I recently bought a copy of The Complete Only Fools and Horses DVD set (25 discs!) and have started working my way through the entire series, in order, (the first time I’ve done this) so this seemed a good time to spotlight the show’s classic theme tunes.
Widely regarded as the best British sitcom of all time, Only Fools And Horsesdebuted to almost total indifference in 1981, but slowly built an increasingly appreciative audience until it became the most-watched show on British TV, with the Christmas special episodes attracting upwards of 25milllion viewers at their peak. I’ve already featured one of the show’s most memorable scenes in Classic Clip Friday.
The show ran until 2003 – and technically is still current as it was never cancelled – although during it’s 22-year run, there were only seven full seasons (of between 6 and 8 episodes each). The rest of the total of 64 episodes (all of them written solely by the show’s creator, John Sullivan, who also created and wrote fondly remembered sitcoms Citizen Smith and Just Good Friends, amongst others) was made up of 13 Christmas specials.
I like to think that we will see at least one more, perhaps final, outing for Del (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) before it is too late, to give them the farewell the deserve and which they never really got with the last trilogy.
In the meantime, there has already been one sequel produced – the disappointing The Green Green Grass, which was built around supporting characters Boycie and Marlene.
And it is rumoured that Nicholas Lyndhurst is about to return to the Only Fools And Horses universe for a 90-minute comedy-drama called Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Chips. It’s a prequel to the original show, set in the 60s (or possibly late 50s) before Rodney is born and focussing on the teenage Del, his unhappily married parents, Mavis and Reg, and the art thief Freddy “The Frog” Robdal.
Robdal was first mentioned in the 1987 Christmas special episode, titled The Frog’s Legacy, and in the 2003 Christmas special – the last episode shown to date – was revealed to be Rodney’s biological father.
Lyndhurst portrayed Robdal in a photograph shown on screen during that last episode (left) and is said to have been cast in the role in the prequel. Filming is due to start this month, with broadcast possibly at Christmas or early next year. It’s said that if it is well-received, a full series could be commissioned.
Anyway, that’s all a digression from the reason we are here today, which is to celebrate the much-loved show’s memorable opening and closing theme songs, which were written and sung by Sullivan himself.
However, before we get to them, there is one little historical footnote to deal with in the shape of the show’s original, now largely forgotten, theme tune.
When the first season was being produced , Sullivan wrote his opening and closing theme songs, with the lyrics of the opening song explaining the somewhat cryptic meaning of the show’s title, but the BBC rejected them and got their in-house musical director Ronnie Hazlehurst to compose an instrumental theme.
It was, unusually for the normally reliable Hazlehurst, who wrote some of British TV’s most memorable theme tunes, very bland and completely forgettable. Wisely, the BBC reconsidered Sullivan’s songs, they were used from season two on and the rest is history. Most repeat runs of the first season were edited to include the more familiar tune, as were the episodes released on DVD, so it’s very rare to see the opening and closing titles with the original theme tune. But thanks to the miracle of YouTube, here you go:
Here is the version of the opening theme we all know and love. Note that the visuals remained largely unchanged throughout the show’s 21-year run. Buster Merryfield‘s Uncle Albert replaced Lennard Pearce‘s Grandad when Pearce died early on during filming of season four in 1984. In addition, the pictures of Del and Rodney were updated twice over the years, to reflect their advancing years.
Here is the closing theme: