37 years after the first episode aired, on 8th September 1981, the antics of Del Boy and Rodney in Only Fools and Horses are fully established as part of the classic canon of British comedy.
It is funny to think, now, that – amid a bad critical reception and ‘mediocre’ viewing figures – the show was nearly cancelled after two series. Thankfully, the BBC took an almighty risk, and it paid off. David Jason’s portrayal of the archetypal London trader went to the hearts of the nation, alongside his ‘goofy’ brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst), their Grandad (Lennard Pearce), and Uncle Albert (the ever chirpy Buster Merryfield) after Pearce’s death in 1984.
The series has produced some of the most iconic television comedy moments of all time: the chandelier falling from the roof, Del and Rodney running through Peckham dressed as Batman and Robin, Rodney having to pretend to be a child after Del wins a cereal commercial in his name, and that infamous faint when they became multi-millionaires after finding a rare watch. Finally, their infamous quote “this time next year we’ll be millionaires” came true (though not for long; they were bankrupt a couple of episodes later and accidentally bought back an immigrant ‘Gary’ from their European travels).
Only Fools and Horses has a unique place in the heart of British comedy: for many it has become a nostalgia trip, but even for newcomers its comedic value is still as great as 30 years ago, and very few comedies have since achieved the same following and impact. Its final three episodes (aired every Christmas from 2011-13) achieved an extraordinary average audience of 18 million. At its height, for the episode ‘Time On Our Hands’, its audience reached 24.3 million, making it the fourth highest broadcast in BBC history, 100,000 higher than for the broadcast of the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. It even inspired two spin off series: The Green, Green, Grass (around the iconic side character Boycie) and Rock and Chips. Its legacy cannot be denied: to call it one of the best programmes ever produced by the BBC would hardly seem an exaggeration.
Remind yourself of one of the most iconic moments of the series below: