About Only Fools and Horses

Voted as the best sitcom of all time in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll, the Peckham-based epic has become a national treasure. But just how did the Beeb go about bringing the Trotters to our TV screens?

Only Fools first episode

How 'Horses' came about

One of Britain's great sitcoms owes its existence to a misfortune that befell its writer, John Sullivan. Riding high on the success of Citizen Smith, Sullivan had been asked to write a new sitcom about a football manager. When the project was suddenly scrapped, the disgruntled Sullivan had nothing left to do but go back to an old idea he'd put to one side. Something about two brothers in Peckham...

The inspiration behind it

'Horses' was partly inspired by Sullivan's own experience of working on market stalls, but its true driving force was his desire to challenge what he saw as a two-dimensional, middle-class conception of Cockneys as lovable fools. Aiming to overturn this stereotype with ambitious, romantic, fully-rounded characters, Sullivan ended up with a sitcom of unusual richness.

Discovering Del

First choice to play Del Boy was the actor Enn Reitel, but he was tied up with other work. Next to be approached was future Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent, who also turned down the role. With 'Horses' ready to roll and no Del in sight, it was all getting a little worrying. Then came the fateful night when producer Ray Butt caught a repeat of Open All Hours on TV. Glimpsing David Jason as Granville, Butt knew he had his Del.

Only Fools and What?

A number of possible titles, including "Readies" and - strangely - "Big Brother", were knocked about before Only Fools and Horses was chosen. Aware that the title mystified viewers, the programme makers decided to explain it by way of a theme song, which was only added in the second series.


The show was not a big hit when it was aired in 1981, and the BBC considered cancelling it after the second series failed to do much better. It was only when both series were repeated that its grip on the public consciousness took hold.

Peckham A-list

Such was the show's popularity that celebrities as varied as Robbie Williams, Barry Gibb and Richard Branson all made appearances. A meaty role was even written for Anthony Hopkins, whose desire to appear on the show was sadly curtailed by his involvement with another little project called Silence of the Lambs...