A great day out at Beaulieu

A great day out at Beaulieu

Review: Tom Gates Live on Stage!

Review: Tom Gates Live on Stage!

September 24

Gentleman John: My Tribute To John Challis

In the final moments of the last ever episode of Only Fools and Horses, Sleepless In Peckham, Rodney asks Del whether, other than looks, he is anything like his real father, gentleman thief Freddie “The Frog” Robdal.

“Freddie The Frog was a professional burglar,” Del replies. “He was disloyal to his friends. He was a womaniser, a home-breaker, a conman, a thief, a liar and a cheat. So no Rodney, you are nothing like him.”

In the same way, John Challis was about as far removed from Boycie, the character that he was best known for, that it was possible to be. Boycie was often mean-spirited, selfish, vulgar, pompous, tight-fisted, condescending and took pleasure in other people’s bad luck.

John Challis was the polar opposite. Kind-hearted, generous, selfless, warm, witty, understated and loyal are just some of the words that instantly spring to mind when I think about John. He was an old-school gent to whom good manners and common decency mattered, a gentle man and a gentleman.

Just about the only thing I can think that John had in common with Boycie was that they were both well-turned out. John didn’t go for Boycie’s salesman suits though, but always looked dapper in jacket and tie.

Obviously they looked the same, and that was something that he could never get away from, but whereas some actors find it irritating that people recognise them for one role in particular, John embraced it – and people loved him for it.

I first met John Challis in 1990 when I was tasked with writing a series of newspaper articles about Only Fools and Horses. John was rather wary of the press at the time but, thanks to an introduction from John Sullivan, John said yes to doing an interview.

He was living in Spain at the time so I flew out and we did the interview over dinner in a tapas bar. It was a very boozy evening. John was great company and we kept in touch from then on doing countless interviews and various other collaborations over the years.

And he was a fabulous person to interview… interviews can be a random affair – and magazines and newspapers often have formulaic features with standard questions. In the hands of an unhelpful interviewee, these can be very dull to write – and probably read!

But that wasn’t the case with John. He could always come up with a funny anecdote – he was a dream interviewee. So over the years, randomly, amongst other things I learned (via a Q&A on Food for TV Quick) that he’d once exploded a chicken he was cooking over an open fire (“I forgot to baste it and it burst into flames”) and that he been mugged at gunpoint in New York (via a travel Q&A in the Daily Telegraph) but told the gunman he was an actor and had no money (“I just kept talking and I could see him glazing over. I gave him one dollar which he took and ran).”

He just had a great turn of phrase and had a very natural, dry sense of humour. It was no surprise to me that he wrote two volumes of autobiography – after all, he’d had a colourful life, and he was a great storyteller. He enterprisingly went through the tricky process of publishing it through his own company – and, jeez, did he and Carol work hard at selling those books, travelling thousands of miles to all corners of the UK to attend events and shows.

John had launches for both books and they were great fun, and reflecting his wide range of friends and interests, were attended by an eclectic bunch of people from all walks of life, including his friends Jo and Pat (who really is a postman) to Bill Wyman from John’s favourite band The Rolling Stones.

I went up to John and his wife Carol’s 12th century abbey in Shropshire in 2002 for a magazine feature and three years later was back there for the filming of a pilot episode of Only Fools and Horses spin-off The Green Green Grass.

I was so pleased that Sue Holderness and John got their own show, as they’d always been tremendous ambassadors for Only Fools. I was lucky enough to be asked by John Sullivan to create a website for the programme and over four series, enjoyed many, many happy days on set and in the studio.

John and Sue had a working partnership that lasted for 36 years until he passed away. Theirs was no pretend “showbiz” friendship – they were genuine, proper friends in real-life. When they filmed The Green Green Grass in Shropshire Sue would stay with John and Carol and for studio recording in Teddington, Carol and John would stay with Sue and her husband Mark – in their “granny annexe.”

Sue described John as “a gentle soul” and “a really kind man and a supportive friend.”  She told me people were sometimes disappointed to learn that they weren’t a couple in real life, recalling one incident when an old woman came up to them in a Tesco. “On learning that we weren’t married, she said ‘Well you ought to be’ – and whacked John with her umbrella!” Sue said.

John had great joie de vivre and a tremendous enthusiasm for work and he was such a hard worker. Nothing was too much trouble. I’m sure he had ‘off’ days but in more than 30 years of knowing him, I never once saw him once lose his temper.

It was the same when it came to interacting with people who recognised him in the street (and he was always recognised) and with fans who attended Only Fools conventions.

He would be there at the start (he was always punctual) and the one of the very last to leave. He’d make sure everyone had the autographs and photographs they wanted. He’d greet everyone as if they were the first person he’d met that day and he’d be uncomplaining even when asked to do the Boycie laugh for about the 700th time that day!

The outpouring of comments about John on social media since he passed away are testament to the man he was. I saw him be kind to people both online and in person and I experienced it myself. For example, a couple of years ago my friend Simon (a big Only Fools fan) was turning 50.

I emailed John and asked if he could do a quick happy birthday phone message. “I’ll do it as soon as possible,” he replied, almost instantly. A day later an email arrived and not only had John recorded a very funny video message, but he’d got Sue in on it too, as she happened to be staying at the time.

The John I knew in real-life, was the same John people would later find online. He was almost 70 when he started using Twitter. I’d advised him to give it a go to help publicise theatre appearances and events he’d be attending to sell his books.

If I’m being totally honest, I was not sure how well he’d get on with it. How wrong I was. John was BRILLIANT on Twitter. He was just himself:  funny, sometimes a little random in what he posted, very occasionally grumpy about something he read in the paper but, above all, kind.

He helped to publicise good causes and charity events with tweets and retweets, he took the trouble to actually talk to people. He had no airs and graces. John on Twitter was exactly the John I knew in real-life. I’m pretty sure he even featured in a best Twitterer (or whatever the word is) list.

If there were more people in the world like John Challis then it would be a happier place. He was a real grafter, he cared deeply about some really important causes and charities and he adored his wife Carol, who in turn, supported him enormously.

John had time for everyone and touched so many lives. He took a real joy in people. I have so many fond memories of him and, although I am so, so sad that he’s gone, I feel so lucky and privileged to have known him and to have counted him as a friend.

 

Category: Uncategorized
April 26

Sir Anthony Hopkins: Screen legend, double Oscar-winner and Only Fools and Horses fan

I was so delighted that screen legend – and massive Only Fools and Horses fan – Sir Anthony Hopkins won his second Academy Award at the Oscars last night.
 
You might not know was that Anthony was going to appear in Only Fools back in 1988. He was a huge fan of the show and, during an interview on Wogan on BBC One, said he’d love to be in it.
 
He and writer John Sullivan went out for a curry and John subsequently decided to bring gangland hard-men, the Driscoll Brothers into the show with the elder one, Danny, to be played by Anthony.
 
“Unfortunately when we got to film it he wasn’t free. He was in America filming some movie called The Silence of The Lambs and after that we never heard of him again, did we?” John joked.
 
Anthony’s performance in The Silence of the Lambs earned him a Best Actor Oscar and last night he won a second for his role as an elderly man with dementia in the film Father.
 
Back in 1998 when I was writing my first Only Fools book The Only Fools and Horses Story I wrote to Anthony to ask him if he would write a foreword to the book.
 
He rang me the following day and said he was delighted I’d asked him. To say I was chuffed to bits was the understatement of the decade – and he couldn’t have been more helpful.
 
He talked about his love of the show – and spoke fondly about Lennard Pearce, who’d played Grandad. They worked together at the National Theatre in the 1960s. “He was a very nice man,” he told me. “A really gentle guy.”
 
Anthony’s favourite Only Fools moments is also one of mine too…. the scene in the Nag’s Head when the guys are talking about everyone having 15 minutes of fame during a lifetime.
 
Trig says: “Like Gandhi.” And Rodney says: “Gandhi?” and Trig says: “He made one great film and then you never saw him again.”
 
More in my book: https://amzn.to/3evO5q6
 
(c) Steve Clark 2021
Category: Uncategorized
September 11

Flying For Britain with David Jason

Flying For Britain with David Jason is a new hour-long one-off documentary follows Sir David Jason as he meets the RAF team who fly and maintain the country’s historic aircraft that make up the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain – a Second World War campaign in which British fighters attempted to keep the country safe against attacks from German pilots – this year is particularly notable for the Memorial Flight, which consists of 12 aircraft.

Sir David, a qualified helicopter pilot and aircraft enthusiast who has previously flown Spitfires, sees the pilots practicing formation flying and rehearsing for public displays, filming behind the scenes in hangars and workshops where these irreplaceable historic machines are fastidiously maintained.

He takes to the skies and flies alongside veteran Battle of Britain Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, learning more about the history of these incredible aircraft and the brave crew who flew them.

He also gets to know some of today’s best pilots – and meets the team of engineers at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire who keep the aircraft in the Memorial Flight in perfect working order.

Because Britain went into Coronavirus lockdown as the programme started filming, Sir David speaks to the volunteers from the Memorial Flight, many of whom also have other jobs in the Royal Air Force, about how they plan to salvage their previously-packed display schedule.

Watch Flying For Britain with David Jason on ITV on Tuesday September 15th

Category: Uncategorized