The Buster Merryfield Years, 1985 – 1991
In part one we saw how Only Fools And Horses established itself as one of the BBC’s more popular comedies, the Christmas Special of 1983 marked a significant point in the series. Leonard Pearce who was part of the established line up made his final appearance. In 1984 he sadly died, leaving a gap for an elder member of the cast – enter Uncle Albert.
Buster Merryfield, an amateur actor at the time was chosen to play the part because of his ‘Captain Birdseye’ style whiskers. He made his first appearance in the 1985 episode ‘Strained Relations’ he stayed with the program through to the end of it’s regular run in 1991 and appeared in subsequent Christmas Specials until his death in 1999.
Mid-way through the filming of series five, David Jason advised writer John Sullivan that he wanted to leave in order to further his career elsewhere. This lead to Sullivan writting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, which was intended to be the final episode and would see Del accepting a friend’s offer to set up business in Australia, leaving Rodney and Albert behind.
As this would have meant the end of Only Fools And Horses, plans were made for a spin-off entitled Hot-Rod, this would have followed Rodney’s attempts to survive on his own with help from Mickey Pearce, but leaving open the prospect of Del’s return. Fortunately David Jason changed his mind, and the ending of the episode was changed to show Del rejecting the offer.
The regular series took a break after the 1986 Christmas Specials only returning for Christmas Specials in 1987 and 1988.
When the series returned in 1989 episodes were now 50 minutes duration. This was due to John Sulllivan’s tendency to write scripts that were too long, meaning a lot of good material had to be cut. Shortly before filming of the sixth series began, he requested that the show’s time slot be extended and it was agreed to extend its running time to 50 minutes. The idea worked and lead to the show becoming one of the BBC’s most popular programmes, the 1989 series is perhaps Only Fools And Horses greatest moment. After the 1989 Christmas Special the series took another break. It returned in late 1990 after a Christmas Special, but this would be the last full series. Of course that was not the end Only Fools And Horses became as much a part of Christmas TV as the Quen’s Speech as it returned for Christmas Specials, that’s another story.
Among the mourners at Grandad’s funeral- who have come from as far away as North London – are Del’s cousins Jean and Stan, and they’re accompanied by Grandad’s brother, Uncle Albert.
As the wake comes to an end it appears that Jean and Stan have forgotten Uncle Albert. Del decides to let him stay the night. When morning comes it appears that Jean and Stan want nothing to do with Albert, so Del who’s not keen on the idea of letting him stay , packs him off to the seaman’s mission. It’s not long before the old Sea Dog is back as the seaman’s mission has been demolished. Reluctantly Del agrees to let him stay and so begins a new era for the Trotters.
Written By: John Sullivan
Original Run (this posting): 1985 – 1991
Repeats: Only Fools And Horses enjoys regular repeats on satellite and cable channel G.O.L.D.