It has been 39 years since Only Fools and Horses began, 24 years since its original finale aired, and 17 years since its three-part revival concluded. Today John Sullivan’s creation remains one of the most beloved series in British television history, with daily repeats on UKTV Gold and several fan conventions held every year. I hold a soft spot for it as I began watching it at aged 9, and it is ultimately what started my love for sitcoms. There were countless wonderful moments thanks to Sullivan’s wonderful gift for writing and the incredibly talented ensemble cast but, like with every television series, there are ten moments which are the best of the lot, and these are the ones I consider to be the best from Only Fools and Horses. Do bear in mind that these are moments, not episodes, as some of the best moments of the series occur in episodes which would not make a Top 10 list. So without further ado, here we go with…
10) The Concluding Family (Episode 64 – Sleepless in Peckham)
Look, I will not beat about the bush here, the 3-part revival was not that great, even though it had good moments. However, despite this it ended on a high-note! The Trotters had lost their fortune in a stock market crash and, bankrupt, they had been forced to move back to Nelson Mandela House only a few days before Uncle Albert’s death. Owing the Inland Revenue £53,000 and only having two weeks left to raise the money, it looked bleak for the Trotters…until Del and Rodney learn that they have inherited £290,000 from Albert.
Moments after learning this, they rush to the hospital where Cassandra has just given birth to Rodney’s firstborn – a little girl whom they name Joan. With Del, Raquel and Damien looking on as Rodney and Cassandra welcome their baby into the world, the viewer is left overjoyed that Rodney and Cassandra finally have the child whom they have been trying for for years, and that financially the family will be okay. While the revival was underwhelming as a whole, it ended on a high note for the beloved sitcom family and left many a long-term fan reaching for a tissue.
9) “Cwying” (Episode 51 – Stage Fright)
When Del is asked to arrange a double-act to sing at the birthday part of Mrs. McCarthy, mother of local gangster Eugene, he hires Raquel and Tony Angelino, a local pub singer who is popular with the more mature woman. When the double-act start singing “Crying” it starts out well…until Tony starts singing the titular word as “Cwying”, leaving a horrified Del speechless.
Earlier in the episode there had been little hints that things would not go according to plan – namely Tony saying that there were certain songs that he could not sing, and Raquel being even more nervous after rehearsals – but the pay-off in this moment was not only unexpected, but utterly hilarious. From David Jason’s brilliant expressiveness as Del, to Philip Pope’s brilliant energy as Tony, this revelation of “pwonunciationism” (as Tony describes it in a later scene) was unexpected and is as funny on the tenth viewing as it is on the first.
8) Coming to Terms with Loss (Episode 25 – Strained Relations)
When Lennard Pearce sadly passed away during the production of Series 4, Grandad was killed off – not something which sitcoms had ever really done before – and Del and Rodney meet his long-lost younger brother, Albert. When Albert is suddenly left without a roof over his head, Del is reluctant to take Albert in, which disgusts Rodney, who was already furious with Del over his brash behaviour at the wake the day before. As the two brothers bicker, their grief and frustration boils over as Del reveals that he is devastated by Grandad’s death but does not know how to express it or how to be vulnerable.
It is an incredibly poignant moment to watch as we see the true vulnerable side of Del, which had only ever been hinted at a few times in a previous episodes, and it shows not only how well John Sullivan had realised his central characters but also showed for the first time in the series what a true gift for dramatic writing he had. It is even more poignant to watch when bearing in mind that this episode was filmed not long after Lennard Pearce’s funeral, so David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst’s powerful performances were fuelled further by their real-life feelings of grief and loss.
7) Outwitting Slater (Episode 20 – May the Force Be With You)
Del received the shock of his life when he encounters his old classmate Roy Slater for the first time in years, his horror stemming from the fact that Slater – played exceptionally by Jim Broadbent – is a Detective Inspector and one of the nastiest cops in London. Having arrested the Trotters for possession of a stolen microwave, Slater threatens Grandad and Rodney, which convinces Del to go against his principles and become one of Slater’s grasses, so that all charges against the family will be dropped.
After getting immunity from prosecution, a seemingly broken Del reveals that he was the thief and had been playing Slater like a fiddle all along. This is a fantastic moment for several reasons. Firstly, it is hilarious to see Del reveal what he had been doing all along, made even more so by David Jason and Jim Broadbent’s expressiveness. It is also a very clever twist from screenwriter John Sullivan, which not only reminds us how crafty Del can actually be, but provides a huge sense of relief after we spend several minutes thinking Del has been broken. Del may have outwitted Slater in two later episodes, but this first time is the best of the lot.
6) Celebrating New Fortunes (Episode 61 – Time on Our Hands)
In what was originally the series finale, Del and Rodney finally achieve their dream of becoming millionaires after an antique watch which they had acquired years ago in a house clearance auctions for £6.2 million at Sotheby’s. That evening they go to The Nag’s Head to celebrate, where word has already gotten around. As the family enters the pub, they receive a standing ovation from old friends and fellow local traders alike.
It is a beautiful moment, and the last time that the beloved ensemble which had defined the series in recent years were all together – sadly both Buster Merryfield and Kenneth MacDonald passed away before the revival 5 years later. After 61 episodes and 15 years of investing in Del and Rodney, it is wonderful to see their years of struggling come to an end, and the greeting of the family at the iconic sitcom pub testifies better than any other moment in the series how beloved this double-act had become, not only within the fictional world of Only Fools and Horses, but in tens of millions of living rooms around the world.
5) Batman and Robin (Episode 59 – Heroes and Villains)
On their way to a fancy dress party, the iconic yellow three wheel van breaks down in Peckham, and Del and Rodney are then forced to run through the alleys and side streets dressed as none other than Batman and Robin. Their route takes them in the direction of the council offices, where a gang of muggers are trying to steal Councillor Murray’s handbag. The gang are terrified by the sight of a lanky Robin and a stocky little Batman running towards them out of the darkness, and flee in horror.
This has become one of the most iconic Only Fools and Horses moments of all-time, and rightly so. It was a totally unforeseen moment, terrifically shot and edited and played with real energy by all involved, while the general hilarity of it is made more so by the fact that the Batman theme tune from the 1960s’ television series is used here. This moment had me in stitches when I first watched it at aged 9, and still makes me laugh 19 years later. Some sitcom moments never get old, they remain iconic for years to come and hold up very well to repeat viewing, and this is one of them.
4) Meeting Damien (Episode 54 – Three Men, a Woman and a Baby)
With the last few episodes having seen Raquel get increasingly pregnant with her and Del’s child, and Rodney become increasingly paranoid that he was going to become uncle to the Antichrist, this episode saw the birth of baby Damien, and Del become a father after years of wanting a child. While the intense birthing scenes actually provided several hilarious moments, it was when Del looked out the window with his newborn son in his arms that we see the heart of the episode and the series.
Del tells his late Mum’s spirit that she is now a grandmother and tells Damien that he is the luckiest boy in the world due to his wonderful, loving family, and that “This time next year we’ll be millionaires”. It is a beautiful moment, wonderfully acted by David Jason, and full of real heart, which testifies to John Sullivan’s gift for dramatic writing by reflecting wonderfully that the heart of the show really is family, and that the central family has now changed in a truly wonderful way.
3) A New Chapter for Rodney (Episode 46 – Little Problems)
Series 6 saw a major shift for the series. Not only did a minimum of 50 minutes become the standard runtime, but Del and Rodney both grew with age and began looking to settle down, which is exactly what Rodney did by marrying Cassandra. In the episode’s final minutes, just before he heads off for his honeymoon, Rodney speaks to Del and thanks him for everything he has done for him, while Del reflects with pride and held-back tears that his baby brother is embarking on a wonderful new chapter of his life.
After Rodney and Cassandra leave, Del is eventually the last one in the reception venue and, as he reflects upon how much Rodney has been through and changed, takes the groom topper from the wedding cake. This moment is a real tearjerker, as we are reminded once again of just how much Del loves Rodney, despite the constant teasing, as well as just how sensitive a soul lies under Del’s brash exterior, and David Jason plays beautifully this moment, which testifies to how wonderfully John Sullivan could write drama.
2) The Chandelier (Episode 14 – A Touch of Glass)
Inspired by a memory his father had once shared with him, John Sullivan wrote this moment as the climax of an episode in which Del manages to convince Lord Ridgemere to hire the Trotters to polish his priceless Louis XIV chandeliers. As Del and Rodney stand on ladders, waiting to catch the chandelier which Grandad is loosening above their heads, we the viewers know that something is going to go wrong.
When first watching this episode at aged 9, I was fully expecting a pratfall which would most likely be Rodney falling off the ladder. So when that second chandelier fell and shattered in the background, leaving the Trotter brothers slowly realising what has happened, I roared with laughter until my eyes watered (and it still makes me laugh hard every time I rewatch it). The brilliantly tense build-up guarantees that you will react in this manner, as the tension is broken in such spectacular fashion, which testifies to just how brilliantly John Sullivan understood comedy writing techniques.
1) The Wine Bar (Episode 41 – Yuppy Love)
Now aged 43 and inspired by Wall Street, Del is trying desperately to fit in with the yuppies that are gentrifying Peckham by going to nice wine bars. He is joined in one by Trigger and, after eyeing up some attractive women nearby, gets ready to go and speak to them. Telling Trigger to play it nice and cool, he goes to lean on the bar flap but does not realise that it has been lifted up by a barman…and Del subsequently falls through it. This moment is comedy gold for several reasons, not least the fact that you do not see it coming. One great reason is that David Jason did not glance at where he is meant to fall, which he could so easily have done, plus it was not an over-exaggerated tumble, he simply went down.
However, what elevates this moment from brilliant to a comedy masterpiece is Roger Lloyd-Pack’s reaction as Trigger, which so often gets overlooked. The brilliance of the Trigger character is that he considers himself intelligent, so rarely looks genuinely confused, which is exactly how he looks in this moment. Lloyd-Pack is brilliantly expressive here as he looks for Del in bewilderment, which is simply hilarious to watch. This moment is not just the best in Only Fools and Horses, but is regularly voted the Best British Sitcom Moment of All-Time, and will have you laughing every time you see it!