Only Fools and Horses

Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses
Only fools logo.jpg
Title screen
Genre Sitcom
Created by John Sullivan
Written by John Sullivan
Directed by Martin Shardlow (1981)
Bernard Thompson (1981)
Ray Butt (1982–83, 1985, 1986–87)
Susan Belbin (1985)
Mandie Fletcher (1986)
Tony Dow (1988–2003)
Starring David Jason
Nicholas Lyndhurst
Lennard Pearce
Buster Merryfield
Roger Lloyd Pack
John Challis
Paul Barber
Tessa Peake-Jones
Gwyneth Strong
Patrick Murray
Sue Holderness
Theme music composer John Sullivan
Opening theme "Only Fools and Horses"
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 64 + 7 Shorts (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Ray Butt (1981–87)
Bernard Thompson (1981)
Gareth Gwenlan (1988–1993, 1996, 2001–03)
John Sullivan (1991–2003)
Location(s) Peckham, London, England;
(main setting)
Bristol, England;
(specials only)
Weston-super-Mare, England (specials only)
Running time Regular episodes
Seasons 1–5: 30 minutes per episode
Seasons 6 & 7: 50 minutes per episode

Christmas specials
35–95 minutes
Production company(s) BBC
Distributor BBC Worldwide
Original channel BBC One
Picture format 576i (4:3 SDTV) (1981–96)
576i (16:9 SDTV) (2001–03)
Original run 8 September 1981 (1981-09-08) – 25 December 2003 (2003-12-25)
Followed by The Green Green Grass (2005–09)
Rock & Chips (2010–11)

Only Fools and Horses is a British sitcom, created and written by 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.

Set in Peckham in south London, it stars David Jason as ambitious market trader Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, Nicholas Lyndhurst as his younger brother Rodney, and Lennard Pearce as their ageing grandfather. After Pearce's death in 1984 his character was replaced by Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield). Backed by a strong supporting cast, the series chronicles their highs and lows in life, in particular their attempts to get rich.

After a relatively slow start the show went on to achieve consistently high ratings, and the 1996 episode "Time On Our Hands" holds the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode, attracting 24.3 million viewers (over a third of the population).[1] Critically and popularly acclaimed, the series received numerous awards, including recognition from BAFTA, the National Television Awards and the Royal Television Society, as well as winning individual accolades for both Sullivan and Jason.[2] It was voted Britain's Best Sitcom in a 2004 BBC poll.[3]

The series had an impact on English culture, contributing several words and phrases to the English language. It spawned an extensive range of merchandise, including books, DVDs, toys and board games. A spin-off series, The Green Green Grass, ran for four series in the UK. A prequel, Rock & Chips, ran for three specials in 2011.



Derek "Del Boy" Trotter (played by David Jason), 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 – though it was actually filmed in Harlech Tower in Acton and later Bristol – with his much younger brother, Rodney Trotter (Nicholas Lyndhurst), and their elderly Grandad (Lennard Pearce).[4] Their mother Joan died when Rodney was young, and their father Reg absconded shortly after his wife's death, meaning Del effectively became Rodney's surrogate father and the family patriarch. Despite the difference in their ages, the brothers share a constant bond throughout.[5]

The situation focuses primarily on their futile attempts to become millionaires through questionable get rich quick schemes and by 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, based in a grubby three-wheeled Reliant van, 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".[5]

Initially, Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad were the show's only regulars, along with the occasional appearances of dopey roadsweeper Trigger (Roger Lloyd Pack) and pretentious used car salesman Boycie (John Challis). Over time, the cast expanded, mostly in the form of regulars at the local pub The Nag's Head. These included pub landlord Mike (Kenneth MacDonald), lorry driver Denzil (Paul Barber), youthful spiv Mickey Pearce (Patrick Murray) and Boycie's flirtatious wife Marlene (Sue Holderness). Although the show still centred around the Trotter family, these characters became popular in their own right, contributing to the plots and humour.[5]

As the series progressed, the scope of the plots expanded which saw comedy often mixed 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. The character of Grandad was killed off following the death of Lennard Pearce, and his long-lost brother Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield) emerged to restore the three generations line-up.[4] After years of fruitless searching, both Del and Rodney found long-term love, in the form of Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong) respectively; Del also had a son with Raquel, Damien (played by five actors, most recently Ben Smith). Rodney and Cassandra married, separated and then got back together again. Cassandra miscarried, but then she and Rodney eventually had a baby. Rodney found out who his real father was. The Trotters finally became millionaires, before losing it again, and then gaining some of 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 belief that Rodney's name is actually Dave, Uncle Albert's "during the war..." anecdotes, Del's supposed long-time affair with Marlene and the dilapidated Reliant Regal van.[4]


The original Only Fools and Horses line-up of (l-r) Grandad (Lennard Pearce), Del Boy (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) lasted from 1981–1984.

In 1980, John Sullivan, a scriptwriter under contract at the BBC, had already written the successful sit-com 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 sit-com centring around a cockney market trader in working-class, modern-day London. The latter idea persisted.[6] 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 believed 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.

Filming of the first series began in May 1981, and the first episode, "Big Brother", was transmitted on BBC1 at 8.30 pm on 8 September that year. It attracted a respectable, though unspectacular (by those days' standards) 9.2 million viewers[9] and generally received a lukewarm response from critics.[10] The viewing figures for the whole first series, which averaged at around 7 million, were considered mediocre[4] 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 had a repeat run in June 1983 in a more low-key time slot, but attracted respectable viewing figures, which convinced Davies to commission a third series.[11] From there, the show gradually built up a following, and began to top the television ratings. Viewing figures for the fourth series were double those of the first.[12]

Mid-way through the filming of the fifth series, David Jason told Sullivan that he wished 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 a friend's offer to set up business in Australia, leaving Rodney and Albert behind. Plans were made for a spin-off entitled Hot-Rod, which would have followed Rodney's attempts to survive on his own with help from Mickey Pearce, but leaving open the prospect of Del's return. Jason then changed his mind, and the ending of the episode was changed to show Del rejecting the offer.[13]

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, [14] 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.[15] 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,[16] though a fan fiction community continues to exist.[17] In an interview with the Daily Star Sunday on 10 February 2008, Sullivan was quoted as saying: "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."[18]

Main cast

The second line-up of Rodney, Del, and Uncle Albert lasted from 1985–1997.

Del Boy (David Jason) — A stereotypical market trader and petty criminal, Del would sell anything to anyone to earn money, including stolen goods, and was the driving force behind the Trotters' attempts to become rich. Sharp-witted, image-conscious and self-confident, but lacking in the required nous to realise his high ambitions, he was invariably a failure. Del's cultural pretensions, best seen in his use of inaccurate French phrases (such as using Bonjour to say goodbye), were equally wanting. He nonetheless had endearing features, especially his "lovable loser" qualities and his devotion and loyalty to his family, which saw him take care of Rodney and Grandad on his own from the age of 16. However, this gave him a tendency to emotionally blackmail Rodney with the memories of their mother, often trying to manipulate him with the line "Mum said to me on her death bed..." He also tried to interfere with his brother's personal life, much to the latter's annoyance. Ostensibly popular with women – his poor choice in women was another running gag – Del never settled down with one until he met Raquel, with whom he had a son, Damien.

Sullivan later said he had always been fascinated by the unlicensed traders who sold goods from suitcases, and it was them on which he based Del Boy. David Jason himself added elements to the part, including Del's cheap gold jewellery and his camel-hair coat. The inspiration was taken from a similar man he had known when working as an electrician.[4] Jason was a relatively late candidate for the part, with Jim Broadbent (who would later appear in a minor recurring role as DCI Roy Slater), Enn Reitel and Billy Murray all earlier preferences. It was only when producer 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.[19]

Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) — The ideal comic foil for Del Boy in numerous ways: naive, much younger and easily-influenced, more academically gifted, although only to the extent of two GCEs, but generally gormless and lacking in common sense. Effectively orphaned when young, Rodney was raised by Del. His principal job throughout the show was as Del's lackey and sidekick, whose duties included looking out for policemen at the market and cleaning the van. Much of the conflict between the two came from Rodney's dislike of his reliance on Del, and his unsuccessful attempts to gain greater independence through girlfriends or by setting up his own businesses; he was only partially successful after marrying Cassandra and briefly going to work for her father. In contrast to Del Boy, the part of Rodney was cast early, with Lyndhurst settled on quickly. Sullivan partly based Rodney on his own experiences; he, too, had a much older sibling and, like Rodney, claims to have been a dreamer and an idealist in his youth.[20]

Grandad (Lennard Pearce) — Del and Rodney's elderly grandad was added to the cast to balance the three distinct generations, adding the voice of experience to the situation. In casting the role of Grandad, Sullivan had in mind an actor similar to Wilfrid Brambell, who had played Albert Steptoe in Steptoe and Son, although chose not to use Brambell himself, thinking him too closely associated with Steptoe. After seeing Pearce's audition, Sullivan settled on casting him immediately.[7] Scruffy and daft, although sometimes displaying a razor sharp wit, Grandad rarely left the flat or even moved from his armchair in front of two television sets. Despite his age he was invariably treated as a dogsbody by Del and Rodney, often being assigned mundane jobs around the flat such as cooking meals. Pearce died in 1984 whilst filming the series four episode "Hole in One" (several scenes were subsequently re-shot with Buster Merryfield)[21] and Sullivan thus wrote a new episode, "Strained Relations", which featured Grandad's funeral.

Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield) — Shortly after the death of Lennard Pearce it was decided that a new older family member should be brought in, which eventually led to "Uncle Albert", Grandad's long-lost brother. Merryfield was an inexperienced amateur actor at the time, but was selected because he appeared to fit the description of an old sailor, especially with his distinctive white "Captain Birdseye" beard.[22] Albert first appeared at Grandad's funeral, and eventually moved in with Del and Rodney. Although he claims never to talk about his past, his long-winded anecdotes about his wartime experiences with the Royal Navy became one of the show's running gags, usually begun with the words "During the war..." which resulted in gentle mocking from his great-nephews. He was also frequently seen stealing Del's brandy. When Merryfield died in 1999, Albert's death was written into the next episode.

Trigger (Roger Lloyd Pack) — Trigger, apparently so called because he looks like a horse, was the principal supporting character throughout the show's run; only Del Boy and Rodney appeared in more episodes. Lloyd Pack was cast by pure chance; Ray Butt, who hired him to portray Trigger after seeing him in a stage play, had only attended that play to observe potential Del Boy actor Billy Murray.[23] Initially portrayed as a small-time thief, supplying Del with dubious goods, Trigger's place in the series changed over time. A daft road sweeper most frequently seen in the Nag's Head, he came to adopt the 'village idiot' role, drawing laughs in each of his scenes through his general stupidity, in particular his unshakable belief that Rodney's real name was actually Dave.

Del Boy (right) with friends Boycie (left) and Trigger.

Boycie (John Challis) — A shady used car salesman and a frightful snob with a machine gun laugh who "thinks anyone with a pound less than him is a peasant", according to Rodney in "Fatal Extraction". Boycie made sporadic appearances in earlier series before becoming a regular cast member from series 5 onwards. Boycie, a Freemason, was very self-centred and prone to boasting about his high social status and mocking those less fortunate than himself, particularly Del Boy. Del in turn teased him for being a "jaffa" (seedless) when it emerged that he had a low sperm count. Challis had played a similar character in an episode of Citizen Smith. Sullivan liked him, and promised to cast him in a future series, which led to Boycie.[24] Boycie later featured in a spin-off series, The Green Green Grass, starting in 2005, in which he and his wife Marlene fled to the countryside from a criminal gang.

Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones) — Raquel was introduced because Sullivan wanted more female characters and for Del to start meeting more mature women.[25] Her first appearance, in "Dates", was intended to be a one-off, but she was written in again a year later and thereafter became a permanent cast member. An ambitious trained singer and actress whose career never took off, she met Del through a dating agency, but they fell out over her part-time job as a stripper, before getting together again. This time she moved in with Del, helping to mellow him, and they had a son together, named Damien. As the character unfolded, it was revealed that she was previously married to Del's nemesis, DCI Roy Slater. Del Boy introduces her as "my significant other".

Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong) — The intelligent daughter of a successful middle-class businessman, Cassandra first met Rodney in "Yuppy Love". Their relationship blossomed, and by the end of series six the two had married. But her high career ambitions brought her into conflict with Rodney, and their troubled marriage was one of the main storylines of the seventh series. They were eventually reconciled and in later episodes she was markedly less ambitious. The relationship with Rodney ultimately grew stronger after Cassandra suffered a miscarriage and later gave birth to a daughter.

Marlene (Sue Holderness) — Marlene was initially just an unseen character, occasionally mentioned by her husband, Boycie. She was a cheerful, slightly daffy woman whose burning, and seemingly unattainable, desire to have a child provided one of the show's earlier "soap opera" sub-plots. Details were occasionally revealed about Marlene's prior reputation as being popular with the local men; there was a consistent undercurrent of an affair between her and Del. She did finally have a son, Tyler. Questions over the latter's paternity, owing to Marlene's reputation and Boycie's impotence, were a recurring gag.

Denzil (Paul Barber) — Originally cast because Sullivan wanted Del to have had a black friend from his school days, easy-going Liverpudlian Denzil was often on the receiving end of Del's scams. His inability to say no to Del's business deals frequently led to conflict with his domineering wife, Corrine (Eva Mottley), who was only sighted once, in "Who's a Pretty Boy?". Sullivan had planned to bring Corrine back for more episodes, but after Mottley's death in 1985 opted to make her an unseen character rather than use another actress.[26]

Mickey Pearce (Patrick Murray) — Mickey was a young, obnoxious spiv and friend of Rodney's, known for his ludicrous boasts about his success in business or with women, and for frequently taking advantage of Rodney's gullibility. Other jokes around Mickey were his rapid turnover of jobs, and the fact that he sported the pork-pie hat and suit of the 2 tone/ska scene, which was popular during the 1980s, well into the 2000s.

Mike (Kenneth MacDonald) — The landlord of the Nag's Head, although not from the very beginning; his predecessor was never seen, with just a succession of barmaids providing service. Good natured and somewhat gullible, he was often targeted by Del as a potential customer for any goods he was selling. Del's unpaid bar tab was the cause of conflict between the two, but Mike rarely succeeded in getting him to pay up. When Kenneth MacDonald died in 2001, a storyline involving Mike's imprisonment for attempting to embezzle the brewery was written, and cafe owner Sid took over as pub landlord.

Damien (various) — Damien was Del and Raquel's son. It was Rodney's mocking suggestion that he be named after the Devil's child in The Omen; the couple took the suggestion seriously. The Omen joke and Rodney's apparent fear of Damien became a running gag (accompanied, not, in fact, by Jerry Goldsmith's original music from the film in question, but by its invariable stand-in, the "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana"). Six actors played Damien: Patrick McManus (1991), Grant Stevens (1991), Robert Liddement (1992), Jamie Smith (1993–96), Douglas Hodge (1996, as adult), and Ben Smith (2001–03).

Sid (Roy Heather) — Sid made sporadic appearances throughout the show's run, mainly as the proprietor of the run-down and unhygienic local cafe, which was shot in different locations, depending on the episode. After Nag's Head landlord Mike was imprisoned for embezzlement in the episode "If They Could See Us Now", Sid took over and kept that role for the remainder of the series.

Minor cast

The most frequent roles for guest actors in Only Fools and Horses were as Del or Rodney's once-seen girlfriends, barmaids at the Nag's Head, or individuals the Trotters were doing business with. Del and Rodney's deceased mother, Joan, though never seen, cropped up in Del's embellished accounts of her, or in his attempts to emotionally blackmail Rodney. Her grave – a flamboyant monument – was seen occasionally. Their absent father, Reg, appeared once in "Thicker Than Water" (played by Peter Woodthorpe), before leaving under a cloud, never to be seen again. Other members of the Trotter family were rarely sighted, the exceptions being the woman they believe to be Auntie Rose (Beryl Cooke) in "The Second Time Around", and cousins Stan and Jean (Mike Kemp and Maureen Sweeney), who attended Grandad's funeral. When Rodney met Cassandra, her parents Alan and Pamela (Denis Lill and Wanda Ventham) became casually recurring characters.

In some episodes a guest character was essential to the plot. Del's ex-fiancee Pauline (Jill Baker) dominated Del's libido in "The Second Time Around", prompting Rodney and Grandad to leave. In "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", Del's old business partner Jumbo Mills (Nick Stringer) wanted Del to return to Australia with him and restore their partnership, forcing Del to make a decision. An attempt by Lennox (Vas Blackwood) to rob a local supermarket set-up the "hostage" situation in "The Longest Night". Del and Rodney spent the whole of "Tea for Three" battling each other for the affections of Trigger's niece Lisa (Gerry Cowper). Abdul (Tony Anholt) in "To Hull and Back" and Arnie (Philip McGough) in "Chain Gang" were responsible for setting up dubious enterprises involving the Trotters in their respective episodes. Tony Angelino (Philip Pope), the singing dustman with a speech impediment, was the key to the humour and the storyline of "Stage Fright".

Del's nemesis from his school days, corrupt policeman DCI Roy Slater (played by Academy Award-winner Jim Broadbent), made three appearances, in "May The Force Be With You", "To Hull and Back" and "Class of '62". Feared local villains, the Driscoll Brothers (Roy Marsden and Christopher Ryan) featured once, in "Little Problems", but were mentioned in two previous episodes ("Video Nasty" and "The Frog's Legacy"), and have also featured in "Green Green Grass". In a play on Rodney's light-hearted perception of him being the spawn of the devil, a grown-up Damien (Douglas Hodge) appeared in Rodney's futuristic dream in "Heroes and Villains", as the all-powerful, war-mongering head of the now multi-national Trotters Independent Traders. Rodney and Mickey's friends, the smooth-talking Jevon (Steven Woodcock) and then, briefly, Chris (Tony Marshall), a ladies' hairdresser, featured sporadically during the sixth and seventh series. The two-part 1991 Christmas special, "Miami Twice", saw Richard Branson and Barry Gibb make brief cameo appearances. Mike Read appeared as himself, hosting an episode of "Top Of The Pops", in "It's Only Rock and Roll" and Jonathan Ross appeared as himself in "If They Could See Us Now".

While their characters were less significant, well-known actors who played cameos in the programme included Joan Sims, best known for her numerous roles in the Carry On films, who guest-starred in the feature-length episode "The Frog's Legacy" as an aunt of Trigger and old friend of Del's late mother; future Hollywood star David Thewlis, who played a young wannabe musician in "It's Only Rock and Roll"; John Bardon, who played the role of Jim Branning in the soap opera "EastEnders", as the supermarket security officer in "The Longest Night". Walter Sparrow, who appeared as Dirty Barry in "Danger UXD", went on to appear in several Hollywood films.[27]


Sixty-three episodes of Only Fools and Horses, all written by John Sullivan, were broadcast on BBC1 between 8 September 1981 and 25 December 2003.[28][29] The show was aired in seven series (1981–83, 1985–86, 1989 and 1990/91), and thereafter in sporadic Christmas special editions (1991–93, 1996, 2001–03). All of the earlier episodes had a running time of 30 minutes, but this was extended after Series Six (1989), 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.[30][31] An eight-minute episode 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 (in which Jason also starred), Butterflies (in which Lyndhurst also starred), The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Last of the Summer Wine also featured. A 5 minute spoof BBC documentary was shown on Breakfast Time in 1985, with Del being investigated by consumer expert Lynn Faulds Wood.

An educational episode named "Licensed to Drill", in which Del, Rodney and Grandad discuss oil drilling, was recorded in 1984 but only shown in schools.[32] A 15 minute 1990–91 Persian Gulf War special 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.[33] A Comic Relief special showing Del, Rodney and Albert making an appeal for donations was shown in 1997.

Only Fools and Horses had two producers: Ray Butt from 1981 to 1987, and Gareth Gwenlan thereafter. Seven directors were used: Martin Shardlow directed all episodes in series one, Bernard Thompson directed the 1981 Christmas special, Susan Belbin series four and Mandie Fletcher series five. Butt directed series two and three, as well as the 1985, 1986 and 1987 Christmas specials. Tony Dow became the established director after 1988, directing all subsequent episodes, bar the first part of Miami Twice, which was directed by Gareth Gwenlan.[34] John Sullivan was executive producer on seven of the final eight episodes.[35]


Del Boy's fall through an open bar-flap in "Yuppy Love" (BBC video clip) became one of the show's iconic moments.

Only Fools and Horses was relatively unsuccessful when it began, but it gradually built up a following and became one of the UK's most popular sit-coms. It was among the ten most-watched television shows of the year in the UK in 1986,[36] 1989,[37] 1990,[38] 1991,[39] 1992,[40] 1993,[41] 1996,[42] 2001,[43] 2002[44] and 2003.[45] The 1996 Christmas trilogy of "Heroes and Villains", "Modern Men" and "Time On Our Hands" saw the show's peak. The first two attracted 21.3 million viewers,[46][47] while the third episode – at the time believed to be the final one – got 24.3 million,[48] a record audience for a British sit-com.[1] Repeat episodes also attract millions of viewers,[49] and the BBC has received criticism for repeating the show too often.[50][51]

Only Fools and Horses won the BAFTA award for best comedy series in 1986, 1989 and 1997, was nominated in 1984, 1987, 1990, 1991 and 1992, and won the audience award in 2004. David Jason received individual BAFTAs for his portrayal of Del Boy in 1991 and 1997. The series won a National Television Award in 1997 for most popular comedy series; Jason won two individual awards, in 1997 and 2002. It won the RTS best comedy award in 1997, best BBC sit-com at the 1990 British Comedy Awards, and two Television and Radio Industries Club Awards for comedy programme of the year in 1984 and 1997. John Sullivan won the Writers' Guild of Great Britain comedy award for the 1996 Christmas trilogy and another from the Heritage Foundation in 2001.[2]

The show regularly features in polls to find the most popular comedy series, moments and characters. It was voted Britain's Best Sitcom in a 2004 BBC viewer's poll,[3] and came 45th in the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.[52] It was 3rd on a subsequent viewers' poll on the BFI website.[53] Empire magazine ranked Only Fools and Horses #42 on their list of the 50 greatest television shows of all time.[54] It was also named the funniest British sit-com of all time through a scientific formula, in a study by GOLD.[55] Scenes such as Del Boy's fall through a bar flap in "Yuppy Love" and the Trotters accidentally smashing a priceless chandelier in "A Touch of Glass" have become iconic British comedy moments, invariably topping polls of comedy viewers.[56][57][58][59] Del Boy was voted the most popular British television character of all time in a survey by Open....[60] and came fourth in a Channel 4 list of Britain's best-loved television characters.[61] A Onepoll survey found that Only Fools and Horses was the television series Britons would most like to see return.[62]

Theme music and titles

The images peeling away was conceived as a metaphor for the Trotters' lifestyle

John Sullivan wrote the theme music for Only Fools and Horses when he wrote the first series, but the producers opted instead for an instrumental, saxophone-led tune composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst, who had also arranged the themes for other BBC sit-coms, such as Yes Minister and Last of the Summer Wine. However, Sullivan was unhappy with this, so for the second series he persuaded the BBC to use his own compositions instead, partly because the new lyrics would explain the obscure title, which had been the subject of viewers' questions to the BBC during the first series.[8]

The first series was subsequently re-edited to use the new theme songs, though the first episode, "Big Brother", is still sometimes repeated with the original Hazlehurst music intact,[63] as is the 1981 Christmas special. The current DVD release of Series One, however, replaces the theme music on all seven episodes. The original theme music is still used in the first episode during a montage in which Del unsuccessfully conducts business throughout Peckham whilst trying to find Rodney.

The lyrics to the established themes contain both slang and references to British culture, and describe elements of the show. The opening lyrics include "stick a pony in my pocket", pony being London slang for 25 pounds sterling;[64] "fetch the suitcase from the van" and "where it all comes from is a mystery", all references to the Trotters' shady, cash-only business. It ends with the title lyric, "why do only fools and horses work?" The closing theme follows suit, describing the dubious goods that the Trotters specialise in, from "miles and miles of carpet tiles" to "Trevor Francis tracksuits"; Francis was an English football player during the 1970s and 1980s. These are "from a mush in Shepherd's Bush"; mush is slang for a man whose name is unknown and Shepherd's Bush is a west London district.[64] The line "no income tax, no VAT" summarises their outlook, before closing with the refrain "God bless Hooky Street". Hooky is British slang for something stolen or which has been acquired illegally.[64]

Both songs are performed by Sullivan, and not – as is sometimes thought – by Nicholas Lyndhurst.[65] Sullivan had intended for Chas & Dave to sing it, since they were an act associated with Cockney-style music, but they were unavailable having just recorded a hit record with "Ain't No Pleasing You", so he was persuaded to do it himself by Ray Butt.[66] The new theme was also arranged by Hazlehurst. Chas & Dave did later contribute to the show, performing "Down to Margate", the closing credits song for "The Jolly Boys' Outing".

The opening credits see images of the three principal actors peel on and off the screen sequentially like adhesive labels. These appear over a background of still photographs of everyday life in South London, including a used car lot and a tower block. The sequence was conceived by graphic designer, Peter Clayton, as a "metaphor for the vagaries of the Trotters' lifestyle", whereby money was earned and quickly lost again. The action was shot manually frame by frame, and took around six weeks to complete.[67]

As the series progressed, the sequence was occasionally updated with new footage, but it only ever featured Del, Rodney and either Grandad or Uncle Albert. The 2001–2003 trilogy featured just Del and Rodney. In total, the shots of Del and Rodney were updated three times during the series' run to reflect their ageing, whilst Grandad and Uncle Albert only ever received one version each during their run. The 2001–2003 Christmas specials used the same titles sequences but rendered for broadcast in the now standard 16:9 ratio widescreen.

The closing credits for the programme varied series by series. The first series used peeling labels featuring the names of the cast and crew, mirroring the opening sequence, but these had to be updated with every new episode, making the process very time-consuming; from the second series the credits switched to a standard rolling format. Towards the end of the run they settled on a uniform style with the typeface Dom Casual scrolling against a freeze frame of the final scene which faded to a plain black background.[67] Despite strict BBC crediting guidelines in place by the time the most recent episodes screened, the programme was able to enjoy unedited closing credits and the full version of the theme song.

Cultural impact

A replica of the Trotters' Reliant Regal.

Despite its mainstream popularity, Only Fools and Horses has also developed a cult following, The Only Fools and Horses Appreciation Society, established in 1993, has a membership of around 6,000,[68] publishes a quarterly newsletter, Hookie Street, and organises annual conventions of fans, usually attended by cast members. The Society has also organised an Only Fools and Horses museum, containing props from the series, including Del's camel-hair coat and the Trotters' Ford Capri.[69] It was named one of the top 20 cult television programmes of all-time by TV critic Jeff Evans. Evans spoke of:

"[shows] such as Only Fools and Horses, which gets tremendous viewing figures but does inspire conventions of fans who meet in pubs called the Nag's Head and wander round dressed as their favourite characters"[70]

Only Fools and Horses – and consequently John Sullivan – is credited with the popularisation in Britain of several words and phrases used by Del Boy regularly, particularly "Plonker",[71] meaning a fool or an idiot, and two expressions of delight or approval: "Cushty"[71] and "Lovely jubbly". The latter was borrowed from an advertising slogan for an obscure 1960s orange juice drink, called Jubbly, which was packaged in a pyramid shaped, waxed paper carton. Sullivan remembered it and thought it was an expression Del Boy would use; in 2003, the phrase was incorporated into the new Oxford English Dictionary.[72] Other British slang words commonly used and popularised in the series include "dipstick", "wally" and "twonk", all mild ways of calling someone an idiot.

Owing to its exposure on Only Fools and Horses, the Reliant Regal van is now often linked with the show in the British media.[73][74][75] The one used by the Trotters has attained cult status and is currently on display at the Cars of the Stars exhibition at the National Motor Museum, alongside many other vehicles from British and American television and movies, such as the Batmobile and the DeLorean from Back to the Future.[76] Boxer Ricky Hatton, a fan of the show, purchased one of the original vans in 2004.[77] Another of the vans used in the series was sold at auction in the UK for £44,000 in February 2007.[78]

During the media frenzy surrounding The Independent's revelations that the new bottled water Dasani, marketed by Coca-Cola, was in fact just purified tap water from Sidcup, mocking parallels were made with the Only Fools and Horses episode, "Mother Nature's Son", in which Del sells tap water as "Peckham Spring".[79]

Other media

Four episodes were subsequently re-edited for radio and first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 over June and July 1999.[80][81] The episodes included were "The Long Legs of the Law", "A Losing Streak", "No Greater Love" and "The Yellow Peril". These episodes and three other audio box-sets have since been released on audio cassette and CD.

In 1988, Only Fools and Horses featured at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. The plot saw David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Buster Merryfield appear on stage in character, thinking that they are delivering boxes of alcohol to an associate of Del's, only later realising where they actually are. The idea of an Only Fools and Horses stage show was mooted by Ray Butt, following the success of other sit-com crossovers such as Dad's Army and Are You Being Served?. Sullivan wasn't keen, owing to his inexperience with the theatre, and the enterprise was deemed too time-consuming, so nothing came of it.[11]

International remakes

Only Fools and Horses was sold to countries throughout the world. Australia, Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Israel, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Pakistan, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa and Spain are among those who purchased it.[82] In all countries in which ex-Serbo-Croatian is spoken the title was "Mućke" (or "Мућке" in Cyrillic script), which can roughly be translated as "shady deals." Three overseas re-makes have also been produced. The first was in The Netherlands, entitled Wat schuift't? (What's it worth?). The Trotters were renamed the Aarsmans, it starred Johnny Kraaykamp jnr. as Stef (Del), Sacco Van der Made as Grandad and Kasper van Kooten as Robbie (Rodney), and was shown on RTL 4.[83]

The second country to re-make the show is Portugal, with their version named O Fura-Vidas, a local expression for someone who lives outside the law. It was a literal translation of the British version, with all episodes based on the originals, with only minor changes. It centred around the Fintas family, who live in Sapadores, a neighbourhood in Lisbon, and starred Miguel Guilherme as Quim (Del), Canto e Castro as Grandad, and Ivo Canelas as Joca (Rodney).[84]

The third country to re-make the show is Slovenia; their version is called Brat bratu (Brother to brother). All episodes were based on the original British storylines, and it was made in co-operation with John Sullivan. It features brothers Brane (Brane Šturbej) and Bine (Jure Drevenšek), who moved from Maribor to Ljubljana. The series also stars Peter Ternovšek as Grandad. It was directed by Branko Đurić. The series was cancelled after thirteen episodes were aired due to poor ratings.

There have been several plans to produce an American version. One was to be a star vehicle for former M*A*S*H* actor Harry Morgan, with Grandad rather than Del becoming the lead character.[85] The other, entitled This Time Next Year..., would have seen the Trotters renamed the Flannagans. A draft script was written for the latter,[86] but neither show materialised. Steve Carell, star of the US version of The Office, has expressed an interest in making an American version of Only Fools and Horses, with him to star as Del Boy.[87]

Only Fools and Horses featured in a parody of American sit-coms by David Walliams and Matt Lucas in "Mash and Peas do the USA" for Channel 4's Sitcom Weekend in 1997. Re-named Only Jerks and Horses, the sketch took a mocking view of what the series would have been like had it been re-made in the United States, with Del Boy, Boycie and Trigger all "Americanized", though Rodney remained English.


The Green Green Grass

A spin-off of Only Fools and Horses entitled The Green Green Grass, also written by John Sullivan and directed by Tony Dow, was first aired in the UK in September 2005.[88] Sullivan had considered writing a sitcom around the popular characters of Boycie and Marlene (John Challis and Sue Holderness) since the mid-1980s, but it was not until the series finally ended that the idea came to fruition. The Green Green Grass sees Boycie and Marlene forced to leave Peckham by one-time Only Fools and Horses villains, the Driscoll Brothers, and has included guest appearances by Denzil (Paul Barber) and Sid (Roy Heather). In December 2008, The Sun reported that Del Boy, Rodney and Trigger could also make cameo appearances in a special edition of the show.[89] A second series of The Green Green Grass was broadcast in the UK in October 2006,[90] a third in November 2007[91] and a fourth in January 2009.[92]

Rock & Chips

In 2003, it was reported that Sullivan was developing a prequel to the original series, Once Upon a Time in Peckham, which would feature Del, Rodney, Trigger, Boycie and Denzil as youngsters in the 1960s, and have a prominent role for Del and Rodney's parents.[93] In 2009, it was again reported that the BBC were considering commissioning the show, although nothing was confirmed.[94] On 5 April 2009, Sullivan told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that he was planning a prequel to Only Fools and Horses which would star Nicholas Lyndhurst as Freddie "The Frog" Robdal, a local criminal and Rodney's biological father; Robdal was the focus of the episode "The Frog's Legacy".[95]

On 3 July 2009, the BBC revealed that the title of the spin-off would be Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Chips, and would be a 90 minute comedy drama.[96] The title was subsequently changed to Rock & Chips.[97] Filming began in August 2009, and it was shown on BBC One at 9pm on 24 January 2010.[98] In October 2009 it was confirmed that Lyndhurst would star as Robdal.[99] The Inbetweeners and Off The Hook star James Buckley played the role of the young Del Boy.[100] While promoting The Inbetweeners, Buckley confirmed that Rock & Chips would return for two more specials, one for Christmas 2010, and the other for Easter 2011.[101]


Only Fools and Horses spawned many merchandising spin-offs. Several books have been published, most notably the officially sanctioned "The Only Fools and Horses Story" by Steve Clark (ISBN 0-563-38445-X) and "The Complete A-Z of Only Fools and Horses" by Richard Webber (ISBN 0-7528-6025-9), both of which detail the history of the series. The scripts have been published in a three-volume compendium, "The Bible of Peckham". The light-hearted "The Trotter Way to Millions" (ISBN 0-14-023956-1) and "The Trotter Way to Romance" (ISBN 0-297-81227-0), both written by John Haselden, see Del giving tips on how to achieve both wealth and love.

It has been released on VHS, DVD and audio CD in several guises. A DVD collection containing every episode was issued, along with various other special edition box-sets, such as a tin based on their Reliant Regal. DVDs and videos of Only Fools and Horses continue to be among the BBC's biggest-selling items, having sold over 6 million VHS copies and 1 million DVDs in the UK.[102][103] An Only Fools and Horses magazine was released in 2004, with each issue containing a DVD of the show. See the Only Fools and Horses DVDs for the differences between transmitted episodes and DVD episodes.

It also featured on a cavalcade of everyday items. These include a Monopoly-style board game, the "Trotters Trading Game", in which participants attempt to emulate the Trotters and become millionaires, and another game set in their local pub, entitled the "Nag's Head Game tin"; a DVD board game which features clips and questions while trading hookie gear to other players, a CD-ROM for Windows 95 and Windows 98 which allows users to customise their PCs; a soundtrack of songs used during the show, including the theme tune, and replica die cast models of the Trotters' yellow Reliant Regal van, manufactured by Corgi. Replica money has been made by the 'Bank of Peckham', featuring 'altered' English pound notes with Cockney rhyming slang and Del Boy's head on it instead of the Queen. Other spin-off merchandise includes bottle openers, playing cards, wristwatches, beauty products, calendars and talking alarm clocks.


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  • Clark, Steve (1998). The Only Fools and Horses Story. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-38445-X. 
  • Sullivan, John (2000). Only Fools and Horses: Bible of Peckham Vol 1. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-53818-X. 
  • Sullivan, John (2000). Only Fools and Horses: Bible of Peckham Vol 2. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-55177-1. 
  • Sullivan, John (2001). Only Fools and Horses: Bible of Peckham Vol 3. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-53745-0. 
  • Webber, Richard (2003). The Complete A-Z of Only Fools and Horses. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-6025-9. 

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