FIVE MINUTES WITH: John Challis talks TV, historic buildings and that comedy with Total MK

It was the comedy show that left an indelible mark on a nation, but it's years since Del Boy and Rodney were staple BBC1 viewing.

And yet, in 2017 re-runs of Only Fools and Horses continue daily. Del Boy had the lingo, but it was dodgy used car salesman Boycie who had the laugh.

The actor who portrayed him, John Challis is still enjoying the fruits of a fabulous career.

And in October he is coming to Milton Keynes to tell us all about it, in the one-man affair, only Fools and Boycie.  He talked to Sammy Jones...

It’s not a new show, but it is still a work in progress, of sorts: “It keeps evolving slightly, because I keep doing different things. For instance I’ve just been out in Spain doing the 10th series of Benidorm, so I’ll be mentioning that," John said.
“My producer says it is always slightly different, because I go off on a tangent and tell a few stories in an area I haven’t done before...”

For a man who has many strings to his acting bow, John is still remarkably gracious when asked - again - about Only Fools and Horses.
“We knew when we were doing it that it was the most famous thing we were ever going to do,” he says.

And the reason it made such a connection?

“I think it was the fact it had such depth - it wasn’t just a collection of laughs. It was about people’s lives, that’s why so many people identified with it.
“It made you laugh and it made you cry - and usually in the same scene. There was such a depth of emotion about it.”

Viewers abroad took the comedy classic to their heart too.

“It’s very big in Croatia and Serbia. I did a television show in Serbia and the host said it was the only thing that made them smile during the war.
“Everyone was united on it - the Croatians watched it, the Bosnians watched it, the Serbs watched it...”

But since OFAH ruled the small screen, television has undergone a transformation.
With so much choice, and quick fix TV, the quality factor seems to have been diluted, don’t you think?
John agrees: “Absolutely. There is such a proliferation of stations and no question that cheap television rules the airwaves,” he says.
“No-one wants to spend any money on it, or any time getting it right, apart from the terrific dramas we see. Certainly a lot of care was taken with Only Fools and Horses. The writer was very keen on getting absolutely everything right.

“There is so much choice now and people have such little attention spans - there is always something else to look at or something else to do.
“I don’t think people have the time to concentrate on it.”
Post-Fools, the further adventures of Boycie were documented in The Green Green Grass, which fans warmed to.
“That was taken off after it went on pause,” he says, “...and I think it was because they didn’t look after it enough. I have people today who say ‘Where is it? What happened to it?’ and I have no answer, except they kept changing the time it was on. People like certainty over these things. Suddenly something gets shunted off to 11 o’clock at night and you think, ‘Well no wonder the bloody thing lost viewers!’”
One imagines that John was never late for work during filming though - which took place at his home, 12-century Wigmore Abbey.

John took on the demanding property some 15 years ago. Being a custodian of such a wonderful building is a privilege, but hard work too.
“We have some outbuildings we want to do up. That was going to be the next project, but then the credit crunch hit.
“There is a lot more to do, but we are very happy with what we’ve done, and hopefully it will keep the house alive for the next two or three hundred years.
“It’s a great survivor and we are very proud of it.”

And the land around the abbey continues to give tantalising peeks into its past: “We’ve found lots of medieval tiles and lots of carved stone, and odd things like a military button and an army cap badge...”

If Boycie’s old pal Del learned of the little riches still buried, he’d have turned up with a shovel ages ago.
On October 15, you’ll hear Only Fools and Horses riches straight from Boycie’s mouth.
Ticket-holders can expect to be regaled with a two hour run through the life and times of the much-loved actor - how he started out, progressed to the West End and swapped the UK for the States, for a time.

There will also be a Q&A and a chance for a snap with John.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the people who turned their telly’s on and put us where we are,” he said.
“...and all my books will be on sale for anyone who wants to purchase those - just in time for Christmas!” he adds, with a sales patter that Boycie would be proud of.

Join John Challis at Stantonbury Theatre on October 15.  To book tickets click here


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