Only Fools and Horses star John Challis stops off at Lewes Little Theatre with his one-man show Only Fools and Boycie to mark 50 years in showbusiness next Friday (November 14).
The UK tour has included performances at intimate venues such as Leeds City Varieties and the Stockport Plaza.
John said: “It’s an informal evening of entertaining anecdotes and stories from my career. There is a question and answer session at the end of the second half and afterwards I meet and greet everyone in the foyer.”
The Shropshire-based actor’s signature role is second-hand car dealer Terrance Aubrey Boyce who first appeared in Go West Young Man, the second episode of classic BBC TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.
John explained: “Boycie was loosely based on someone I used to know in a pub in the ’70s. I just remembered some of his characteristics, the main one of which was the extraordinary pedantic way that he talks.
“I was cast as a policeman in John Sullivan’s first hit series Citizen Smith. I’d played an awful lot of policeman and I thought ‘well, what could I do that is different?’ I did this voice, and that superior attitude, and John came up and he said ‘I really like what you’ve done with that character. I’m gonna try and use that again one day’.
“I nicked the laugh off a woman I knew. She had this machine-gun laugh, and I did it one day when we were rehearsing, and everybody laughed and they said ‘keep it in, keep it in’. Then it became part of the scripts, and John always wanted Boycie to do his laugh, usually at one of his own jokes.”
So what is it like living with the legendary alter-ego?
John said: “Boycie is with me every day. I don’t think many people know my real name. Sometimes it’s a blessing. At other times it’s very much a millstone around my neck. It’s difficult to get directors to see past my Only Fools and Horses persona and most are so young that they only know me as Boycie. They forget that I have been in the business for fifty years and have an extensive CV. On the plus side it opens a lot of doors.”
Only Fools and Horses won the Bafta award for best comedy series in 1986, 1989, and 1997, and the 1996 episode Time On Our Hands, which saw Del and Rodney become millionaires, holds the record at 24.3 million for the biggest UK audience for a British sitcom episode.
John said: “Everybody knows a Del or a Boycie. They are universal characters, and the most important and telling thing is that we all like the characters in Only Fools and Horses, however dodgy they might be! People feel comfortable with us and it’s like having your mates in the front room for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”
The Bristol-born performer’s favourite episode is the 1989 Christmas special The Jolly Boys’ Outing.
John said: “We had the time of our lives filming in Margate. All together as lads out for a good time, enjoying the funfair rides at Dreamland and splashing about in the sea like kids. The music is great and always makes me feel nostalgic.”
John’s other TV credits include Doctor Who, The Sweeney, Coronation Street, The Green Green Grass, Z-Cars, Last of the Summer Wine and Open All Hours.
A major disappointment was missing out on appearing in 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. He met John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at NEMS House in London, and was offered the role of the coach courier but filming clashed with his TV commitments.
John said: “John (Lennon) was lying on the floor, Paul was behind a desk being efficient and running the whole thing and Ringo was sitting on the arm of my chair gazing at me intently.
“John asked me what sort of music I liked. I answered truthfully – ‘I like the Rolling Stones. I prefer their sort of music, really’. There was a short pause and he said ‘yeah, so do I’.
“As I left I heard him say ‘He’s great, get him’.”
John’s second novel Reggie – In the Frame, which stars wheeler-dealer Reggie Finch-Leigh and his Colombian wife Rosita was published by Wigmore Books last month.
John explained: “The novel sees them going to Florence to buy clever fakes of English master oil paintings, which they take back to Shropshire to sell at a profit. Reggie doesn’t pretend that the pictures are genuine but is puzzled when there is a sudden rush of interest in them. Through a series of adventures and misadventures he loses all his profit and is obliged to start again from scratch.”
Only Fools and Boycie begins at 7.30pm on Friday, November 14.
Tickets cost £15 and are available from www.lewestheatre.org and 01273 474826.