‘Only Fools And Horses’ might be regarded as one of – if not the – greatest British TV comedies of all time, but one of its stars has revealed that Del Boy and Rodney almost didn’t make it past the first series.
Despite a third of the UK population sitting down to watch the classic sitcom at the height of its popularity, John Challis, who played car dealer Boycie, says it was thanks to strike action at the Beeb, and subsequent repeats of the show, that led to it being recommissioned.
‘Only Fools And Horses’ attracted an audience of 24 million at its height
Speaking at the Radio Times Festival, the actor said: “The first series went out, and it wasn’t actually that well received.
“I think it got about 7.9 million or something like that, which today would be very good but in those days wasn’t considered great at all, so it was sort of put on the back burner for a bit – no particular plans for a second series.
“I never thought I’d say this, but luckily there was a strike at the BBC.
“They started repeating stuff and they put it out again, different time, different place, and word of mouth went around, and the figures went up by a couple of million.
“They thought, ‘oh, well maybe we’ll do a second series.’ So it could have been that there might never have been a second series, which is an extraordinary thought.”
John Challis played Boycie in the hit comedy between 1981 and 2003
John also revealed that the BBC were ‘embarrassed’ by the success of the comedy, which starred David Jason as wheeler dealer Del Boy Trotter and Nicholas Lyndhurst as his put-upon brother Rodney.
“There was sort of something about the BBC, Auntie BBC, who’s bigger than everything really,” Challis recalled.
“And it was sort of slightly embarrassing that this show had done so well.
“They begrudgingly said at the end of one particular series ‘oh yes, come and have a party here at the BBC. But can you bring your own wine?
“And Alan Yentob got up and made a speech, and pretended that he’d never seen the show. You know, at least go through the motions! Say ‘thanks guys for making this the most successful comedy the BBC’s ever seen, the country’s ever seen’.
“They didn’t want it to get bigger than the BBC itself, I suppose.”