Only Fools and Horses: 10 things you probably never knew about the iconic BBC sitcom

Who was lined up to play Del? What was the original title? We find out.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 7 January 2020 - 4.15pm
Buster Merryfield, David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst in Only Fools and Horses

It’s 38 years since Only Fools and Horses first aired on British TV.

Giving the world Del Boy and Rodney, endless catchphrases (“He who dares”, “Lovely jubbly”) and some of the country’s most treasured TV memories, John Sullivan’s sitcom remains the gold standard for TV sitcoms.

Gold’s (BT TV channel 310) series The Story of Only Fools and Horses reunited the show’s cast, creators and famous fans for a look through the show’s archives and never seen before footage of the Trotter family story.

Here are 10 surprising facts about Only Fools that you probably never knew.

David Jason and Tessa Peake Jones

1. David Jason wasn’t the first choice for Del Boy

It’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character of Del Boy, but incredibly David Jason wasn’t the first pick for the role.

John Sullivan has originally earmarked Jim Broadbent for the role and he would go on to star in Only Fools as Del Boy’s memorable nemesis DCI Roy Slater.

Enn Reitel was also offered the part, but declined because of other commitments.

2. Only Fools and Horses wasn’t the original title

The show had the working title ‘Readies’ based on the slang word for money. John Sullivan also toyed with the name ‘Big Brother’, which ended up being the title of the first ever episode.

3. The cast got a big shock filming the birth of Damien Trotter

David Jason as Del Trotter in Only Fools and Horses

Speaking about the memorable and emotional scenes, Tessa Peake Jones (Raquel) said: “None of us at that stage had ever had a child, nobody on the production - apart from John Sullivan, who wrote it.

“So a very sweet staff nurse suggested I watch it, mainly for me to hear the sounds and effects that would be made while giving birth. But all the lads said, ‘Oh we’ll come and watch it’. We’d just had breakfast, and there was Buster, Nick, David and myself, and the director Tony and all the stage crew, and they played this film which was exceedingly graphic of this very brave woman agreeing to let the cameras film her, with the blood and afterbirth and her agony.

“Anyway, at the end of it, Buster turned around to all of us and said ‘I feel really sick now’

4. Trigger’s real name

“How’s it going, Dave.” The show may never have truly got to the bottom of the classic Dave/Rodney saga, but we do know the real name of Trigger is Colin Bell. It was never mentioned in the show, but has been spotted in cast listings for the series.

5. We should all thank school teacher Jim Trowers

Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney Trotter and David Jason as Del Trotter in Only Fools and Horses

Jim Sullivan, John’s son, revealed that it was one of his school teachers that we should all thank for his creative and comic genius.

“Jim Trowers made the effort to bring his lessons to life, English was the only subject that had a positive and lasting impact on dad,” he said.

“Rather than just getting the pupils to recite passages of classics like Dickens, Trowers would read the stories aloud himself, playing the characters and taking on their accents.

“After leaving school, Dad worked a lot of jobs (plumbers mate, window cleaner, delivery driver, a stint in the second-hand car game, to name but a few) and he met many a colourful character along the way, experiences which he used to help build and colour the worlds of his story ideas.

“But he always said that it was Dickens, with the help of Trowers, who ignited his imagination and passion for writing.”

6. Uncle Albert was Buster Merryfield’s big break

When Buster Merryfield was brought into the show, he wasn’t an established name or a star. He had actually worked in banking for 40 years and it was only at the age of 57 that he quit his job and took up amateur dramatics. During a theatre role, he was scouted for the role of Albert and his life changed forever.

7. Being the children of John Sullivan had ups and downs

“My brother (Dan), sister (Amy) and I went along to watch the filming of the now famous hang-gliding scene,” said Jim Sullivan.

“We were just kids back then and Dad thought we’d enjoy watching the stuntman flying about. As it turned out it was too windy that day and the stuntman decided it best to keep his feet firmly on the old terracotta (as Del puts it). So we spent most of the day just standing around on a big windy hill.

“The family also went to Miami for the filming of the Xmas special ‘Miami Twice’ which was a great holiday.”

8. What is Lovely Jubbly?

David Jason as Del Trotter and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney in Only Fools and Horses

The phrase comes from a carton drink sold in the 1950s and 60s. John Sullivan used Jubbly’s ad slogan as Del Boy’s most famous catchphrase.

9. The series was originally a flop

Only Fools would go to become the most-watched TV show of all time at the peak of its powers in the 1990s. However, when the show first debuted in 1981 it struggled.

The ratings for series 1 and 2 were poor and it was only after some re-runs and the third series that viewers took Del and Rodney to their hearts.

10. Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune

David Jason as Derek Trotter, Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney Trotter and Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses

John Sullivan intended for the show’s classic theme song to be performed by Cockney pop heroes Chas and Dave.

However, after scoring a hit with Ain’t No Pleasing You, the duo wasn’t available. Sullivan was persuaded to sing the opening and closing credits – not Nicholas Lyndhurst as sometimes thought – and Chas and Dave were brought back in to perform Down to Margate for the classic episode The Jolly Boys’ Outing.