Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

As you may have noticed, since I got back to the UK 2½ months ago, I’ve been catching-up on alot of missed TV shows.

One such show dates back to 2003 – it’s the final episode of Only Fools And Horses. (OFAH)

I always thought that Only Fools And Horses had a fascinating history, not least because author John Sullivan simply cared about his work so much.

As well as 7 seasons over 20+ years, there were a whacking 16 Christmas specials, 2 mini-episodes within other programmes (The Funny Side Of Christmas and Breakfast Time), 4 sketches (within The Royal Variety Performance, Red Nose Day and Only Fools And Horses Selection Box), and 1½ episodes that were completed but never transmitted. (White Mice to be shown in schools, and The Robin Flies At Dawn to entertain British soldiers fighting the Gulf war)

Oh, and now there’s the obligatory spin-off series too.

For me, there are 3 reasons why this show appeals:

1. It ran for a long time. (very very rare for this to happen at the BBC nowadays)

2. It was funny. (very very rare for this to happen… oh it’s all too easy)

3. As far as I’m aware, it’s all canon.

As I’ve always believed – good continuity is the mark of a well-written and believable show.

A few years ago they introduced Raquel as a love-interest for Del. Many consider this to be the point at which the show jumped the shark (too many characters, too many feelings suffocating the story), but the thing I will always remember about Raquel’s introduction is this: when I later rewatched an episode from several years earlier, buried away in the script I actually found Slater making a reference to her.

And this sort of strong script integrity happens again and again in Only Fools And Horses.

It therefore came as a great pleasure when, while watching the latest “last episode ever” recently, (Sleepless In Peckham) I found it to indeed harken back to earlier shows from years gone by, and remain completely (I presume) loyal to them.

Freddie The Frog – I remember that episode. About 1992 wasn’t it?

And there was none of this dumbed-dumb attitute of hitting the viewer over the head with clunkily written recollections or in-your-face black-and-white flashbacks.

Author John Sullivan, unlike so many careless shows that sneer at their audience’s memory, was simply true to his word. Which makes it alot easier to believe in the episode that I’m watching now.

What also impressed me was how much more satisfactorily this episode wrapped-up the show's run than the last forced ending Time On Our Hands.

But of course, it wasn’t the end.

Two Fridays ago the BBC gave us the first episode of spin-off series The Green Green Grass - focussing on Del’s mates Boycie and Marlene.

And simply from the script’s mellow laid-back attitude, you can tell this show’s got pedigree. Its principle characters are not the usual desperate-to-offend sex-symbols that pretty well all sitcoms now launch with. Boycie and Marlene actually come across as being… err… well believable by comparison. Surely a new sitcom featuring such a dull unspectacular family would never have been green-lit from scratch.

And there was no inexperienced fear of alienating the audience by referring to the original series either. Several fine references were made to Del Boy, and Denzil even appeared both in studio and on location, albeit as an obvious cypher.

But alas, I can’t shake from my mind what tired TV professional Herschel said without even watching it:

“This is a sitcom about 2 characters from Only Fools And Horses, neither one of which is ever going to be Del Boy.”

And I can’t argue with him there – the set up (Boycie and Marlene are on the run from the mob) seems so ill-conceived, because we know they won’t return to Peckham until whenever the series ends. Just as well that, as far as the BBC is concerned, the UK really only has one region.

Coincidentally, recently the Daily Mail have been giving away free BBC comedy DVDs, including an early Only Fools And Horses.

Watching it one morning I discovered that it appeared to be Boycie’s very first episode A Losing Streak. (although I later discovered he’d also appeared earlier)

Boycie was a card shark in those early days, and Marlene was merely referred to off-camera as a running joke.

And as with so many of John Sullivan’s scripts, the final payoff depended wholly upon the viewer making a basic presumption earlier on.

I miss Only Fools And Horses, I myself hope that they keep bringing it back again and again, regardless of whether the episodes are as good as they used to be.

Why? Because with John Sullivan writing it, whether it’s good or bad, I always feel as though I’m watching a sitcom again.

(review of Rock & Chips here)


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