All’s Del That Ends Well – Why ‘Only Fools’ Needs To Be Left Alone

The seminal BBC comedy is better left as a memory

Sometimes in life, there are things that we expect to be over that make a surprise comeback. They can be welcome returns after their original presence was prematurely ended – Twin Peaks, Dinosaur Jr., a child you originally put up for adoption – but then on the flipside there are things that return that you, erm, ‘enjoyed’ enough the first time (Love Island, an aggressive yeast infection, that sort of thing).

Television shows often leave us pondering what might have been. Many people debate wistfully on whether or not the duck in Friends would still be alive by now. Some ponder what hilarious antics would come from Frasier Crane trying to master Tinder. Sometimes, whether we really want fulfilment or not, we get those answers – David Brent and Alan Partridge have both popped up periodically to show us how they are surviving the current climate, while there’s strong rumours the suburban strife of Hank Hill will be gracing our screens very soon. One show that really does not need a revival, though, is Only Fools and Horses. And before anyone questions that comment, I am one of the many people that regard it as quite possibly the finest comedy ever written.

I am not narrow-minded in my choices of funny television, and I quite rightly laud the likes of The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Father Ted and Peep Show, while also loving more recent additions to the comedic canon (think Bojack, Rick and Morty, the criminally underrated Community). For me, though, Only Fools… trumps all of them, mainly because the strength of John Sullivan’s writing enabled us to be at one with the Trotter family. Over the years, we shared their optimism, their frustrations, their grief and their stubbornness. We longed for them to find success and cursed when they, of course, fell short. Like all real families, they went through heartbreak, death, debt and the occasional happy time. It was brutally real, bare television, embellished by needle-sharp writing and devastatingly accurate acting.

Such praise makes a return for the show, whether it be a complete series or a 15-minute skit, seem a solid concept. However, the idea seems much more hopeful than the actual execution – think of the floating timelines that allow The Simpsons, Futurama (a show that deserved, and was quite rightly given, an Indian summer) and King Of The Hill to tackle contemporary topics and technology. They are able to write Bart Simpson as a ten-year-old demanding an iPad; it would be hard now for anyone writing Only Fools… to get mileage out of a 60-year-old Rodney Trotter sending Snapchats to his spiv friend.

Another reason why the show needs to remain dormant is the way it should have ended, versus the way it actually did end. To the very few that are unfamiliar with the show’s premise, market trader Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter – quick-witted, oft-engaged, awful at foreign languages – has spent most of his life raising younger brother Rodney in a Peckham council estate, and longs for his company, Trotters Independent Traders (think about it), to find fame and fortune. “This time next year we’ll be millionaires,” came the catchphrase, and throughout the show’s staggeringly long run, we went on an emotional rollercoaster as Del, time and time again, would be thwarted, either through family loyalty, an unfortunate stitch-up or his own, as he would put it, “general walliness.”

To throw a spoiler in here, by 1996 the show closed the way it should, by making Del a millionaire in a realistic, happenstance way (by auctioning off a seemingly superannuated stopwatch that had been left in his garage). As loyal viewers, we felt relief and happiness that Del, brilliantly played by David Jason as a down-on-his-luck ne’er-do-well (as opposed to a petty thug), Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield) have found the financial security they had always craved. Walking off in the sunset, Del still isn’t quite satisfied. “This next time year, we’ll be billionaires!” he cries, and then the curtain came down on one of Britain’s best institutions, viewed by no less than 26 million people.

The temptation and curiosity to observe what happened to the Trotters post-wealth proved too great, but the three Christmas specials that arrived in the early noughties tainted rather than touched up – the jokes were flat, the characters were too old and the overall plot, of Del losing his fortune and ending right back where he started again, was unnecessary and obvious. People enjoyed the shows at the time, gleefully guffawing at dopey Trigger’s dense remarks and Del’s stupidity, but they have not aged well and many agree the show should have ended on a high rather than a whimper.

And, finally, bringing the show back now would be foolish purely for the fact John Sullivan is no longer with us. His scripts for the final three specials may have lacked that scalpel-sharp wit and the clever plot twists, but they were still true to form, and without his contributions the show would surely struggle further. Furthermore, the loss of actors Roger Lloyd-Pack, Merryfield (whose absence in those specials was strongly felt) and many more deem it an already unfulfilling exercise.

Only Fools and Horses is a comedy institution, one that has provided moments of pure hilarity (Del’s attempt at handgliding, Rodney masquerading as a 14-year-old for a Spanish holiday, the Batman and Robin sequence) and moments of hard-hitting drama (Granddad’s death, Del standing alone after Rodney’s wedding). It is now best left as a memory.

Words By Sam Lambeth.

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