Home Entertainment Only Fools The Musical worked out lovely jubbly for me

Only Fools The Musical worked out lovely jubbly for me

Only Fools And Horses The Musical (Image: -)

IT’S ALL too easy to imagine international businessman Derek Trotter flogging tickets for Only Fools And Horses The Musical out of the back of his yellow Reliant Regal in Peckham market: “Step right up, ladies and gentleman, for the finest collection of vintage gags. No cheap imitations, just 100 per cent comedy gold. Lovely jubbly…” 

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For once, Del Boy wouldn’t be selling his punters a pup. 

Against expectations, the musical adaptation of Britain’s favourite TV sit‑com has become a bona fide hit since arriving in London’s West End last year. 

Having just celebrated its first anniversary, it has had its run extended and is booking well into the summer, which is music to the ears of co-writer Paul Whitehouse, who spent three years turning the much-loved television series into a musical stage show. 

Especially given the dangers, in his own words, of “messing with something that’s so treasured”. 

Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton with Paul Whitehouse (Image: -)

“There were many potential ­pitfalls. Without sounding too ­pretentious, Only Fools is woven into the fabric of British society,” The Fast Show star, who plays the role of Grandad on stage, admits with a sigh. 

“We all knew it was massive but now having done the show, you realise just how treasured it is by fans. We’ve had families coming along, sometimes two or three generations of them. 

“People tell you, ‘I’m gonna come back and bring my dad or my nan’, and you find out just how much it appeals across the board.” 

Devised and written by John Sullivan, the original TV show – starring David Jason as Peckham wide boy Del Boy and Nicholas Lyndhurst as his gormless little brother Rodney – started on the BBC in 1981 and ran for seven series, with 16 Christmas specials. 

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How it all began: Del Boy with Rodney and Grandad (Image: BBC)

It still holds the biggest ever sitcom audience record – one episode was watched by more than 24 million people – and some of its unforgettable phrases, like “lovely jubbly”, “cushty” and “you plonker”, have entered the language. 

“It’s very warm and comforting, but it doesn’t pull any punches either,” says Paul. “Rodney is a ­dipstick, a plonker. It’s the idea of someone who’s fairly stupid ­laughing at someone who’s very stupid. They’re victims, they’re triers, they’re downtrodden, they’re aspirational… but they never quite succeed. It’s a dysfunctional family, a bit like Steptoe and Son. 

“Also, it’s great writing, brilliant performances and a whole world. 

“It’s interesting seeing the ­audience’s reaction to Del. They love him and they want him to ­succeed, but at the same time they laugh at all his malapropisms and his pretentious behaviour.” Paul admits: “I was concerned about taking it on, I didn’t do it lightly. You have to keep the characters exactly as John Sullivan imagined them or you do risk the wrath of the hardcore fans. 

Only Fools and Horses the Musical (Image: -)

“The justification was that John had already started the process [of writing the musical]. It was his final project but sadly he died, so it passed to his son, Jim, and me.” 

As well as coming up with the idea, John, who died aged 64 in 2011, had written one song, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Millionaires, with the late Chas Hodges, one half of the popular Cockney duo Chas & Dave. 

“Taking this on was probably the closest I’d ever come to writing something on my own,” says Paul. 

“I outlined how I thought it’d work. Then I’d send it to Jim and he’d go over it. As you’d expect, he knows the show and its characters inside out. Then we’d meet over two or three days and I’d rewrite it. In the end, because it was a musical, it was naturally collaborative.” 

As you’d expect with such strong source material, the show delivers in spades. 

Paul Whitehouse plays the role of Grandad on stage (Image: Ken McKay/ITV/REX)

Del Boy, Rodney, Cassandra, Trigger, landlord Mike, Boycie, and Marlene are all brought to life so authentically by the 21-strong cast you could almost forget they were ever played by anyone else. 

Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton, respectively channel Del’s over-optimistic, misplaced confidence and Rodney’s idealistic dimness perfectly. 

At the heart of the show is the TV episode, Dates, but Paul has tried to weave in as many plots as possible. 

Without giving too much away, fans will spot many of the most iconic gags, from Trigger’s immortal broom to the missing bar flap and the wobbly chandelier. 

Paul, 61, is terrific company. 

Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton with Paul Whitehouse (Image: -)

Chatting over coffee in a private ­members club, dipping in and out of Grandad’s croak, he is ­passionate about the art of comedy. 

The only time he momentarily loses his thread is when I mention one theatre critic who questioned the need for songs at all. 

“It was John’s idea so we’ve tried to make that work,” he hits back. “Although we’ve tried to keep all the classic gags, it would’ve been uninteresting if we’d only done that. And it does work better than you might think. It ain’t Sondheim! The songs punctuate the action rather than carry the whole thing.” 

The show is set quite deliberately in 1989, a point in time Paul – who even wrote some of the music, strumming along with his guitar at home – considers a fulcrum between the past and present. 

Like many of the characters, there’s a fair amount of pathos in Grandad, played on the small screen by the late Lennard Pearce. 

Rodders and Del Boy turn up for a funeral in fancy dress (Image: BBC)

His old-fashioned wistfulness is at the heart of the show, allowing the others to riff off his nostalgia. 

“I wanted to have London as a character in the show and how it’s changed,” Paul explains. “For Grandad it’s changed immeasurably. It’s the ’80s, there’s yuppies, mobile phones like bricks, the first computers and all those wheeler-dealers. Trigger looks in his nan’s crystal ball at one point and sees the London of the future which bewilders them. They don’t know what a barista is or an artisan bakery.” 

Paul first worked on television in the late ’80s, helping Harry Enfield create characters like Loadsamoney and Stavros, the Greek kebab shop owner, for Saturday Live. 

Later, he teamed up with university friend Charlie Higson to create a rapid-fire series that would become The Fast Show. It ran for five series and spawned its own classic catchphrases. 

Only Fools and Horses the Musical (Image: -)

The pair are in talks about returning The Fast Show for its 25th anniversary, although the BBC turned it down on cost grounds. 

Most recently, as well as playing Mr Peggotty in The Personal History of David Copperfield on the big screen, Paul has been seen in life-affirming angling show Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. 

It came about when Paul introduced his old friend Bob Mortimer, Vic Reeves’s comedy partner, to angling to get him out of the house while he was recovering from major heart ­surgery. 

Paul has had three heart stents himself so “Dr Whitehouse” knew he had to get his pal moving and prescribed the “application of fishing”. 

Cameras in tow, the pair enjoy a sedate tour of Britain’s most ­glorious fishing spots. 

Gone fishing with Bob Mortimer (Image: BBC/Owl Power/Parisa Taghizadeh)

It’s been a surprise hit for BBC Factual, though Paul, who has fished since he was a lad growing up in Enfield, Middlesex, was ­initially cautious about capitalising on his lifelong hobby. 

“Bob and I go fishing anyway,” he says. “We go without the cameras. It’s very important we keep that as something separate. But we love doing the trip with a crew. It’s all ad-libbed, every single bit of it, apart from we might have a vague theme like childhood or ageing.” 

In his spare time, Paul fishes with Eric Clapton. 

When I idly wonder who’s ­better, he immediately shoots back: “Me – I just am. He’ll admit it. But when I fish with Eric in Iceland he goes off with the head ghillie to the best bit of the river. 

Del’s father-in–law finds the lesser watch that makes them millionaires (Image: BBC)

“He usually gets a big fish or two. He’s a lovely guy, very helpful and very aware of his own problems in the past so conscious of other ­people’s problems. He’s had an extraordinary life.” 

Because of their heart op-related backstory, Paul jokes: “I say to Bob, ‘We have to be ­genuinely nice people now. 

“We can’t just pretend with a couple of catchphrases’. 

“We have to engage. People say, ‘The programme’s made me go and get a check-up.’ It’s been very rewarding.” 

While Paul is the superior fisherman, Bob’s enthusiasm punctuated with his snacking and sometimes surreal asides, make for strangely gripping television. 

The heart stents have not been Paul’s only health blip. 

Only Fools and Horses the Musical (Image: -)

About 12 years ago, while on holiday with his daughter, he suffered “indescribable” stomach pain. 

After an emergency dash to hospital, he was told an abscess had exploded in his colon. 

It was touch and go for a while. 

“In the aftermath, I was being checked and they discovered my blood pressure was very high. Eventually, they whipped me in and did the stents,” he explains. 

He suffered a recurrence of the problem while writing Only Fools but is now on top form, exercises regularly and goes to heart rehab. 

He lives in London but gets out into the countryside to fish whenever he can. 

“I got the opportunity some years ago to buy a place on the river in Hampshire. 

Paul Whitehouse in The Fast Show (Image: BBC)

“I was doing Aviva adverts and I thought, ‘This is my dream, to be on the river and cast from the bottom of the garden’,” he explains. 

“Then Aviva pulled the plug. It wasn’t quite a white elephant, but I sold it at a vast loss.” 

But surely being one of Britain’s most successful comic talents for three ­decades must have left him comfortably off? 

“I drive an Audi Q3. It’s nice but it’s not a Ferrari. Telly doesn’t really pay. Things like adverts, a big tour, they’re lucrative but they don’t last very long,” Paul laughs. 

“The fishing programme is a joy but it’s not buying me my Ferrari. But if Only Fools runs for another 10 years I’ll have a fleet…” 

This time next year, Rodney! 

• Only Fools And Horses The Musical is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For tickets, visit onlyfoolsmusical.com 

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