The Comedy Vault – Only Fools And Horses Christmas Special.

Only Fools And Horses Christmas Special (BBC1, 1981)

I thought that I would review the first Christmas special of Only Fools And Horses, which was shown shortly after the conclusion after the first series on 28 December 1981 (the first special on the actual day was the third in 1983). This episode is rather significant because firstly, a lot people might not realise that they were making Christmas specials as early as this, and also, little did they realise that for the next 15 years or so the specials would be the centrepiece of BBC1’s Christmas schedule, doing increasingly well in the ratings, also extending in length, and featuring more ambitious ideas.

The first special “Christmas Crackers” might come across as very modest when compared to the later ones, and it was only 35 minutes long, but this was at just about the only point in the show’s history where its future was uncertain and believe it or not there was a small chance that this could’ve been the final episode. A successful repeat run confirmed we’d be seeing a lot more of the Trotters though. vlcsnap-00001

It’s time for Christmas dinner, although you get the feeling that Granddad would rather have his usual cheeseburger, because he doesn’t want too much fuss, and Del Boy and Rodney fancy having a right old knees-up down the pub. Everything is coming along nicely, the potatoes are really well done, there’s some “green stuff”, the gravy’s been strained, the turkey still has the giblets inside, and the pudding is all burnt. It’s the Trotter family tradition, and the only thing that gets Del through it is the thought that this time next year he’ll be a millionaire. vlcsnap-00002

Del then does what most people did late on in the day back then – fall asleep in front of the TV (or two TVs in this case) showing some circus thing with the Christmas Radio Times (the show appeared on the cover of the 1985 Radio Times double issue, along with NME, in what must be a unique double). Rodney can’t believe it and wants to go down The Monte Carlo Club. It might not be Jangles as far as leading early-80s clubs go, but people could still have a really good time. It’s either that or watch The Sound Of Music with a beer. vlcsnap-00003

Off smartly-dressed Del and Rodney go, insisting that they are “The Peckham Playboys”. Del bumps into a mate called Earl, even though I don’t think he was ever seen or referenced again (it is notable that there are no appearances from the regulars such as Boycie and Trigger in this episode). He’s been having some trouble after his dad was in the pub and the glasses went flying everywhere. Del is sorry to hear that, while everyone in the background is doing a dance to “Wordy Rappinghood”. Needless to say, their attempts at pulling a few ladies fail miserably. These specials will get more exciting as the years pass. vlcsnap-00004

Merry Christmas!

The Comedy Vault – The Green Green Grass.

The Green Green Grass (BBC1, 2005-2009)

Only Fools And Horses is arguably the most popular British sitcom of them all, I did do a piece sharing my memories recently, but there was probably very little I said that the average fan wouldn’t already know. Something that is surprising about that show is just how many episodes were thought to be the final one. As early as the mid-80s David Jason considered leaving, and Nicholas Lyndhurst was poised to go into a spin-off by himself, but this didn’t happen.

Then there was the memorable episode in Christmas 1996 where Del Boy and Rodney hit the jackpot, how could they top that. But viewers wanted more, so in the early-2000s there were three more episodes. These were received with some disappointment, and everyone was insistent that really would be the end. But viewers still wanted more, so how about doing a spin-off series where another regular character would be thrust into the spotlight?

Boycie (John Challis) thought of himself as something of a shrewd businessman (although he was a mere second-hand car salesman). But one day he runs into some trouble with the notorious Driscoll brothers who have left prison, and he realises that it might be time to leave Peckham behind, so along with his family he has little choice but to start a new life in rural Shropshire. vlcsnap-01027

The Green Green Grass also featured Boycie’s wife Marlene (Sue Holderness) and his teenage son Tyler (I like the way that they had to cast someone who had a distinctive dimpled chin like Boycie’s), who are having to deal with something of a culture shock. The show was created and written by John Sullivan (although different writers contributed to the later episodes). vlcsnap-01025

Boycie (don’t ever use his actual name Aubrey) and family now live at Winterdown Farm. He tries to be positive and sees this change as an opportunity to become a respected country squire (and often do his famous “heh-heh-heh” laugh), but his team, including ploughman Jed and housekeeper Mrs Cakeworthy are fairly useless. As the episodes progress, Boycie usually finds himself in rather awkward situations (mostly involving cows), and Tyler gets himself involved in a string of girlfriends interrupting his studying. Boycie can only escape all of this by going down the pub. vlcsnap-01024

Such was the demand from viewers for there to be something Only Fools And Horses-related to watch at Christmas despite that show having now ended, shortly after the first series, The Green Green Grass was given a 50 minute special on Christmas Day, even though some felt that the show might not have been entirely ready for such an honour yet. The show did eventually establish itself and run for four series (along with further specials). vlcsnap-01012

Later episodes included not very original plots such as Marlene’s long-lost sister suddenly turning up, and then her long-lost mother, Boycie taking part in the game show challenge Farm Idol, along with the shock that Boycie and Marlene had never actually been legally married, meant that the idea was beginning to be exhausted a little. The Green Green Grass wasn’t that bad in itself, but unfortunately it was always going to be compared to its hugely successful predecessor and come off as second best. vlcsnap-01030

There were 32 episodes that (with the exception of one episode) have been released on DVD over eight discs, and there are also a small amount of extras including a look behind the scenes. The show also managed to get on to the archive channel circuit, and it has been repeated endlessly on Gold. After this, the character of Boycie has also featured in books, and you’ll still often see Challis and Holderness attend the fan conventions.

The Comedy Vault – Only Fools And Horses.

Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1981-2003)

This is a comedy show that I have wanted to review for a while, but I haven’t been sure what angle to take because unlike some that I feature on this blog it is just so well-known. I was thinking about doing a piece like what I did with Father Ted where I looked back at some of my favourite characters and episodes, and I might still do that, but I’ll just do this for now. 

It could be argued that Only Fools And Horses is the most successful sitcom that this country has ever produced, what I could I possibly say about the show that people wouldn’t already know, everyone knows what this one is about really. Indeed, it is so familiar that it reminds me of something. Many years ago, while watching UK Gold, they used to have a short show that previewed what was coming to the channel. vlcsnap-00537

This meant that the idea of various shows were explained, including this one, as if viewers weren’t familiar with it. So when the host started to say “it’s about two brothers who live in Peckham” I started mocking because I honestly couldn’t believe that anyone had to be told all this. It’s a show that seems to have always been familiar and always around, even though when it launched in the early-80s it wasn’t an instant success. vlcsnap-00547

The first time that I remember watching the show and seeing Del Boy and Rodney’s wheeling and dealing would probably be around the early-90s. So when I finally saw the earliest series for the first time when they were repeated, it was rather odd seeing that Uncle Albert didn’t feature in them, but I soon realised that Granddad was a memorable character too. He never did stop going on about that cheeseburger. vlcsnap-00527

It is also remarkable to realise that all of the episodes from start to finish were written by only one person, John Sullivan, who definitely knew a thing or two about how to create a successful sitcom. And it’s fair to say that the viewers got plenty of episodes to enjoy. Not only were there the regular series, but there were also Christmas specials, and some of them were 90 minutes long. Some episodes have become rather cosy and familiar, I really could watch them over and over again. vlcsnap-00549

The support cast weren’t too bad either, what with Boycie, Mickey, Trigger, and many others that could often be found down The Nag’s Head. Add in a catchphrase or two, and you really have got a winning formula. At the end of one special in 1996 Del and Rodney finally struck it rich. Maybe it could’ve been seen as a little sentimental, but I don’t think that there was a single viewer who could begrudge them their new-found fortune. This caused such a stir that it was the highest-rated episode of a sitcom in British TV history, with a figure that most soaps would be proud of. vlcsnap-00546

All of the episodes have been released on DVD in a rather big boxset on 26 discs. The only extra is a documentary looking back at some classic moments. There has also been a huge amount of merchandise. Some that I have includes books, such as ones featuring scripts and extra information on the characters, a look back at Del’s life in the form of an autobiography, and even quizzes that contain lots of trivia. vlcsnap-00556

There are also lots of fansites, conventions that have been attended by fans and even some cast members, and a musical, along with the episodes still being repeated endlessly on various channels. I could go on and on, it really is such a classic show. There was also the prequel Rock And Chips, along with the sequel The Green Green Grass (and I’ll review that soon too).

The Comedy Vault – Rock And Chips.

Rock And Chips (BBC1, 2010-2011)

It’s well known that many people think Only Fools And Horses is one of the greatest British sitcoms, so its story doesn’t need much explaining here, I thought instead that I would look back at one of the other parts of the show. There wasn’t really much left to say in the original version… but viewers still wanted more, so how about doing something different.

There had already been a sequel written by John Sullivan called The Green Green Grass which featured Boycie and his family and ran for four series on BBC1. So how about a prequel! This would also be written by Sullivan, but this time it would focus on Del Boy in his younger years. The first episode was called Rock And Chips and it was set in Peckham in 1960. vlcsnap-00951

This series would be an opportunity to answer some questions about the show, like the identify of Rodney’s father, and we would also be able to meet Del’s mum Joan who had been referenced in a lot of episodes for the first time. James Buckley (best known for The Inbetweeners) was cast as Del, Kellie Bright (later to star in EastEnders) was Joan, and Nicholas Lyndhurst would also feature, but who would he play considering Rodney hadn’t been born at this point? vlcsnap-00955

There was much anticipation about this opening episode that was 90 minutes long and was more of a comedy-drama. As well as Del and his mum, we would also meet his dad Reg and his granddad (whose first name was revealed to be Ted). Even in those days Del (who was about 15 at the time) was mates with the likes of Boycie, Denzil and Trigger, while his relatives were often down local pub The Nag’s Head. Also featuring was Freddie “The Frog” Robdal, a safecracker who had just been released from prison. vlcsnap-00952

Joan works at a cinema and has two jobs that are selling the lollies and making the tea. She is also trying to get the family a house in a new block of high-rise flats, and there’s the organising of the first Jolly Boys Outing to Margate. Del has recently left school and decided to try and knock out some pop records down the market, he made himself a few quid and he never looked back. vlcsnap-00956

Joan has something of a fling with Freddie behind Reg’s back, and at the end of the first episode she gives birth to Rodney, and as Freddie was played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, there really was no doubt that he will grow up to look like his father. This episode did do well in the ratings, although it seemed to get rather average reviews from critics, but I do think that it was worthwhile. vlcsnap-00949

The second episode was called “Five Gold Rings” and was also something of a Christmas special that was set at the end of 1960. Del has got hold of some dodgy rings and then tries to go out with every girl that he can so he pretend that he is giving them all some expensive diamond engagement rings. Grandma Violet also turns up to look after the infant Rodney, and Joan decides to dye her hair as if she wasn’t glamorous enough already. vlcsnap-00961

The third episode was called “The Frog And The Pussycat” and set during 1961 and 1962. Del and his mates have now got themselves some fancy mopeds and are trying to impress the girls by taking them out to restaurants. Joan is still carrying on with Freddie who is in trouble again, while wondering if she should leave Reg and trying to keep her job at the cinema and look after the growing Rodney. vlcsnap-00953

I don’t know if any more episodes were planned, as we didn’t get to the point in the story where Freddie killed himself after he accidentally sat on his detonator while trying to break open another safe, Reg walked out on the family, or Joan became ill and died in 1964, because just before the third episode was shown, John Sullivan, the man behind Only Fools And Horses, The Green Green Grass and Rock And Chips (along with other popular sitcoms including Citizen Smith and Just Good Friends) died, he was remembered by many as a great comedy writer.

All three episodes of Rock And Chips have been released on DVD (but they contain no extras). But the story still hasn’t ended there, in more recent years there have been some books released featuring Del Boy’s views on life (written by John Sullivan’s sons), and there is also an Only Fools And Horses musical planned (yes, really), I’m sure it’ll be cushty.

The Comedy Vault – special bonus edition!

When I was watching the sitcom The Mighty Boosh again recently, I remembered that there was a reference to Bethnal Green in an episode. Now this is the part of London that I live in, and I always find it surprising to hear a reference on the TV. I started to think about how many other comedy shows feature a reference. I don’t know why it seems to turn up so frequently, clearly it must be a big cultural reference point. I thought of six comedy shows that reference Bethnal Green, so here they are, although if anyone out there does know of any others, you are welcome to tell me.

Big Train. This was the odd BBC2 sketch show from the makers of Father Ted. There is a sketch in the second series that is a parody of detective drama shows, where Mark Heap’s character says “Bethnal Green”. Well to hear one of my favourite comic actors say that right in front of everyone, I was very pleased. Fame at last! vlcsnap-01181

The Mighty Boosh. There is a reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom when Vince (played by Noel Fielding) is trying to track down where someone is by using his Celeb Radar. Also around this time, when the show was popular on TV, there were suddenly a lot of people walking around here who seemingly wanted to be Noel, how great. vlcsnap-01150

Goodnight Sweetheart. I’m fairly sure that there is at least one reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom, and that’s because the area where Gary Sparrow time travels to is supposed to be around here, you even see him walk past a branded bin in the first episode. One person pointed out recently that Gary was supposed to live in Cricklewood, and the only reason he ever came here was when he was a TV repair man trying to find an address. So to continue his double life he would have to travel from Cricklewood to here every time to access the portal, which is rather a journey in itself, but you’re not supposed to notice that… vlcsnap-01183

Saturday Live. This pioneering 80s comedy show featured some of the earliest TV appearances by Harry Enfield, and his kebab shop owner character Stavros, who would become very popular with viewers, was always talking about “the Bethnal Green Road”, which is good innit. vlcsnap-01185

Only Fools And Horses. This sitcom needs no introduction, and in the 1989 episode “Chain Gang” none other than Del Boy says “Bethnal Green” near the end of the episode. Isn’t that lovely jubbly. And that isn’t the only sitcom created by John Sullivan to feature a reference… vlcsnap-01186

Sitting Pretty. This was a sitcom that launched on BBC1 in 1992 which was written by John Sullivan. Because his other sitcoms had been so popular with viewers, this show was simply sold as “this can’t fail!”. The main character in the show was Annie, a woman who had been successful in the 60s who had now fallen on hard times, and her character was described by Radio Times as “the Jackie Onassis of Bethnal Green”. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, Annie does say “Bethnal Green”, and also her catchphrase “phenomenal”, which they really thought would catch on, but didn’t. Although Sitting Pretty ran for two series, it wasn’t a big hit with viewers, there has been no DVD release, and it is now considered the low point of Sullivan’s career. Also, because of the Bethnal Green connections, I remember seeing Diane Bull (who played Annie) once when she was chosen to turn on the Christmas lights here one year (I don’t remember what year, either 1992 or 1993 as they were the only years that the show was on BBC1), now that really was phenomenal. vlcsnap-01180

BONUS! Now to go on to pop music. I am aware of at least two pop stars who were born in Bethnal Green who have had UK Number One hit singles, who are Helen Shapiro and Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame. Also, I’m not aware of any UK hit singles featuring Bethnal Green in the lyrics, but again if you know better, you can let me know. And I know I keep going on about this, but I just want to emphasise this again because I still find it unbelievable.

Now imagine that there is a famous pop group who’ve had a Number One single, say for example, Bananarama, and say that they all visited Bethnal Green one day, and the reason that they would do that was because one member of the group had a house here, say Siobhan, who was also in the awesome Shakespear’s Sister, and here was where they became friends again and decided to reform, that would be a great story, but that’s never going to happen is it… oh wait… b10

Now the fact that Sara from Bananarama said “Bethnal Green” in an interview will probably mean nothing to about 99.8% of the readership of Classic Pop magazine where this article appeared, but when I read this I was practically on the floor. But the fact that she said that her and Keren were here because they were round “Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green“, you remember Siobhan, the woman whose Shakespear’s Sister song “Stay” was at Number One in the UK for almost two months in 1992, the crazy goth woman who appears in the incredible video that I’m sure any early-90s pop music fan has never forgotten even 25 years on, you know, that woman… b9

…well, I was now in a right old state. Discovering that in more recent years she had probably been walking round here (although presumably not dressed like that), and she had a party in her kitchen with her old pop star friends practically around the corner from me simply blew my mind (there’s even a picture of them all together on Twitter and everything), I just can’t believe it really happened. I told you all the cool people live round here didn’t I, aren’t I lucky.

The YouTube Files – Only Fools And Horses: Licensed To Drill.

Only Fools And Horses: Licensed To Drill (1984)

Only Fools And Horses is one of my favourite sitcoms, and again, I don’t really need to explain much about the history or the characters on the show as I imagine everyone will already be familiar with it, indeed, it’s one of the most successful British TV shows that there’s ever been. So instead I have decided to write about one of the less remembered episodes of the show. vlcsnap-00703

Licensed To Drill was a 20-minute long educational video about oil featuring the cast of Only Fools And Horses that was made to be shown in science lessons in schools. It was made on film and contains no laughter track. It was written by John Sullivan as every other episode was and he also performs the theme song at the end. It has never been shown on TV or been released on DVD, so when it turned up on YouTube a while back I was very interested in taking a look. vlcsnap-00704

It begins with Granddad watching a film on TV about the war. Del has thought of yet another money-making scheme, to invest in oil, this time next year they’ll be millionaires! Del tells us all about where oil comes from and the many ways that it can be used, it’s incredible the amount of things you can find it in. Rodney finds it all rather mindblowing. Del then makes Rodney and Granddad watch a film about oil and sets out his ambitious plan where a deal will take place tomorrow. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up with Rodney in protective custody like last time… vlcsnap-00707

The next day, a sleepy Rodney finds someone called Paddy sat at the table. Del reveals that he has just completed a deal with him to buy an offshore oil rig, a snip at just £400. Rodney has to explain to Del that oil rigs are enormous things far away in the North Sea, not in a lock-up garage in Catford. It concludes with Del realising that he has been done up like the proverbial kipper. And he seemed so honest as well. They can’t go after him though because Rodney’s still in his pyjamas and the van’s out of petrol. The irony of the situation was not lost on Del. What a plonker. vlcsnap-00711

Licensed To Drill was made in 1984 between series three and series four and marks the final appearance of Lennard Pearce as cheeseburger-loving Granddad, who died just as work on the fourth series began. Just when I thought I had seen them all, it was great seeing a supposedly lost episode of Only Fools And Horses, which I think is definitely up to the usual very funny standard of the show.