The Leonard Pearce Years 1981 – 1983
Voted number one in a 2004 BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom Only Fools And Horses ran for a total of sixty three episodes over seven series (1981–83, 1985–86, 1989 and 1990/91), and thereafter in sporadic Christmas special editions (1991–93, 1996, 2001–03). Because of this and the sheer number of classic moments we are going to break it up into three parts.
For this part we concentrate on the earlier series featuring Lennard Pearce as Grandad and the series beginnings.
In 1980, a young scriptwriter called John Sullivan was under contract to the BBC, having written the classic Citizen Smith. Searching for a new project as Citizen Smith had come to an end the same year, he pitched an idea about football that was rejected by the BBC. Strangely enougth so was his second idea: a sitcom centring on a cockney market trader in working class, modern-day London.
Around the same time ITV were having success with Minder. Sullivan persisted with his second idea and with the help of Ray Butt, a BBC producer and director, whom he had met and become friends with whilst they worked on Citizen Smith, he was able to show a draft script to the Corporation’s Head of Comedy: John Howard Davies. He saw somthing in the idea and commissioned Sullivan to write a full series.
Despite poor critical response and below average ratings the BBC stuck to it’s policy of nuturing shows (how times have changed) and a second series was commissioned for 1982. That faired little better. However a repeat of both series in June 1983 scheduled in a more low-key time slot, hit the spot with respectable viewing figures. John Howard Davies commissioned a third series.
By series four viewing figures were double those of series one. The rest, as they say, was history.
Meet the Trotter Family, three generations Del Boy, younger brother Rodney and Grandad who live together in a council high rise flat in Peckham. Backed by a strong supporting cast, the series chronicles their highs and lows in life, in particular their attempts to get rich.
Throughout the entire series the situation focuses primarily on Del’s futile attempts to make the Trotters rich – “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires” is a frequent saying of Del’s – whether buying and selling a variety of low-quality and illegal goods, for sale on the local market or supplying luminous yellow paint for their attempts to paint the local chinese takeaway’s kitchen to cleaning chandeliers in stately homes all attempts usually go very wrong with hilarious consequences.
Regretfully in 1984 Leonard Pearce died whilst filming an episode ‘A Hole In One’ consequently the episode was re-written by John Sullivan as ‘Strained Relations’ and featured Grandad’s funeral and introduced Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert, which leads us to part two.
David Jason – Del Boy
Nicholas Lyndhurst – Rodney
Lennard Pearce – Grandad
Roger Lloyd Pack – Trigger
John Challs – Boycie
Paul Barber – Denzil
Teasa Peake-Jones – Raquel
Gwyneth Strong – Cassandra
Sue Holderness – Marlene
Patrick Murray – Mickey Pearce
Kenneth Macdonald – Mike
Written and Created By: John Sullivan
Produced By: Ray Butt from 1981 to 1987, and Gareth Gwenlan thereafter.
Original Transmission (Leonard Pearce, episodes): 1981 – 1983
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 Hazelhurst, who had also arranged the themes for other BBC sitcoms, 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.
Only Fools And Horses enjoys regular repeats on cable and satellite channel G.O.L.D.