christmas episodes occasionally until 2003. The show was selected as 'Britain's Best Sitcom' in a 2004 BBC poll.
The programme title is based on an old saying: "Only fools and horses work (for a living)", a reference to the protagonist's tax- and work-evading lifestyle. The theme song is written and sung by Sullivan. In the first season a different theme was used: this was changed to help viewers understand the meaning of the programme's title.
Derek "Del Boy" Trotter (played by David Jason) and his younger brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) share a flat with their elderly Grandad (Lennard Pearce ) several floors up Nelson Mandela House in a high-rise estate in Peckham, South London (Although the actual high rise shown in the show was in Acton, West London). Del Boy runs Trotter's Independent Traders — he's a fast-talking Cockney market trader, a wheeler-dealer, a wide boy, always looking to try to make a quick buck, cash in hand, no questions asked.
At the start of the first series Rodney joins Del in the business. Their mother died when Rodney was young, and their father disappeared long ago. Del's been Rodney's surrogate father for most of his life.
Del will do any deal to make money: "This time next year we'll be millionaires", he says. But most of the deals are too dodgy to succeed. Their flat is often piled high with dodgy gear they can't sell, from briefcases with the unlocking code locked inside them to sun tan lotion in the middle of winter.
The brothers' friends include a used car dealer, Boycie, and his wife Marlene; a slow-on-the-uptake road sweeper, Trigger, who always calls Rodney "Dave"; lorry driver Denzil; Mike, the barman at their local pub the Nag's Head; and Del-wannabe Mickey Pearce.
The show's one constant is the bond between the brothers. Unafraid of mixing comedy with tragedy, over the years we see their successes and failures, their loves and their losses. Grandad dies, and they're joined by their Uncle Albert; Del and Rodney both marry; Del and his wife Raquel have a child, Damien; Rodney and his wife, Cassandra, split up and get back together; Uncle Albert dies; Cassandra miscarries, but finally she and Rodney have a child too. The Trotters strike it rich, but lose it all again.
About the programme
Only Fools and Horses was relatively unpopular when it began, but the BBC persevered. Audiences grew steadily, and episodes like A Touch of Glass (in which Del, Rodney and Grandad try and spectacularly fail to clean a chandelier) contained scenes that became instant classics.
Series four in 1985 saw the death of Grandad. This was hastily written into the series after the death of the actor Lennard Pearce some way into filming. The programme showed Grandad's funeral – uncommon territory for a sitcom – and quickly introduced a replacement character, Del and Rodney's Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield).
The first episode of series six in 1989, Yuppy Love, included what has been voted the funniest moment in a British sitcom: Del falling behind a bar through a hatch he thought was closed. Another hilarious moment is from the Christmas special in 1996, Heroes and Villains, where Del and Rodney are running through the back alleys to reach a fancy dress ball, dressed as Batman and Robin, scaring off some teenage muggers as they emerge.
Much of the success of the programme was credited to the quality of the principal cast — in particular David Jason, an award-winning actor in both serious and comic roles. John Sullivan is also regarded as one of Britain's best comedy writers, able to move from comedy to tragedy and back again in a single line of dialogue.
Although the programme ran from 1981 to 2003, there were only seven series. The final series in 1991 ended with the birth of Del and Raquel's son, Damien. Ten special episodes were shown between 1991 and 2003, around Christmas time. The three specials shown at Christmas 1996 culminated in Del and Rodney and their families achieving their ambition to become millionaires; it was the highest-rated programme on British television for over a decade, with 24.3 million viewers. A further, short ten-minute insert was shown in 1997 as part of the Comic Relief telethon. Set just before their windfall, Del and Rodney (primarily, although Uncle Albert, Racquel and Damien also feature) discuss world hunger and poverty, whilst making clever references to each other's television characters (David Jason as Inspector Frost in the detective series A Touch of Frost; Nicholas Lyndhurst as time-travelling Gary Sparrow in another sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart). The sketch ends with the brothers making a direct appeal from the flat for the Comic Relief charity.
The Christmas 1996 trilogy was intended to end the series, but three further episodes shown at Christmas 2001, 2002 and 2003 carried on the story. Actor Buster Merryfield had died in 1999, and so Uncle Albert died too. Kenneth MacDonald, who played Mike the landlord of the Nag's Head pub, had also passed away in 2001, and Sullivan wrote around this by keeping his character in prison for fraud. The Trotters had lost their millions in the stock market crash, but Rodney and Cassandra finally had a baby. These three episodes were neither as successful, nor as acclaimed as the earlier trilogy, and no further episodes are expected. Sullivan is supposedly planning two spin-off shows: the first, entitled 'Once Upon A Time In Peckham' is to show Del and Rodney as youngsters in the 1960s; the second, 'Green Green Grass' is set around the characters of Boycie and Marlene and their plans to move out of Peckham and into the countryside.
The theme music has been the source of many misconceptions down the years. First of all, the famous theme songs (different ones at the beginning and end of the show) are not the original themes. For the first series, theme music composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst was used, however for the second series John Sullivan persuaded the BBC to use two of his own compositions instead. The first series was subsequently re-edited to use the new theme songs, though the very first episode, Big Brother, was left untouched and is still regularly repeated with the original Ronnie Hazlehurst music intact.
The theme songs are performed by Sullivan himself, and not - as many people think - by Nicholas Lyndhurst, though the voice Lyndhurst uses in the series is quite similar and the confusion is understandable.
The exact lyrics often cause confusion as well. The lines that cause most head-scratching are the first line of the opening theme and the closing refrain of the end theme, which are respectively, "Put a pony in me pocket" ("pony" being common London slang for 25 pounds cash) and "c'est magnifique, Hooky Street".
The line "Why do only fools and horses work?", which explains the somewhat oblique title of the show itself, refers to a genuine though somewhat obscure saying which seems (prior to its exposure throught he TV show) to have confined its currency to South London.
- Derek "Del Boy" Trotter — David Jason
- Rodney Trotter — Nicholas Lyndhurst
- Grandad — Lennard Pearce
- Uncle Albert — Buster Merryfield
- Raquel — Tessa Peake-Jones
- Cassandra — Gwyneth Strong
- Trigger — Roger Lloyd Pack
- Boycie — John Challis
- Marlene — Sue Holderness
- Denzil — Paul Barber
- Mickey Pearce — Patrick Murray
- Mike — Kenneth McDonald
- Damien — Ben Smith
- DCI Roy 'The Slag' Slater — Jim Broadbent
Only Fools and Horses — and consequently John Sullivan — is credited with the creation or popularisation in Britain of at least two words/phrases (both used by Del Boy regularly):
- Plonker — a fool ("Rodney, you plonker!")
- Lovely jubbly — excellent! ("A grand? Lovely jubbly!")
The latter was originally an advertising slogan for an obscure 1960s fruit drink. John Sullivan remembered it and reckoned it was exactly the sort of thing Del Boy would say.
Series One (30 minute episodes)
|Big Brother||1981-09-15||9.2m||Del employs Rodney|
|Go West Young Man||1981-09-15||6.1m||Del wrecks Boycie's car|
|Cash and Curry||1981-09-22||7.3m||The Indian statue episode|
|The Second Time Around||1981-09-29||7.8m||Del's murderous ex-fiancee|
|A Slow Bus To Chingford||1981-10-06||7m||The bus tour episode|
|The Russians Are Coming||1981-10-13||8.8m||The Trotters build a nuclear war shelter|
1981 Christmas special (35 minutes)
Series Two (30 minute episodes)
|The Long Legs of the Law||1982-10-21||7.7m||Rodney dates a police officer|
|Ashes to Ashes||1982-10-18||9.8m||The Trotters dice with death|
|A Losing Streak||1982-11-04||7.5m||The Trotters have money trouble|
|No Greater Love||1982-11-11||8.6m|
|The Yellow Peril||1982-11-18||8.2||The cutting corners episode|
|It Never Rains||1982-11-25||9.5m||The holiday episode|
|A Touch of Glass||1982-12-02||10.2m||The Chandelier episode|
1982 Christmas special (30 minutes)
|Diamonds Are For Heather||1982-12-30||9.3m|
Series Three (30 minute episodes)
|Homesick||1983-11-10||9.4m||Grandad becomes ill|
|Friday the 14th||1983-11-24||9.7m||A fishing trip turns nasty for Del, Rodney and Grandad|
|Yesterday Never Comes||1983-12-01||10.6m|
|May The Force Be With You||1983-12-08||10.7m||Slater nicks Del|
|Wanted||1983-12-15||11.2m||Rodney thinks he's a wanted criminal|
|Who's a Pretty Boy?||1983-12-22||11.9m||The canary episode|
1983 Christmas special (30 minutes)
|Thicker Than Water||1983-12-25||10.8m||Del and Rodney's Dad reappears|
Series Four (30 minutes)
|Happy Returns||1985-02-21||15.2m||Del thinks he has a daughter|
|Strained Relations||1985-02-28||14.9m||Grandad dies; Uncle Albert appears|
|Hole in One||1985-03-07||13.4m||Albert gets the Trotters in trouble|
|It's Only Rock and Roll||1985-03-14||13.6m||Rodney's rock group|
|Sleeping Dogs Lie||1985-03-21||18.7m||The Trotters have dog trouble|
|Watching the Girls Go By||1985-03-28||14.4m||Rodney bets he can get a girl|
|As One Door Closes||1985-04-04||14.2m||The butterfly episode|
1985 Christmas special (90 minutes)
|To Hull and Back||1985-12-25||16.9m||Diamond smuggling from Holland|
Series Five (30 minute episodes)
|From Prussia With Love||1986-08-31||12.1m||The Trotters take in a pregnant German girl|
|The Miracle of Peckham||1986-09-07||14.2m||The weeping statue episode|
|The Longest Night||1986-09-14||16.7m||The supermarket hostages episode|
|Tea for Three||1986-09-21||16.5m||Paragliding Del|
|Video Nasty||1986-09-28||17.5m||Rodney is asked to make a film|
|Who Wants to be a Millionaire||1986-10-05||18.8m||Jumbo offers Del a new start down under|
1986 Christmas special (75 minutes)
|A Royal Flush||1986-12-25||18.8m||Rodney befriends an aristocrat's daughter|
1987 Christmas special (60 minutes)
|The Frog's Legacy||1987-12-25||14.5m||Del learns of a gold legacy left to him|
1988 Christmas special (80 minutes)
|Dates||1988-12-25||16.6m||Del meets Raquel|
Series Six (50 minute episodes)
|Yuppy Love||1989-01-08||13.9m||"Play it nice and cool son... know what I mean?"|
|Danger UXD||1989-01-15||16.1m||The Inflatable Dolls episode|
|Chain Gang||1989-01-22||16.3m||Del organises a big jewellery deal|
|The Unlucky Winner Is...||1989-01-29||17m||Rodney wins an art competition|
|Sickness And Wealth||1989-02-05||18.2m||Del's ill, Rodney's engaged to Cassandra|
|Little Problems||1989-02-12||18.9m||Rodney marries Cassandra|
1989 Christmas special (85 minutes)
|The Jolly Boys Outing||1989-12-25||20.1m||Del meets Raquel again|
1990 Christmas special (75 minutes)
|Rodney Come Home||1990-12-25||18m||Rodney and Cassandra split up|
Series Seven (50 minute episodes)
|The Sky's The Limit||1990-12-30||15m||Del nicks an air traffic control dish|
|The Chance Of A Lunchtime||1991-01-06||16.6m||Raquel's pregnant|
|Stage Fright||1991-01-13||16.6m||Del forms a singing duo|
|The Class of '62||1991-01-20||16.2m||Del attends a school reunion|
|He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle||1991-01-27||17.2m||Albert is mugged|
|Three Men, A Woman And A Baby||1991-02-03||18.9m||"It's a baby, Rodney"|
|Miami Twice (part one)||1991-12-24||17.7m||50 minutes|
|Miami Twice (part two)||1991-12-25||14.9m||95 minutes|
|Mother Nature's Son||1992-12-25||20.1m||65 minutes; the Peckham Spring episode|
|Fatal Extraction||1993-12-25||19.6m||85 minutes|
|Heroes and Villains||1996-12-25||21.3m||60 minutes; the Batman and Robin episode|
|Modern Men||1996-12-27||21.3m||60 minutes; Cassandra miscarries|
|Time On Our Hands||1996-12-29||24.3m||60 minutes; the Antique Watch episode|
|Comic Relief 1997 Sketch||1997-03-14||10 minutes; special appeal|
|If They Could See Us Now||2001-12-25||20.3m||71 minutes; broke again|
|Strangers on the Shore||2002-12-25||16.3m||75 minutes; the Illegal Immigrant episode|
|Sleepless in Peckham||2003-12-25||15.5m||75 minutes|
Most of these episodes have been released on VHS and DVD. The scripts, up to and including the 1997 Comic Relief sketch, have been published in three volumes as The Bible Of Peckham.
The Reliant van used by the Trotters is on display in the Star Cars exhibition at the National Motor Museum.
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