JAN MOIR raises a glass as Only Fools and Horses storms the West End

Lovely bubbly jubbly! JAN MOIR raises a glass of Tittinger to Del Boy and Rodney as Only Fools and Horses storms the West End

Chateauneuf du Pape! What is occurring here? 

On a busy Saturday night up West, a three-wheeled vehicle is illegally parked outside a London theatre. Fans swarm around the yellow Reliant Regal, posing for selfies and even kissing the bonnet.

For despite its pantomime grime and battered bodywork, this little motor is as iconic as the Tardis, as famous as the Batmobile, more loved than Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. 

There are loud cheers when Del Boy appears in his sheepskin coat, setting up his stall with genuine models of the Leaning Eiffel Tower of Pisa. The year is 1989, and Del informs us that he still hasn’t got a pot, how can I put this politely, to use as a receptacle for his body fluids

And we all know what its presence here means. It means Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad have finally made it to the West End.

Only Fools And Horses The Musical opened in review at the Theatre Royal Haymarket at the weekend and already tickets for the show are rarer than genuine Rolexes on Del’s fly pitch in Peckham market.

In the two-hour show, comedy actor Paul Whitehouse plays Grandad, while Tom Bennett is Del Boy and Ryan Hutton takes the part of Rodney. 

All three sing and dance in a romp which includes 20 songs, amid scenes and running gags directly culled from writer John Sullivan’s much-loved sitcom.

Oddly enough, in one old episode of the telly series, Rodney ponders the notion of a musical about the Trotters. ‘Then as a sequel, they could do Schindler’s List on ice,’ he concludes, surmising the improbability of such an idea.

The show is based on the original TV series, with Peckham-based wide boy ‘Del’ Trotter (Sir David Jason) pictured centre, alongside his brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) left, and Grandad (Lennard Pearce) right [File photo]

Yet here it is, playing to an eager opening night audience who seem to have been bussed in from Cockneyland, wherever that might be these days. 

The air is thick with Blue Stratos aftershave and expectation, as the packed stalls await the comforting arrival of the funny familiar; the dipsticks, the plonkers, the very crème de la menthe of Peckham, here to cavort before our very eyes.

And we are not disappointed. There are loud cheers when Del Boy appears in his sheepskin coat, setting up his stall with genuine models of the Leaning Eiffel Tower of Pisa.

The year is 1989, and Del informs us that he still hasn’t got a pot, how can I put this politely, to use as a receptacle for his body fluids.

Our hero is still on the hunt for bunce, still dreaming that this time next year they will all be millionaires. He could have had an Aston Martin ‘with one of them cellulite phones’ but we see him still flogging dodgy gear and taking care of Grandad, Rodney and all the rest.

John Sullivan’s original scripts shimmered with genius, while his finely drawn characters could never be bettered and his bevelled plots stand the test of time. I mean, pot pourri! 

The good news is that the gang are all here, including Boycie and Marlene (Jeff Nicholson and Samantha Seagar), Raquel (Dianne Pilkington), Cassandra (Pippa Duffy), Trigger (Peter Baker), Denzil (Adrian Irvine), Mickey Pearce (Chris Keily) and special mention to Oscar Conlon-Morrey who is quite brilliant in his range of supporting roles.

In a show that mixes up musical styles with hilarious gusto, the Driscoll brothers (Pete Gallagher and Adam Venus) pop up to sing a menacing ditty a la Gilbert & Sullivan while Raquel emotes sadly of love in a way that Andrew Lloyd Webber would approve.

For the leads, accuracy of impression seems to be more important than depth of musical skill, with only Bennett rising effortlessly to the challenge of both. He even makes Del tap dance! What a star.

Still, Hutton absolutely nails down Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Rodney, while Paul Whitehouse manages, from the depths of Grandad’s stained armchair and a shirt that still has more food on it than a menu, to make the old boy both pathetic and heroic. ‘I wouldn’t mind a nice bit of haddock for my tea,’ he says at one point, and it nearly made me cry.

The bad news, if there is any, is that the show has little dramatic impetus. Instead, it is a compendium of classic Only Fools episodes and plotlines. The dialogue, like Del Boy’s pre-blessed communion wine, has been imported wholesale from old shows. There is little new except a few songs, and some of those are a bit make-weight.

There are moments when the jubbly is not as lovely as it could be and you can sense the audience yearning for something more. No doubt this will improve as the show gets into its stride.


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The plot, what there is of one, is similar to Dates, the episode in which Del meets Raquel. Along the way, Rodney marries Cassandra (from an episode called Little Problems) and later the gang all plan a day-trip to Margate (Jolly Boys Outing).

Still, perhaps this was for the best. John Sullivan’s original scripts shimmered with genius, while his finely drawn characters could never be bettered and his bevelled plots stand the test of time. I mean, pot pourri!

Who could possibly top Del Boy’s magnificent malapropisms and jambon-fisted grasp of languages? Sullivan died in 2011, but his son Jim has teamed up with Whitehouse to produce a script and score that honours his father’s legacy, complete with musical contributions by Chas and Dave.

The TV show won many awards during its 33-year run. Starting in 1981, there were seven series, 64 episodes and 16 seasonal specials, all starring David Jason as Del Boy and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney. Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad, was replaced after his death in 1984 by Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert.

It holds the record for biggest TV sitcom audience, when Time On Our Hands attracted 24.3 million viewers at Christmas in 1996.

Who is going to mess with that legacy? For if you laughed at the idea of Del Boy performing the ‘Himmler’ manoeuvre on Grandad after he ate an Odour Eater first time around, well you will howl again when it is replayed in the musical. We all howled.

There are even plans to tear down Harlech Tower in West London, left, which was used as the original location for Nelson Mandela House, in a £650 million regeneration plan [File photo]

Old jokes and running themes rebound, even in these sensitive times. Trigger is still the village idiot, while Boycie and Marlene are still trying to have a baby.

And yes, this personal tragedy of theirs is still regarded with hilarity by all. ‘We call him Jaffa, because he is seedless,’ says Del, as he first did all those years ago.

On stage, Marlene wears a handkerchief hem leopard-print dress to flirt with Del, while Boycie eyes her balefully as he sings a Sondheim-esqe song about their visits to the fertility clinic. ‘Like it or lump it, I’ve just got to hump it,’ he croons, a popcorn spluttering moment of ribaldry that only fools and horses could carry off.

All this takes place on a revolving set. Via this bit of stagecraft, the Trotters’ lives pass before our eyes in a grimy carousel; the palm-print wallpaper and sagging armchairs of the Nelson Mandela House flat, complete with Old Spice bottle on the sideboard and cocktail apparatus.

There is the Nags Head, Sid’s cafe and the Peckham street scenes which may look shabby, but there the spirit of community and friendship still flourish.

Songs include the theme tunes Only Fools And Horses and Hooky Street, plus Chas and Dave’s Margate, while the best new songs include Where Have All The Cockneys Gone and A Bit Of A Sort.

There are a few surprises along the way which I am not going to spoil here, but it is heartening to know that the world of the Trotters has lost none of its appeal. 

Rodney is still proud of his two GCEs, while Del still marvels at hen-nights where girls drink Tittinger champagne and are entertained by the Chimpendales. His heart is still as big as an ocean, which is one of the reasons why, mange tout, we will love him for ever.

Especially as their world no longer exists. We are in a different reality now.

Actress Sue Holderness, who played Marlene on TV, recently had to defend Only Fools in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, on account of Del Boy always pinching her bottom. It was just fun, she said, but he would be deemed a ‘pervert’ and ‘inappropriate’ now.

In the musical, Grandad suddenly decides to get his ‘Chalfont St Giles’ fixed, and is whisked into a hospital ward before you can say holy haemorrhoids. Today, he’d still be on a waiting list.

There are even plans to tear down Harlech Tower in West London, which was used as the original location for Nelson Mandela House, in a £650 million regeneration plan.

Yet in some forgotten corner of South-East London, the ghost of a little man who dreamed of a bigger life will linger with us for ever.

From Peckham to the West End he is on a cushty journey, this most highly prized of all plonkers. What else is there to do but raise a glass of Tittinger and wish you all a fond bonjour.

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