Only Fools and Horses

Hidden dramas behind Only Fools And Horses – from BBC bosses ‘nearly ruining’ Xmas classic to unfortunate prop disaster

DESPITE airing 25 years ago, Only Fools And Horses’ Christmas special Heroes And Villains remains the nation’s favourite TV show to watch over the festive period. 

In the Sun’s exclusive poll, Del Boy and Rodney’s misadventure dressed as Batman and Robin came out on top – after receiving 28 per cent of your votes.

It was followed by The Vicar Of Dibley’s Four Christmas Lunches with 11 per cent, and The Snowman: Walking In The Air and Wallace And Gromit: The Wrong Trousers, both with 10 per cent.

Only Fools And Horses first aired in 1981 and over the course of 22 years released a whopping 64 episodes.

Heroes And Villains was voted the best by you – but behind the scenes, the episode was nearly “ruined” due to a number of problems.

As the iconic Christmas special marks its 25th birthday, we look back at the shocking dramas and amusing moments that affected the legendary TV show.

BBC ‘nearly spoiled’ Xmas reveal

Sir David Jason said revealing the Batman and Robin costumes would have been 'ruinous'

Ahead of Heroes And Villains’ release, Sir David Jason said he “shuddered” at the thought of how the episode was going to be received.

It followed a clash with the BBC’s publicity department and the press, which the actor compared to “fighting a battle on two departments”.

Drama began to unfold when the corporation wanted to “get out ahead” and ensure viewers would tune in by releasing a teaser trailer before the episode aired.

However, they planned to show the episode’s “big reveal” – when it’s realised that Del Boy and Rodney are dressed as Batman and Robin.

In the episode, the brothers believe they are going to a fancy dress competition – with a £1,000 speaker system as a prize – only to discover that no one is in costume because the organiser ԁıеԁ and it is now a wake.

In Sir David’s memoir A Del Of A Life, which came out last year, he explained showing them dressed as the caped crusaders would have “shredded all that careful build-up” in the scene.

“Even a glimpse of Del or Rodney in those stupid costumes before the episode was broadcast, indeed at any moment… would have been ruinous,” he wrote.

Thankfully, Sir David and the team “had the clout” to make a strict demand to the BBC: “Nothing showing Del and Rodney in those outfits should be leaked.”

Shot in Bristol to avoid ‘fan mob’

The storyline for the Christmas special was a closely guarded secret – but newspapers and the public were eager to find out what happened.

It led to the show being shot in Bristol instead of London to avoid prying eyes and photographers.

The cameras rolled shortly after midnight in a bid to avoid passersby getting a glimpse of the duo dressed and Batman and Robin.

The team also hired security guards, who cordoned off the area to avoid anyone getting close to where they were filming. 

Speaking of the difficulties, Sir David explained: “A picture in the paper could have spoiled it. A trailer would have killed it stone ԁеаԁ.”

Wise-cracking schoolgirl

This wasn’t the only episode to face real-life drama because of the show’s popularity – in one, Nicholas Lyndhurst was mocked by a child.

Sir David recalled the amusing incident, which happened during a break from filming in Chapel Market, in Islington.

They had to stop when the set was “swarmed all over” by children, meaning there would be “no peace in the near future” and it started to rain.

Nicholas was standing under an umbrella when he was suddenly joined by a small schoolgirl who “appeared out of nowhere”.

He described her staring up at him with the “steely, inquisitive look that only the very young can muster”.

After explaining to her that they were filming Only Fools And Horses, she “cast a long look around the rain-drenched set”.

She then turned to Nicholas and asked him: “Well where are the horses, then?”

Sir David found the incident hilarious and remarked: “Fools, yes – she could see those all right. But no horses. Kids don’t miss a trick.”

David Jason was last choice 

Sir David Jason was the fifth actor to be offered the part of Del Boy, he claimed

Casting the right people in the right roles for Only Fools And Horses was no easy task – and the most challenging of all was Del Boy.

Sir David explained that he was “merely the fifth option” and there may have been others as his guess was a “most conservative estimation”.

“Why, perhaps you, dear reader, were considered for the role, too, and turned it down. It would hardly come as a shock to me,” he joked.

The actors who were consulted included voiceover specialist Enn Reitel, Jim Broadbent, Robin Nedwell and Billy Murray.

Sir David said other actors would have been “terribly sniffly” about being offered the part after others rejected it but he was flattered.

He argued it was more important to be “​​the best you can be when you get to the front of the queue” rather than the “first in line”.

Trotter brothers secret

Sir David believed Jim Broadbent would have been “a much more plausible” casting as Rodney’s brother because he and Nicholas were of a similar height.

However, Sir David’s shortness fed into the underlying plotline that the Trotter brothers didn’t share a biological father. 

The actor described it as a “wonderful insinuation” throughout the series that was “never overplayed” but it was “constantly hovering in the background”.

He also thought it was more comedic having “a smaller man punching up” and if Del Boy was taller it “could have looked a bit like bullying”.

Corpsing chaos

Only Fools And Horses episode Heroes And Villains celebrates its 25th anniversary this year

Viewers at home were often left in stitches by the legendary TV show and it seems Sir David and the cast weren’t immune to that either.

He recalled there were “so many times” that they could “barely get the scene shot” because they were “laughing so hard”. 

In Heroes And Villains, they had to do so many retakes that they feared it was going to get light before they finished. 

In another, Grandad, who was played by Leonard Pearce, recalled a story from the Boer War where a silver cigarette lighter deflected a bullet but instead “blew [the man’s] brains out”.

Sir David and Nicholas laughed so many times that producer Ray Butt got “seriously annoyed” with them.

Prop disaster

This scene in Ashes To Ashes led to a cameraman being 'hauled off' set

It wasn’t just the cast either – in the 1982 episode Ashes To Ashes, the Trotters intended to scatter the ashes of Trigger’s grandfather in the River Thames but suffered a few mishaps.

In one comedic scene, they put the urn on the side of the road and a street cleaning lorry unknowingly sucked it up.

After realising what has happened they chased after the vehicle and Rodney said: “You’ve just sucked up our urn.”

Only for the driver to respond: “Oh my God, what was he? A kitten?”

The scene was so funny that even the cameraman “couldn’t control himself” and “would get the shakes” as he tried to stifle his laughter.

Sir David recalled: “We had to haul out the cameraman and replace him for that shot in the end.”

He joked that they may have been filming that scene “even now” if they hadn’t got another cameraman.


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