The Royal Family are known to be fans of Only Fools and Horses as Buckingham Palace officials used to regularly request advance tapes of the show for The Queen and other members of the family. And as Nicholas Lyndhurst once told me: “I guess they must have liked them because they never gave them back!”
In 1986 the Trotters even appeared in front of royalty in The Royal Variety Show at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. At the time the Only Fools cast were busy filming that year’s Christmas special A Royal Flush in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Here’s an abridged piece about the show taken from my book Only Fools and Horses: The Official Inside Story.
“That was horrendously difficult,” David Jason recalled. “They asked us to do it and we thought we’d take something out of one of the episodes but they wanted something original. So John went away and came up with this wonderful piece of material that ran to about twenty-five minutes when it needed to be about three! So he went away and pared it all down. We thought it was very funny, but we weren’t sure we’d get away with it.”
The story had the trio supposedly making a delivery of dodgy booze to a pal of Del’s called Chunky Lewis, who ran a nightclub in London’s West End. The plan for the Trotters was that they would take a wrong turning and end up walking on stage at the Palladium during the show.
The script had arrived in Salisbury, where they were filming and it was only really then that the cast realised just what they had taken on. David recalled: “We got the running order of the show and realised that everyone else who was appearing either had an act – like Bruce Forsyth does – or were from a West End musical and had singing or dancing routines. That meant that everyone was really well rehearsed and knew their stuff backwards – except for us.
“We were the only people to appear who had never tried their material in front of an audience before and it was going out live. That started to hit home. From then on, every night after we finished filming, for about a week beforehand, we would get back to our hotel and the three of us would rehearse it over and over again. And as it got nearer, we worried and we worried and we worried.
“We took out all sorts of insurance like learning each other’s parts and learning it backwards, because if one of us forgot our lines no one could help us but ourselves because you couldn’t have a prompt. We’d be out there on our own and if anybody dried up no one would be able to give us a cue. We were ready to help each other out if one of us went wrong but we were still very worried about it.”
Another worry was the line David had to deliver to the Royal Box, which would be occupied by the Queen Mother and Fergie, The Duchess of York. “I’d said to John Sullivan: ‘Christ, we’ll get ourselves locked up in the tower for this!’” said David.
John Sullivan recalled: “When I wrote about Chunky I didn’t know the Duchess of York was going to be there. It was before she’d joined WeightWatchers and in those days she had a few pounds on her. I wasn’t invited to the actual show so I was watching at home and thought: ‘Oh God’ when I saw she was there in the Royal Box. I thought: ‘That’s going to go down a bomb!’ I just sat at home cringing.”
“We didn’t even know if anyone was going to laugh because, although we knew it was funny, we’d never tried it out on an audience,” said David. “Comedy has this weird trick that it can play on you, in that the line you’d thought they’d laugh at they don’t, and then they’d go mad about another one and catch you out. As soon as we walked on we got a huge round of applause, which was great and made us feel welcome, and then we got our first laugh and it gave us a bit of confidence, but really you are on a knife edge because you can’t afford to fail.
“The Royal gag was very funny. Rodney looks up to the Royal box, while Del is looking elsewhere, and he sees the Royal family and starts scraping and bowing and I say: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ and then Del looks up to this box and, dazzled by the lights, says: ‘Chunky is that you?’” The line brought the house down – and provoked an instant reaction from the Queen Mum as David recalled: “I could actually see – and she started to do the Royal wave,” he laughed. “I couldn’t believe it. Everybody fell about. Bless her cotton socks; perhaps she was well on the gin and tonics by then, but for whatever reason she did it!”
Only Fools and Horses is shown daily on Gold
© Steve Clark 2012. All Rights reserved