Saturday, July 3, 2010

Only Fools and Horses

If I had to summarize this show in one sentence, it would be: A small-time wheeler-dealer tries to support a generally uncooperative family and vows that this time next year, they’ll be millionaires.

Only Fools and Horses was a phenomenally successful British comedy that ran for ten years on the brilliance of its characterization and writing. The main character is Derek (Del) Trotter, who sells cheap knockoffs out of a three-wheeled van, avoids the law and tries to impress everyone with his (imaginary) suavity.

For all his faults, Del is devoted to his family, where he has been in loco parentis ever since his mother died and his father walked out.

Del : I came home that evening and found that Dad had gone – taken all his things and gone. He took everything, Rodney. He took my savings and my three-quarter length suede coat. He even opened your little piggy bank… You know what day that was?

Rodney : (shakes his head)

Del: It was my sixteenth birthday. (pause) He even took my cake.

Rodney, Del’s much younger brother, is quite different. Growing up in the shadow of someone as determined, manipulative and unscrupulous as Del, Rodney turned out quite the opposite. He believes in education, despite not having had much of it, and tries to do the right thing. Though since he’s less shrewd and more easily influenced, he rarely succeeds.

Although money is always tight thanks to no regular employment and a variety of get-rich-quick schemes, Del and Rodney share a flat with first their granddad and then their equally ancient and useless Uncle Albert.

Del : Come on, Granddad, lend me a hundred and I’ll pay you back double. Now be fair. I’ve always been straight with you, haven’t I? Remember last month when you said you were feeling cold in bed? What did I do for you?

Granddad : You brought me an electric blanket.

Del : Right. Give me the hundred and I’ll put a plug on it for you.

The supporting cast is great as well. There’s Boycie, the only successful businessman among Del’s many friends – he owns a car dealership, is an inveterate snob and would happily bankrupt Del if he could. Unfortunately for him, he tries to do so in a no-limits game of poker (“A Losing Streak”) and ends up with four kings, while Del has four aces.

Boycie : Where’d you get those four bloody aces?

Del : Same place you got them kings. I knew you was cheating, Boycie.

Boycie : Oh yeah? How?

Del : Because that wasn’t the hand that I dealt you.

Trigger is another unforgettable character – a roadsweeper who occasionally sells Del a shipment of something that conveniently fell off the back of a truck, such as briefcases with combination locks and the combinations locked securely inside. He’s also extremely… dumb. At one point he and Del drive to the council waste depot after dark to dispose of some mildly toxic chemicals.

Del : It's closed!

Trigger : (checks watch) Well, it's a bit late, innit?

Del : What d'you mean "a bit late"? You said it was open twenty-four hours a day.

Trigger : Yeah, but not at night.

There are too many amusing episodes to choose from, but one of my favorites is “Cash and Curry”, where an Indian businessman hires Del to retrieve a statue of a Hindu god from another Indian businessman who has apparently stolen it. Del tries to make a profit out of that, only to find that he’s fallen in with bigger crooks than he is.

Unfortunately the writers tried to have both Del and Rodney eventually domesticated by partners and children, and the later episodes just aren’t as good. Especially after Del finds a watch that ends up being auctioned off for six million pounds, and he strolls off into the sunset saying, “This time next year, we’ll be billionaires.” Well, it’s hard to provide a lot of down-to-earth conflict for a millionaire, so he quickly loses it all. But the second through sixth seasons are British comedy at its best.


Maria Zannini said...

I wish we got this on PBS (a member supported station). They're always showing British comedies.

Thanks for the great examples of characterization. It was an education in itself.

Marian Perera said...

Glad you liked it. :) The characterization was very well done, and few comedies have such a spirit of place - everything works together, from the slang used to the dodgy situations the Trotters end up in. I hope you get to watch the show some day.