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The series that started in the ratings gutter only to dominate 1980s Britain...

Del and Rodney get their geek on

If Only Fools And Horses had started in the 21st century, it wouldn't have lasted for more than two series.

Let me explain. Back in the early 1980s, a brand new sitcom was written by John Sullivan, charting the misadventures of a wayward Peckham family, the Trotters. Three generations were spanned in a poky flat, which was part of Nelson Mandela House. The problem was that, when it first went out in 1981, the ratings were deemed to be on the low side. A second series went ahead, but even then, the ratings were not deemed world-shattering. If that had happened today, the show would have been axed quicker than you could shout “Mange Tout!” That's the price you pay for being with a ratings-hungry broadcaster, full of media-savvy trendies with buzzwords and balance sheets.

But luckily, a repeat season was to prove to be Only Fools And Horses' salvation. This time around, the repeat ratings of June 1983 were very good, especially considering the hot weather outside. From that point on, Only Fools And Horses grew in stature, to the point where it became one of the most revered sitcoms in British history.

So what's the secret of its success? John Sullivan had already scored with Citizen Smith, which charted the adventures of loser freedom fighter Wolfie Smith, between 1977 and 1980. After Wolfie went on the run from arch nemesis Ronnie Lynch, Sullivan extended his interest in writing about charismatic losers, and in the process came up with Del Trotter.

Del Trotter (David Jason)Del is the charismatic wannabe writ large. He has a neat line in market stall patter. He could charm the skin off a python. He takes great pride in his appearance, whether it's through showy outfits or flashy cocktails and bling. But when the chips are down, he's the fallible hero. Not many of his schemes come off, and when they do, there's normally some hidden catch. He's hopeless in love for the first seven years, getting his heart broken by Heather or snooty Miranda.

But perhaps the greatest skill displayed by Sullivan here is that at the end of the day, Del is a heartfelt family man. This is why he is left fuming at his wayward dad, who abandoned him after his mother's death – in 'Thicker Than Water', he simply abandons his dad with a handful of fivers and a turned head. He constantly remembers his late mother with affection, but most of all, he's always there for his brother Rodney, whether he likes it or not. That strong characterisation is easy to relate to, in that the viewer can identify with those strong family bonds.

Rodney Trotter (Nicolas Lyndhurst)Rodney is also a key player – maybe more of an idealist than Del, but he too, is a character that never quite seems to win the day. Again, he's hopeless with relationships, and even when he marries Cassandra, it's not plain sailing at first. His business ideas sometimes don't work. In great sitcom tradition, the leads are flawed, everyday people, who the viewers at home can identify with. Sometimes Del and Rodney are at loggerheads like any normal family members – there's times when Del is pretty out of sorts with Rodney, such as when he wrecks Rodney's relationship with a posho in 'A Royal Flush'. But when all is said and done, there's that unshakeable brotherly love between the two – just look at the scene when Rodney finally marries Cassandra, leaving Del alone.

And of course, the third main character was vital to the programme. Initially, with bluff old Granddad, and then the sea-loving, war anecdote-spouting Uncle Albert, the family set up was complete.

Part of John Sullivan's successful reputation is his gift for characterisation. Very few sitcom writers flesh out their supporting characters, often passing them off as dead wood with a couple of token lines and forced cameos. But Sullivan made the supporting characters three-dimensional people in their own right. Mention Only Fools And Horses to your average Joe on the British street, and they'll mention Trigger, Boycie, Marlene... That's testament to the skilled writing, but also to an astutely chosen cast. Roger Lloyd Pack, John Challis and Sue Holderness – in fact, all of the supporting actors and actresses were ideal choices for the parts and displayed great comic timing throughout the show.

Ditto the leads. David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst rightly became huge stars on the back of playing Del and Rodney, not just because of their comic timing gifts, but other subtle depths. Lyndhurst could just make the viewer laugh with one of his many facial expressions (check out his horrified reactions to devil spawn Damien), but then he could also handle the more serious sides of the scripts, such as his teary breakdown in the lift in 'Time On Our Hands'. Jason was the king of this though, steering his way through comic lines and poignant asides like a winning Formula One driver. Granville and Pop Larkin may have been highly successful, but no other role defined Jason's acting capabilities as well as Del. And to cap it off, Lennard Pearce and Buster Merryfield made for highly likeable supporting presences too.

The van from 'Only Fools and Horses'. Wash me.The scripts for Only Fools And Horses are rich in texture. They're crammed full of killer lines, one-liners, plot twists and even quite startling changes in tempo. For a light-hearted sitcom, Only Fools And Horses has addressed bereavement, miscarriage, criminal assault, sexual assault, bankruptcy... - you name it, there's been some topical and hard-hitting themes brought up. And for the most part, they haven't been dealt with in schmaltzy, heavy-handed fashion, but with dignity and care.

There aren't too many duff Only Fools And Horses episodes. It admittedly takes its time to find its feet, with some slow-moving, talky instalments in the first series ('A Slow Bus To Chingford' is particularly dull) and there's the odd episode which feels a bit out of place ('A Royal Flush' is out of character, with Del to obnoxious and unlikeable) – but these are well compensated for by a string of classics, particularly in the later stages of its run. 1988 to 1996 are the golden years for the show, where everything just came together, and achieving some pretty high ratings in the process.

A classic of its time, Only Fools And Horses stands as one of the all-time great sitcoms, even spawning spin-offs in the form of The Green Green Grass and the Rock & Chips prequel. So here is a brief guide to all things Only Fools And Horses – Lovely Jubbly!

THE CHARACTERS

Derek 'Del' Trotter (Played by David Jason)

Flashy, gregarious but well-intentioned half of Trotters Independent Traders. Frequently looks out for his younger brother Rodney after their mum Joan passed away and their dad Reggie abandoned them. This results in several misunderstandings and awkward situations such as dates going belly up, business incentives going awry and as many dodgy deals as iffy cocktails.

Was initially in partnership with wig-loving Jumbo Mills in the 1960s where they had a fish stall outside a pub – Jumbo later went to Australia, although he did offer Del the chance to move out there (he turned the offer down).

Drives a classy yellow Robin Reliant and an equally spectacular Ford Capri in later series. Likes the tacky bling and equally naff getup, whether it's the Gordon Gekko yuppie look, hideous pyjamas or equally horrid leopardskin trunks.

He has an instant rapport with people, thanks to his outgoing, friendly nature, and can garner people's interests at the market, even if the goods aren't always up to scratch. Comes up with a string of misunderstood catchphrases (see later section). Despite his cheery persona, Del wears his heart on his sleeve, and gets easily emotional at personal losses or tragedies such as Granddad's passing or Cassandra's miscarriage. He's not easily spooked, although he's not too keen on hospitals and doctors – or dentists, come to that, given that he leaves it 15 years before booking a fresh appointment.

Has been on a string of failed dates, and was engaged one time to a raucous missus called Trudy. Even used to date Marlene for a bit! Eventually, his heart is lost to Raquel Turner, an actress and singer, and together, they become proud parents of Damien.

Attended Martin Luther King Comprehensive (also known as Dockside Secondary Modern) and was in Class 4C with Trigger, Boycie, Denzil and Slater. He played midfield in football at school and left with 8 As, all of which stood for “Absent”.

Has a double who turns out to be a Mafia boss called Don Ochetti.

His favourite toon is 'Old Shep' by Elvis, he likes The Who, he can't swim and he's not much cop with a hang glider either.

Rodney Trotter (Played by Nicholas Lyndhurst)

The other member of Trotters Independent Traders and idealistic younger brother of Del. Always tries to aim high, and is sometimes embarrassed at Del's outlandish schemes, but his plans for bettering himself always seem to come unstuck - his attempts to go it alone in business fail, and he makes the foolish mistake of packing in his cushy job with Alan Parry over a stupid misunderstanding.

He's also initially not much cop with relationships either – usually, his choice of women leaves a lot to be desired. Irene Mackay is too old for him and is already married to a psychotic nut. Sandra turns out to be a policewoman. And he foolishly believes that Nervous Nerys will actually enjoy a wild time on the road. Eventually he meets and falls in love with Cassandra Parry, although it's a bumpy marriage at first, thanks to Cass' obsession with the bank and his misguided expectations of what a wife should do. Has a uniform fetish, much to Cass' chagrin.

More academically gifted than Del, with two GCEs in Maths and Art. Even went on to study at art college, although dabblings with the wacky baccy meant expulsion. His talent for art pays off when one of his old paintings, The Marble Arch At Dawn wins him an overseas holiday. Nevertheless, he enrols in night courses where he studies art and computing.

Initially, Rodney's and Cassandra's plans for a baby are cruelly thwarted after Cass suffers a miscarriage. In the end though, he and Cass become proud parents of little baby Joan.

Granddad (Played by Lennard Pearce)

Lennard Pierce as GranddadCurmudgeonly but likeable old cove. Often found in front of his multiple tellies. Not much of a cook, since he frequently makes a meal of the dish (see 'Christmas Crackers' or the end of 'Thicker Than Water', for example).

Del says that he was an “Out of work lamplighter waiting for gas to make a comeback”. His CV doesn't read too good either – he was a decorator for the council in 1924 but that lasted two days. He was a security officer at a warehouse in Chingford, but this too ended in the boot after 341 Hitachi cases went AWOL.

He served in the Boer War, and was deported from Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Can sometimes get the wrong end of the stick with people's names – the first line of Big Brother is “That Sidney Potter's a good actor, in'ee Rodney?”. Not much cop with cards either (see A Losing Streak), but is a dab hand with a spade and gardening gloves, given that he set up an allotment patch.

Passes away between the events of Happy Returns and Strained Relations, after actor Lennard Pearce passed away in 1984.

Uncle Albert (Played by Buster Merryfield)

Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield)Younger brother of Granddad, who turns up at his funeral in Strained Relations. Has the nickname “Boomerang” because he always comes back, but his full name is Albert Gladstone Trotter. More active than his older brother, given that he gets involved in Del's scams a lot more. He used to box for the Navy.

Frequently bores people with his tales of the war (see catchphrases). We do learn plenty of Albert's wartime experiences. He spent most of the war stationed in a storage depot on the Isle Of Wight. However, he was also seconded to a marine parachute training division, once sank the USS Pittsburg and ran HMS Cod aground at Normandy, and was also in the Soviet Union at one point.

He originally left home at 15 to work on a tram steamer, and was also a boiler maintenance man in the Navy. He used to live in Tobacco Road, although his house was knocked down.

He can play the piano, although Mike the barman is none too impressed with his shanty ditties. Has a friend called Knock Knock.

Trigger (Played by Roger Lloyd Pack)

Trigger, played by Roger Lloyd PackDimwitted road sweeper. Real name is Colin Ball.

Poor old Trig doesn't have much ambition in life, although he is promoted from road sweeper to environmental hygienist (or glorified road sweeper, if you like). He also gets a medal for saving the council money.

Used to attend the same school as Del and was inexplicably head boy in his year. Has a wide-ranging family including niece Lisa, an aunt called Reenie and a gay cousin called Ronnie. Permanently useless in love – his tryst with council depot manager Linda went down the swanny pretty sharpish, for example. Used to fancy Julie Christie.

Regularly slow on the uptake – for example, he inexplicably calls Rodney, Dave, as in “If it's a girl, Del and Raquel are calling her Sigourney after an actress. If it's a boy, they're calling him Rodney – after Dave.” This leads to some priceless comedy, best summed up in the following three classic quotes.

Rodney: “This is like something out of an Agatha Christie film.”
Trigger: “Yeah, I used to fancy her.”

Rodney: “You know, people become famous for a little while – then they disappear, like Renee and Renato, Simon Dee...”
Trigger: “Or Gandhi.”
Rodney: “Yeah, so see, maybe this time its... Gandhi???!!!??”
Trigger: “Yeah. I mean he made one great film and then you never saw him again.”

Elsie Partridge: (Conducting a séance) “Someone else has stepped out. It's a woman. Tall and slender. Long, golden brown hair. The fingers covered in ruby and gold. Bracelets adorn the wrists.”
Del: “You know who that is, don't you?”
Trigger: “Sounds like Jimmy Saville.”

Boycie (Played by John Challis)

John Challis as BoycieProud, snobbish second hand car dealer from Lewisham. Full name is Terence Aubrey Boyce.

Married to Marlene, and despite their frequent attempts to have a baby, eventually Tyler is born in the late 1980s.

Likes to flash the cash, and like Del, likes the bling and cigars. Unlike Del, he's more of a natty dresser, with his swanky suits. He has enough money to live on a very rich estate and to own extra property such as a Cornish cottage near a salmon farm. He is also a Mason and spends lots of time down at the Masonic Lodge. However, his dodgy deals do land him in the nick for a short spell, after he's done for perjury, embezzlement and various other counts.

Tends to lord it over Del with his frequent boasts, not to mention his trademark machine gun laugh whenever things go awry for the hapless wheeler dealer. Still proud of Del's ultimate millionaire status – in 'Time On Our Hands', he momentarily stares out Del and then warmly shakes him by the hand.

Later moves to a rural retreat in Shropshire with Marlene and Tyler in the spin-off Green Green Grass (in order to flee from the dreaded Driscoll Brothers).

Marlene (Played by Sue Holderness)

Long-suffering wife of Boycie. Very good friends with Del – especially bearing in mind that the two were an item for a nanosecond some time ago.

Also likes the bling and flashy clothes. Gives birth to Tyler in 1989. Related to Bronco Lane, a window cleaner and compulsive thief.

Cassandra Parry (Played by Gwyneth Strong)

Polite, well-spoken wife of Rodney. The two embark on a romance after they meet at an evening class. She is the daughter of Alan and Pamela Parry.

Lives in Blackheath when she first starts going out with Rodney. Very career minded with a sharp focus on the bank at which she works. This causes considerable friction in the first stages of her marriage to Rodney. He punches her boss Stephen and they also temporarily split after Del blabs about an aborted date of Rodney's. They later reconcile, and after a miscarriage, Cassandra becomes mum to Joan.

Hates men with ponytails. Scared of rats.

Raquel Turner (Played by Tessa Peake-Jones)

Del's long-suffering missus, Raquel used to be an actress and singer with high career goals. She meets Del through a dating agency, although the initial romance thaws after Del finds out that she is having to make ends meet as a stripper. The two reconcile in Margate on the annual Jolly Boys' Outing, where Del discovers that her latest gig is as The Great Raymundo's assistant. Used to be in a pop duo called Double Cream.

Was once married to Roy Slater, Del's nemesis. She hasn't spoken to her folks for a long time, but she invites them round to dinner in 1996. Her father is an antiques dealer, and his discovery of a long-lost John Harrison watch proves to have a long-lasting impact.

Gives birth to devil child Damien Derek in 1991.

Denzil Tulser (Played by Paul Barber)

Good friend of Del's and another alumnus of the Class of 1962. He is married to the scary Corrine, although she's none too keen on Del after frequent mishaps such as a flooded kitchen and a jam sponge for their wedding reception. Naturally, the marriage ends in divorce.

Has five brothers, including one called Carl. Works for the Transworld Express, and also used to drive buses with Sid.

Mike Fisher (Played by Kenneth MacDonald)

Cheery but harassed barman of the Nags Head from around 1983 to the early part of the 21st century. I say harassed – this is normally whenever Del barges in with one of his madcap schemes, and in addition, he has so many slates that Mike could retile the roof of the pub.

Used to work as a cocktail waiter. Sadly, his career as barman ends after he's thrown in the slammer for embezzlement.

Mickey Pearce (Played by Patrick Murray)

Goofy best friend of Rodney. Also hangs out with other best mate Jevon. Not too good with the social graces, with more useless chat up lines than the entire archive of Blind Date. Cassandra is none too impressed with Rodney and Mickey's friendship – Rodney apologises at one point for a raucous dinner party.

Claims to be an MD of his own firm, but more often than not, he's stuck in a dead end job such as selling double glazing.

Roy Slater (Played by Jim Broadbent)

Dodgy copper and the class victim of 1962. Joined the police force at 18, but used the force for corrupt means. Ultimately found to be involved in a diamond smuggling racket, for which he was sent to jail.

His class reunion for the gang of 1962 is just a decoy so that he can try and get back with Raquel, his former wife - or at least use her in a scheme that sees him richer in an inheritance deal. Del saves the day and orders Slater to stay away from Peckham and grant Raquel a divorce with the aid of a dodgy fax machine and some very convincing bluffing.

Sid (Played by Roy Heather)

Mostly runs a greasy café that serves delicacies such as porridge with a wig in it. Later runs the Nag's Head after Mike's in prison.

Jevon (Played by Steven Woodcock)

Right hand man of Mickey Pearce.

Damien Derek Trotter (Played by various actors)

Eerie son of Del and Raquel. Terrifies Rodney after he thinks he's the son of the devil (Rodney makes the mistake of jokingly suggesting Damien as a baby name) – this is usually illustrated with a crash zoom-in into Rodney's horrified face and a burst of the theme from The Omen.

The Dodgiest Deals

* Painting services
Del's plans to decorate the Golden Locust Chinese takeaway go wrong when it turns out that it's dodgy luminous paint. Poor old Mr Chin, the owner has to wear shades.

* China cats
Retailing at only £1.25, these iffy china cats play “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window”. Regrettably, their repertoire doesn't extend to “Oklahoma”.

* Crap watches
A common knock-off from the Trotters (eg: seen in 'The Long Legs Of The Law' ep). Both Rodney and the fearsome Shadow (AKA Lennox Gilbey) own broken timepieces.

* Portable computers
This is all back in the days before laptops, you see.

* Raincoats
Dry clean only. Rodney's raincoat has his name printed on the collar in big, childish letters.

* Iffy toy dolls
Apparently, if you keep them long enough, they grow spots and go to Bros concerts. Instead, they sing in speeded-up foreign voices.

* Musical doorbells
These in-no-way-tacky offerings play 36 national anthems.

* Peckham Spring Water
One of the most audacious gambits devised by the Trotters, this miraculous miracle of bottled water turns out to be recycled tap water! Which admittedly does glow in the dark...

* Russian camcorders
Del has 650 of the things to flog, and in theory, they should be snapped up in the blink of an eye. Problem is, not only are they more difficult to carry than a bulldozer, the buyer also has to have a Russian VCR, since the tapes won't fit in a standard English-made recorder!

* Trotter Crash Turbans
After an angry Dr Singh has scooted off on his motorbike, Del has a radical idea for getting rid of his riding helmets sprayed red. Simply attach plenty of material to the helmets and you get a Trotter Crash Turban. Likely to be shown on Wayne's World rather than Tomorrow's World.

The Lingo

“Rodney, you plonker!”
Bellowed by Del whenever Rod makes a great big stinking faux pas.

“Cushty!” and “Lovely Jubbly!”
A sign that things are going well for Del.

“Cosmic!”
Means one of two things from Rodney – if said brightly, it's his equivalent of Cushty. If said in a sarky tone of voice, things are not going well.

“During the war...”
Meaning that it's time for a lengthy Uncle Albert anecdote about his wartime days.

“Alright, Dave?”
Frequent Trigger misunderstandings when talking to Rodney.

“This time next year, we'll be millionaires!”
A great bold promise that the business will turn around for Del and Rodney.

“Mais oui, mais oui...”
Usually spoken when Del's in charm mode, with a bird on one arm and a great big umbrella-sprouting Pina Colada in the other hand.

“Bonjour!”
That's Del speak for “Goodbye”.

“Mon dieu!”
Usually bellowed whenever Del gets irritated or annoyed.

“Fromage frais!”
The penny drops for Del.

John Recommends...

Cash And Curry (1981)

An early example of the strong plotting that John Sullivan excels at. It's a case of Del and Rodney getting thwarted in one of their dodgy deals, this time by Mr Ram and Vimmal Malik, who are apparently on opposite sides of the fence. In fact, they are secretly working together, fleecing Del out of money over a dodgy statue.

Maybe it's a bit talky by modern day standards – there's a lot of dialogue exposition, but this is just indicative of the time in which it was made. Overall though, it's clever stuff, carried well by David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst (intriguingly Lennard Pearce is absent this week) and Renu Setna also gives a good, solid performance as the shifty Mr Ram.

A Touch Of Glass (1982)

Famous for that chandelier scene, 'A Touch Of Glass' caps off the second season in style. It's a good example of Del's inept attempts at social climbing, after they fall in with the Ridgemeres (Geoffrey Toone, incidentally, guest starred in a Sullivan-penned episode of Citizen Smith which also dealt with shameless social climbing called 'The Party's Over'). Plenty of fun times here, complete with dodgy singing china cats.

Friday The 14th (1983)

A great little nugget, often forgotten, but this amusing homage to good, old-fashioned ghost stories always satisfies.

Strained Relations (1985)

One of the great examples of how Sullivan was the master at mixing comedy with poignancy. Addressing Lennard Pearce's death, Sullivan took the bold move of killing off granddad and showing how Del and Rodney came to terms with his passing. While Rodney openly mourns, Del tries to put on a brave face, but even then, this is a losing battle – best scene in his angry outburst to Rodney (“Bloody family! I've finished with them! What do they do to you, eh? They hold you back, drag you down, and then they break your bloody heart”).

Dates (1988)

The beginning of the OFAH Golden Age, Del decides to try the dating agency route and very nearly gets it right with Raquel. It's a non-stop whirligig of funny lines and scenarios – Rodney's date with Nerys is particularly priceless, with Lyndhurst's facial expressions in the car providing more comedy gold than in an entire series of My Family. And hey, it's also got Nicholas Courtney in this one as a waiter.

Yuppy Love (1989)

Well, a lot of people would select this one, if only for the infamous Del Falls Through Gap In Yuppy Bar scene. The problem is, I've seen that scene so many times, so it's become a bit tired for me – newcomers will love it, though, and furthermore, the whole episode shows just how confident John Sullivan had become. He fires off a stream of non-stop witty lines (“I bet it's Wet Wet Wet”) while telling a good, solid story in the process. Del typically has to step in with the late 1980s yuppy culture, but even then, he's like a fish out of water while striding into a yuppy bar, Filofax akimbo. Great stuff, and Jason's near-corpsing at a soaked Lyndhurst tops off what's a fabulous episode.

Chain Gang (1989)

Another example of how Sullivan's talent for plotting comes together. The audience is thrown off beam by the apparently amiable Arnie (good performance from Philip McGough here), a retired jeweller. It looks like a great opportunity for Del's consortium, as they stand to make a healthy profit from some gold chains, and when the plan goes awry after Arnie collapses, there's no reason to suspect that foul play is at work. Of course, it's all a con, since it turns out that Arnie is faking the collapses with his two sons who are disguising themselves as paramedics. If that sounds convoluted – well, it's not (that's just my non-talent for over-complicating things). It's compelling, intriguing stuff and a perfect showcase for Sullivan's talent for tight plotting.

And Jason's face after Arnie tunelessly bellows out a quick snatch of “What A Wonderful World” is priceless.

The Unlucky Winner Is... (1989)

This has everything you could possibly want from an Only Fools episode. It features the antagonism between Del and Rodney – in this case, Del dupes Rodney into thinking that he's won a holiday, the snag being Rodney is supposed to be 14 years of age. It also features more funny scenes than you can shake a jumbo sized burger at, whether it's Trudy asking Rodney if he likes Bros, Rodney coming off worst in a Groovy Gang skateboarding contest or the physical comedy of Del casually taking a ciggy and glass of wine off Rodney after the Groovy Gang reps pay an unwanted visit. An all-time classic.

Little Problems (1989)

John Sullivan displayed four notable talents when writing sitcoms: A knack for writing side-splittingly funny lines. Taut plotting. Great characterisation. And poignancy. You get all four in equal measures in this superb season finale. There aren't many sitcoms that feature such well-crafted characters as Del and Rodney, and Del's 100% devotion to his brother is displayed to the max here, as he suffers a brutal beating at the hands of the dreaded Driscoll brothers in order to stop them getting their grubby mitts on Rodney's cash deposit wedding present.

There's also that finale scene in which Del is left alone at the wedding reception with only Mick Hucknall bawling in his ear, a wedding cake figurine of the groom and countless memories. Even though the farewell between Del and Rodney is expertly written and acted, that scene ends by relying on David Jason's facial acting and perfectly executed direction from Tony Dow. Now that's genius.

Rodney Come Home (1990)

A bit too serious and soapy in places, but the conflict between Rodney and Cassandra is well worked out, and it's still buoyed by so many funny lines that it's sometimes hard to keep up because they come at you at breakneck speed.

And it also features one of the funniest ever scenes in Only Fools And Horses – the bit where Uncle Albert's supposed to look horrified at Rodney's date with Tanya. Buster Merryfield is really on the ball here and his constant “Huuuuugggghhhh!!!” facial expressions not only crack up the viewer, but also David Jason, who's evidently failing to keep a straight face while the cameras roll.

Stage Fright (1991)

Another quintessential slice of classic comedy, and due in part to the hilarious Tony Angelino, the cheesiest act from the Down By The Riverside club. Not only is his whole appearance a sham (Del bellows “I got lumbered with a star whose props come from Lilley & Skinner, Crown Toppers and Mattesons!”), but he can't sing songs with R in the lyrics. The cringe-inducing duet with Raquel of 'Cwying' is one of the funniest scenes in Only Fools And Horses.

Philip Pope is excellent as Tony, but Tessa Peake-Jones has also proven to be a great asset to the show, in particular her furious recollection of the following repertoire. Altogether, a great episode, and for once, the Trotters actually gain more than they lose.

The Class Of '62 (1991)

A top episode from another strong season. It's a good showcase for Jim Broadbent as the utterly loathsome Slater, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, no matter who he hurts in the process. More strong plotting and acting from the regulars combine to make an unmissable episode.

Miami Twice (1991)

I know a lot of people don't care too much for this one, but I personally really like it. The first instalment's admittedly marking time before the trip, but it's still got some amusing stuff, in particular Rodney's horror at a talking Damien. The second part is feature film stuff – I guess that some of the fans think that the sitcom doesn't translate that well to this genre, but I see it as a confident sitcom pushing the boat out into uncharted waters. The location filming is awesome, David Jason is amusing as Mafia boss Don Ochetti (“I hayd Limeys! I hayd Limeys!!” he bellows while furiously pedalling on his exercise bike), and best of all, it's great seeing Del and Rodney like fish out of water in a sinister world in which they can't comprehend (Rodney's bellowing of “GIT!” at a mafia boss is especially chucklesome). Flawed? Possibly. But it's still a worthy, and for me anyways, a successful experiment.

Fatal Extraction (1993)

Again, it's not that well-remembered, but this excellent Christmas special neatly parodies the film Fatal Attraction, right down to Albert boiling his pants in a great big pot. Mel Martin is great as the sinister Beverley, and the end scene suggests that maybe she wasn't quite as innocent as she would have you think. Lots of other funny stuff here, including dodgy ski wear and for once, Cassandra freaking out at devil child Damien.

The 1996 Trilogy (er, 1996)

Comprising Heroes And Villains, Modern Men and Time On Our Hands, this swansong (well, it was at the time) sums up everything that's great about Only Fools And Horses in a nutshell. In essence, it's one long three parter which encapsulates the show's essence of three ordinary men facing their share of small victories and personal setbacks, before a great big bombshell changes their lives forever.

It's full of notable, well-staged moments from Del and Rodney's ill-advised entrance as Batman and Robin through to the last lovely coda in which the Trotters finally get their rewards. It's also got its fair share of great lines (“I'll buy the sandwiches 'cos you bought the Rolls”) and lump-in-throat moments. Cassandra's miscarriage is handled with dignity and sensitivity (and Nicholas Lyndhurst knocks it out of the park in the lift scene as he tries to come to terms with what's happened), while the final scene in which Del, Rodney and Albert say farewell to Nelson Mandela House is just as moving. There's a certain degree of irony in the fact that the get-rich scheme that had eluded the Trotters for so long was in the garage gathering dust all that time, but as Del points out, it's the dreaming and chasing that proved more attractive than getting the reward,

If only it had stopped there – the three comeback specials lacked that certain something, and the fact that the Trotters were now facing bankruptcy after their happy ending kind of undid all that good work. But if you choose to ignore those last three specials, then this magnificent trilogy sends the Trotters off in style.

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.


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