Only Fools and Horses is a British sitcom, created and written by the late John Sullivan. Seven series were originally broadcast on BBC One in the United Kingdom between 1981 and 1991, with sporadic Christmas specials until 2003. Episodes are regularly repeated on GOLD and occasionally repeated on BBC One.
The BBC sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, sets up the basic story of a family of rag-tag misfits called the Trotters.
Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, a fast-talking, archetypal cockney market trader, lives in a council flat in a high-rise tower block, Nelson Mandela House, in Peckham, South London with his much younger brother, Rodney, and their elderly Grandad. Their mother Joan died in 1964 when Rodney was young, and their father Reg absconded shortly after his wife's death, effectively making Del as Rodney's surrogate father and the family patriarch. Despite the difference in their ages, the brothers share a constant bond throughout.
The situation focuses primarily on their futile attempts to get rich - "This time next year, we'll be millionaires!" is a frequent saying of Del's - through buying and selling a variety of low-quality and illegal goods, such as Russian Army camcorders, luminous yellow paint, and sex dolls filled with an explosive gas. They own an unregistered company, Trotters Independent Traders, trade primarily on the black market and generally neither pay taxes nor claim money from the state; as Del says, "the government don't give us nothing, so we don't give the government nothing." Most of their deals are too dodgy to succeed and usually end up backfiring, an important factor in generating sympathy for the characters. They also drive a grubby three-wheeled van, and are regulars at their local pub, The Nag's Head.
Initially, Del, Rodney, and Grandad were the show's only regulars, but gradually the likes of dopey roadsweeper Trigger, snobbish used car salesman Boycie and his wife, Marlene, Nag's Head landlord Mike, youthful spiv Mickey Pearce, lorry driver Denzil, and grubby café owner Sid were added to the cast, becoming popular in their own right and contributing to the humour and the plots, although the show always centred around the Trotters.
As the series progressed, the scope of the plots expanded, leading to the larger regular cast, with writer John Sullivan unafraid to mix comedy with drama. Many early episodes were largely self-contained, with few plot-lines mentioned again, but the show developed a story arc and an ongoing episodic dimension. Grandad was killed off following the death of Lennard Pearce, and the Trotter Brothers' long-lost Uncle Albert emerged to restore the three generations line-up. After years of fruitless searching, both Del and Rodney found long-term love interests, in the form of actress Raquel Turner and rich evening school student Cassandra Parry respectively; Del also had a son with Raquel, Damien. Rodney and Cassandra married, separated, and then got back together again. Uncle Albert died. Cassandra miscarried, but then she and Rodney eventually had a daughter, Joan Trotter Jr.. Rodney found out his real father was gentleman thief Freddie the Frog. The Trotters finally became millionaires, before losing it again, and then gaining it back.
The humour comes from several sources. The interaction between Del and Rodney is key, with each an ideal comic foil for the other in both personality and appearance. Much is made of the traits of individual characters, such as Del's lack of cultural refinement, despite his pretensions, best seen in his misuse of French phrases or his claims to be a yuppy; Rodney's gormless nature, resulting in him being labelled a "plonker" or a "dipstick" by Del; the general daftness of Grandad and Trigger, and the rampant snobbery of Boycie. There are also several running gags, including Trigger's constant reference to Rodney as "Dave", Uncle Albert's "During the war..." anecdotes, Del's supposed long-time affair with Marlene, and the dilapidated Reliant Regal van.
Through its 64-episode run, this series took British audiences not only around cities in Britain, but also around the globe and to many different cities and countries: Benidorm, Spain; Amsterdam, Holland; Miami, Florida, and many more.
In 1980, John Sullivan, a scriptwriter under contract at the BBC, had already written the successful sitcom Citizen Smith. It had come to an end and he was searching for a new project. An initial idea for a comedy set in the world of football had already been rejected by the BBC, as had his alternative idea, a sitcom centering around a cockney market trader in working-class, modern-day London. The latter idea persisted. Through Ray Butt, a BBC producer and director whom Sullivan had met and become friends with when they were working on Citizen Smith, a draft script was shown to the Corporation's Head of Comedy, John Howard Davies. Davies commissioned Sullivan to write a full series. Sullivan believes the key factor in it being accepted was the success of ITV's new drama, Minder, a series with a similar premise and also set in modern-day London.
Sullivan had initially given the show the working title, Readies. For the actual title he intended to use, as a reference to the protagonist's tax and work-evading lifestyle, Only Fools and Horses. That name was based on a genuine, though very obscure saying, "why do only fools and horses work? (for a living)", which had its origins in 19th century American vaudeville. "Only Fools and Horses" had also been the title of an episode of Citizen Smith and Sullivan felt that a longer name would help to grab the viewers' attention. He was first overruled on the grounds that the audience would not understand the title, but he eventually got his way and, from the second series onwards, the theme music was changed to a version explaining the meaning of the saying; some first series episodes were subsequently re-edited to use the new theme.
Once casting for the Trotters began, John Howard Davies and Ray Butt were able to easily cast Nicholas Lyndhurst and Lennard Pearce as Rodney and Grandad, respectively. But the part of Del Boy was more difficult to cast. David Jason was a relatively late candidate for the part, with Jim Broadbent (who would later appear in a minor recurring role as Roy Slater), Enn Reitel, Robin Nedwell, and Billy Murray all earlier possibilities. It was only when Ray Butt saw a repeat of Open All Hours that Jason was considered and, despite initial concerns over his ability - at that point, Jason had not had a leading television role - and the fact that he and Lyndhurst did not look alike, he was cast.
Filming of the first series began in May 1981, and the first episode, "Big Brother", was transmitted on BBC1 at 8.30pm on September 8 that same year. It attracted a respectable, though unspectacular (by those days' standards) 9.2 million viewers and generally received a lukewarm response from critics. The viewing figures for the whole first series, which averaged at around 7 million, were considered mediocre, but owing to the BBC's policy of nurturing television shows, a second series was commissioned for 1982. The second series fared little better and the show was close to being cancelled altogether. However, both the first and second series then went out for a repeat run in a more low-key time slot but attracted respectable viewing figures in June 1983, which convinced Davies to commission a third series. From there, the show gradually built up a following, and began to top the television ratings. Series four saw viewing figures double those of Series 1.
During production for the fourth series in December 1984, Lennard Pearce died from a heart attack during the filming of the original fourth series opener "Hole in One", then shortly passed away. As filming was postponed until after Christmas, John Sullivan decided to write two new episodes: "Happy Returns" (the new fourth series opener) and "Strained Relations" (which gave Grandad a proper send-off, as well as introduce his younger brother, Albert, portrayed by Buster Merryfield).
Mid-way through the filming of the fifth series, David Jason told John Sullivan at a dinner that he wanted to leave the show in order to further his career elsewhere. Sullivan thus wrote "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", which was intended to be the final episode and would see Del accepting his friend Jumbo Mills' offer to set up business in Australia, leaving Rodney and Albert behind. Plans were made for a spin-off entitled Hot-Rod, following Rodney's attempts to survive on his own with help from Mickey Pearce, while leaving open the prospect of Del's return. Jason ultimately changed his mind, and the ending of the episode was changed to show Del rejecting the offer.
Sullivan had a tendency to write scripts that were too long, meaning pages of material had to be cut. Shortly before filming of the sixth series began, he requested that the show's time slot be extended and it was agreed to extend its running time to 50 minutes. This coincided with the show becoming one of the BBC's most popular programmes, according to producer Gareth Gwenlan, and allowed for more pathos in the series and an expansion of the regular cast.
The seventh series, which was to be the last, was aired in early 1991. Sullivan and the major actors were all involved with other projects, and it was confirmed that there were no plans for a new series. The show continued in Christmas specials in 1991, 1992, and 1993, followed by a three-year break. Sullivan wanted a "final" episode to tie up the show and see the Trotters finally become millionaires; this was later extended to three one hour episodes, all to be broadcast over Christmas 1996. All three were well received, and given the happy ending it was widely assumed that they were to be the last. After a five-year break, however, the show returned again in 2001 with another Christmas special, followed by two more in 2002 and 2003. There are currently no further plans for Only Fools and Horses to return, though a fan fiction community continues to exist. On February 10, 2008, Sullivan said in an interview with The Daily Star Sunday that he plans never to bring back Del. He said, "There will not be another series of Only Fools and Horses. I can say that. We had our day, it was wonderful but it is best to leave it now."
Sixty-four episodes of Only Fools and Horses, all written by John Sullivan, were broadcast on BBC1 between September 8 1981 and December 25 2003. The show was aired in seven series (1981–1983, 1985–1986, 1989 and 1990-1991), and thereafter in sporadic Christmas special editions (1991–1993, 1996, 2001–2003). All of the earlier episodes had a running time of 30 minutes, but this was extended after the fifth series (1986), and all subsequent episodes had a running time ranging from 50 to 95 minutes. Most episodes were shot in front of a live audience or had a laugh track recorded from a live audience viewing; the only exceptions being "To Hull and Back", "A Royal Flush", and the second part of "Miami Twice".
Five special editions were produced, some of which have only recently been rediscovered. An eight-minute episode called "Christmas Trees" aired in 1982 as part of a show hosted by Frank Muir, The Funny Side of Christmas, in which mini-episodes of Yes Minister, Open All Hours, Butterflies, and Last of the Summer Wine also featured. A five-minute spoof BBC documentary called "White Mice" was shown on Breakfast Time in December 1985, with Del being investigated by consumer expert Lynn Faulds Wood and a Radio Times promotional mini episode before it.
An educational episode named "Licensed to Drill", in which Del Boy, Rodney, and Grandad discuss oil drilling, was filmed in 1984 but only shown in schools. A 15 minute 1990–1991 Gulf War special called "The Robin Flies at Dawn" was shown to British troops serving in the conflict. It has never been broadcast commercially, but a copy exists at the Imperial War Museum, London. A Comic Relief Special showing Del, Rodney, and Albert making an appeal for donations was shown in March 1997.
Only Fools and Horses had two producers: Ray Butt from 1981 to 1987, and Gareth Gwenlan from 1988 to 2003. Five directors were used: Martin Shardlow directed all episodes in Series 1, Susan Belbin for Series 4, and Mandie Fletcher for Series 5. Butt directed Series 2 and 3, as well as the 1985, 1986, and 1987 Christmas specials. Tony Dow became the established director from 1988 to 2003, directing all subsequent episodes. John Sullivan was executive producer on seven of the final eight episodes.
Series 1 (1981)
The first series introduces not only the Trotters, but also Trigger and Boycie as well. Though it got very low ratings, the episodes were pretty good.
- Big Brother
- Go West Young Man
- Cash and Curry
- The Second Time Around
- A Slow Bus To Chingford
- The Russians Are Coming
- Christmas Crackers
Series 2 (1982)
The second series picked up story-wise with classic moments such as Grandad dropping the wrong chandelier, and Del outcheating Boycie at poker.
- The Long Legs of the Law
- Ashes to Ashes
- A Losing Streak
- No Greater Love
- The Yellow Peril
- It Never Rains...
- A Touch of Glass
- Christmas Trees
- Diamonds Are For Heather
Series 3 (1983-1984)
The third series greatly expanded the show's scope and cast, introducing Mickey Pearce, Denzil, Mike, and DCI Roy Slater.
- Healthy Competition
- Friday the 14th
- Yesterday Never Comes
- May The Force Be With You
- Who's a Pretty Boy?
- Thicker than Water
- Licensed to Drill
Series 4 (1985)
When Lennard Pearce and Grandad both passed away, Uncle Albert joined the Trotter Brothers in more of their hilarious adventures in the fourth series. This series also featured the very first feature-length Only Fools and Horses Christmas special.
- Happy Returns
- Strained Relations
- Hole in One
- It's Only Rock and Roll
- Sleeping Dogs Lie
- Watching the Girls Go By
- As One Door Closes
- Radio Times
- White Mice
- To Hull and Back
Series 5 (1986-1987)
The fifth series almost became the final Only Fools and Horses series when David Jason wanted to leave, thus forcing John Sullivan to write Del out of the series. But Jason soon changed his mind and the quality didn't suffer.
- From Prussia With Love
- The Miracle of Peckham
- The Longest Night
- Tea for Three
- Video Nasty
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
- Royal Variety Show
- A Royal Flush
- The Frog's Legacy
Series 6 (1988-1989)
Great things came about for the show: Del had swapped his camel coat for a green trenchcoat and red yuppy braces, Rodney was about ready to leave the flat, and Sullivan also introduced permanent love interests for the Trotter Brothers in Raquel and Cassandra, respectively. The sixth series (as well as the seventh series) was no longer a bunch of stand-alone episodes like the previous series, but rather had of its episodes connected together to make one big episode arc.
- Yuppy Love
- Danger UXD
- Chain Gang
- The Unlucky Winner Is...
- Sickness and Wealth
- Little Problems
- The Jolly Boys' Outing
Series 7 (1990-1993)
The seventh series was the last regular Only Fools and Horses series, as it ended with the birth of Damien, Del and Raquel's son. From there on, the series was broadcast in Christmas specials, until the cast and crew took a three-year break until 1996.
- The Robin Flies at Dawn
- Rodney Come Home
- The Sky's the Limit
- The Chance of a Lunchtime
- Stage Fright
- The Class of '62
- He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle
- Three Men, a Woman, and a Baby
- Miami Twice
- Mother Nature's Son
- Fatal Extraction
1996 Christmas Trilogy
After a three-year break, the Trotters returned to television screens across Britain to finally achieve their dreams of becoming millionaires.
Early 2000s Christmas Trilogy (2001-2003)
Five years after they became millionaires, the Trotters return in a new trilogy, which was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans alike.
Sport Relief (2014)
Ten years later, the Trotters meet David Beckham in a sketch for Sport Relief.