The Long Haul Review: Only Fools & Horses Episode 2

Thanks to all who gave feedback on twitter following my first review! Really looking forward to getting my teeth into this series now.

Episode 2: Go West Young Man

Original airdate 15th September 1981
6.1 million viewers
Running time: 30 Minutes
First appearance of John Challis as Boycie

Interesting note about this episode right away: it got the lowest viewing figures for the series. Unless a pilot is a roaring success there is usually a drop off in figures, but still, at the time a 3 million drop between episodes must have panicked Sullivan et al somewhat. Possibly the lack of any major hook to the series as yet and the fact it was very much a building block of an episode meant less return viewers, but obviously things recovered following this blip!

We open with what seems to be presented as a trademark first scene, Grandad watching his two televisions (this time both colour, albeit one very faded, the hallmark of the old tube telly on it’s last legs). At the table, Rodney is staring into space while Del shovels in his breakfast, his face buried in a copy of the Car Price Guide. Selling second hand cars is the way forward to Del Boy, and we get the first uttering of the iconic “This time next year we’ll be millionaires”. Rodney is clearly in a bad mood but Del ploughs on. Apparently the government will ban the import of foreign cars to save the UK car industry, but the Unions (a much bigger part of life and the news in 1981) will strike at this because of the apparent racism, meaning no new cars coming into the country at all, hence the demand for second hand vehicles!

Rodney is too depressed to react though, moping over his girlfriend Monica. Del urges him to phone her, Rodney is clearly happier in a relationship. We get another uncomfortable line here as Del refers to the “tart with fat thighs giving [Rodney] the elbow”, which jars a little, but with everything we know about Del to this stage, it’s fits exactly with his character. He’s a brash wheeler dealer in the early 80s, not a snowflake TV writer in 2017. Rodney denies he’s been dumped. His friend, Mickey Pearce (a first mention but not first appearance yet) advised a trial 2 week separation to sort out their differences. Del is immediately disdainful at the mention of Mickey and points out Rodney has only known her 2 weeks anyway. Arguing about Monica’s thigh’s as they leave the flat, Del drops the information he saw Mickey and Monica together at the Nag’s Head the night before, while Rodney was pining, much to his obvious chagrin.

Obviously we’re still early in the series, so there will be lots of character building information, but once again we have a masterclass from John Sullivan. We’ve established Del’s financial focus further, he longs for more than just being small time, and behind the mocking and bravado, he’s looking out for his younger brother. He wants Rodney to be happier and (reading way too much into the scene) reveals what he knows about Mickey and Monica to let Rodney know he’s been duped by his friend. Rodney is a total innocent it seems when it comes to people with ulterior motives, apart from Del.

We cut to Boycie’s first appearance, showing Del a clapped out Cortina (98,000 miles on the clock) someone brought into his car lot as a part exchange. He’s trying to sell it to Del for £50. Boycie is much more friendly with Del than in later episodes where their relationship became more antagonistic, very much speaking to Del as an equal here, despite his greater financial success in life. Del eyes up an e-type Jag in the lot, which is presenting Boycie a problem, it’s a gift for his “bit on the side” and he doesn’t want his wife to find out. Del offers his garage as a place to hide it, in exchange for halving the price of the Cortina.

Back in their garage, Del is just stowing the Jag away when an 80s/90s sitcom staple appears: the knackered old car billowing smoke and backfiring. We get ‘treated’ to our first bit of OF&H slapstick too, as Del has to dive out of the way of the Cortina as the brakes aren’t working, and Rodney nearly crashes. “What’s the matter? Brakes a bit spongy are they?” delivered deadpan is a great line from Del, but the scene feels very out of keeping with the sharp dialogue at the core of the show.

Just to state for the record, I’m not anti-slapstick, it just has to be in the right place and the right context. So far we’ve got a show grounded in realism and believable characters, and at the drop of a hat they begin acting like cartoon characters and it jars severely. Additionally the actual slapstick set piece feels tired and cliched, just very against the grain for the general tone.

Also notable is two on location, outdoor scenes in a row here, something I only recall a few times aside from market stall scenes throughout the run of the series. This may simply be a fault of memory on my part, but I recall the majority of the series being on set.

The next scene shows us a clear strength of Rodney’s. He’s spruced up the Cortina to look almost presentable, and places a sign on the window with a price of £199. Del’s plan falls into action! Enter an interested party, sporting the worst Australian accent I think I’ve heard in television. He asks about the car, dropping in supposedly comic phrases, like calling Rodney a “dingo”. Why they felt the need to make this character Australian with an English actor (Nick Stringer) lacking a gift for accents I have no idea. Possibly the idea was that a brash Aussie was more likely to ask the direct questions he poses about the car but it again falls flat. Why it couldn’t be a gruff cockney I just don’t understand?

The scene is saved however by some great writing and David Jason going into full Del sales mode. He mis-uses French phrases for the first time, dazzling with his gift of the gab. He’s taken 70,000 miles off the clock and has planted a bible in the car to support his backstory that it’s only had one careful owner, a vicar. The key here is Del says nothing of substance, it’s all non-sequitur and pointless jargon, but it’s delivered in such a snappy way it again feels like something this character would genuinely say, rather than a sitcom script. It’s a definite strength and shows the perfect marriage of actor to character. Additionally, it’s pretty clear to me, even from just one and a bit episodes, at this stage, Del’s famous mannerisms and catchphrases were part of the persona he adopts when engaged in business. I’ve a feeling later on in the series he suffered Flanderisation and these became part of the character’s actual personality, rather than just part of his sales patter and occasional delusions of grandeur.

Back at the flat, Del is counting out the money from the sale, doing his own dreadful Aussie accent as he recites a poem. I’m inclined to think this is deliberately bad, in character though as opposed to an episode-wide inability to mimic an Australian. The last word of the poem is set to be “bastard”, but Del cuts off (for obvious script reasons) to give Grandad his cut of the money. The line is delivered so smoothly though, it’s a genuine surprise and laugh when he doesn’t say the word; they really were on fire with Del’s scenes in the flat at this stage.

As Grandad and Del discuss Rodney’s relationship woes, we get a truly wonderful exchange. It doesn’t add anything to the plot, but once again we get a truly down to earth portrayal of the family we’re getting to know.

“You wouldn’t remember when I married your Grandmother?”
[Del stares] “No”
“Well the first night when we was married, we was in bed and well, y’know Del…”
“What?”
“Well…doin’ what you do when the lights are out”
“Holdin’ a séance was ya?”
“No, you know what I mean! Anyway, right in the middle of it, d’you know what she said to me?”
[Del shakes his head] “Go on, what?”
“She said “What do you fancy for dinner tomorrow?””
“What do you fancy for dinner tomorrow?!?”
“Bad innit!?”
“Bet that didn’t ‘appen to Omar Sharif. What did you say?”
“Steak n kidney pudden I fink”
“Isn’t love wonderful?”

Just a superb scene.

Rodney emerges all dressed up, determined to get over Monica, with plans to head to some clubs up west. He tries to play the big ‘I am’, talking about his apparently booming social life, all the while essentially begging Del to come with him for support. He’s also skint, but not willing to take the money from Del’s sale of the dangerous Cortina. Del strings Rodney along for a bit before deciding to join him. We get a nice touch showing that Rodney is more canny than he seems as he bemoans the fact they’ll have to go to these fancy clubs in the three wheeled van, to the point Del decides they’ll use Boycie’s jag, only realising as they leave that Rodney had led him right into that decision. Again, more excellent character and relationship building.

Despite Rodney’s former statements that he knew all the best clubs to go to, we first join the brothers in a very dull establishment. An extremely camp waiter takes their order, with Del ordering a ridiculous cocktail, again setting up what would be a long running gag for the show. Then we hit a roadblock. the last episode you may remember presented us with some uncomfortable attitudes to women and race, this week is the turn of homosexuality as Del declares the waiter is “a bandit” and says they should dance with their backs against the wall. The laugh track plays, but it’s clashingly and glaringly unfunny in 2017.

Conversation thankfully turns back to Monica, and we discover the reason she dumped Rodney. She thought he was warped. Why? Because he has a uniform fetish (something else I seem to remember being an occasionally recurring gag). Nicholas Lyndhurst portrays Rodney’s fetish quite well, with a wide-eyed innocence and infatuation rather than seeming perverted. The best part of this interaction though is Del’s reaction. Largely unphased by his younger Brother having such a fantasy, except for the fact it’s a police uniform he likes. Del clearly disdains the police.

We then get another slightly uncomfortable scene, something happening shockingly often at the moment. Del and Rodney’s attention is taken by two women at the bar. Del heads to chat them up as Rodney sits back to admire the masterclass in seduction that will surely ensue. Del returns…

“Drink up, we’re leaving”
“Coupla Ravers?
“Coupla Geezers”

It’s an older British comedy staple, that of mistaking men in drag for women, but while it just didn’t sit right with me here, it didn’t have the same unpleasant edge of the earlier homophobic comments. The comedy wasn’t mocking the crossdressing pair, rather it was focused on Del and Rodney’s discomfort at the situation, they were the fall guys, and so there was no inherent unpleasantness. This was very much a product of it’s time and with more enlightened attitudes to gender now, it seems highly unlikely this scene would get written now.

We rejoin Del and Rodney in a different club. Rodney apologises for having taken them to a gay bar. Del’s insecurities and image conscious nature surface here as he threatens Rodney pretty harshly if any of those events were to get spread around.

Again their attention is taken by two girls, this time things seeming much more hopeful, and we get our first continuity error in our SECOND EPISODE. Rodney asks Del not to put him down in front of the girls. Del in exchange requests Rodney not tell them he’s 35.

  • Del is 35, not 36 as was implied last week. This is even worse than last week, as it means Del Trotter is only 3 years older than me and I feel quite upset about that.

Del starts to chat the girls up with Rodney largely a bystander. The girls seem to poke fun at Del’s attempts to impress them by claiming Rodney is a professional tennis player, but again his gift of the gab and charm shine through (despite Rodney’s statement that he’s never smokes astroturf when asked if he prefers it to grass). It obviously works as we soon see the brothers travelling home with the roof down on the jag, having got the girls’ phone numbers.

Del requests a celebratory cigar from Rodney, and again we see he’s not the gibbering parody that he might get presented as sometimes, as Del uses “Je ne sais quoi” correctly. All seems to be going swimmingly until Rodney realises the cigar pack he threw away had the girls’ numbers on it (oh, the days before mobile phones). Del jams on the brakes of the car, only to have the car behind plough into the back of them, smashing up Boycie’s e-type. And of course, to bring the episode full circle, the man who crashed into them is the fake Australian in the Cortina with the dodgy brakes, which leads to a disappointingly slapstick finish as he chases them down the street in fury.

So, what to say in summary? This was a real mixed bag; there were a LOT of weaknesses. Dated jokes that really taint things and the introduction of physical comedy which jars when compared to the better parts of the episode were big letdowns. Two of the most well remembered moments in OF&H were physical, visual jokes, so obviously it remained a fixture of the series, but these felt especially low rent, and really out of keeping, as though they were added to keep an executive happy somewhere, although I have no evidence for that. I’m going to put that down to ‘Early-Installment Weirdness’ at this phase, but I reserve the right to change that judgement as the series proceeds.

The better parts of the episode were very good though. It was nice to see Boycie act like a human being, the in-flat conversation was superbly sharp and entertaining and the non-homophobic comedy in the clubs was well constructed and produced a greater number of laughs than episode one. As this episode was the lowest rated of the series, things obviously climbed again for episode three, so it’s pretty clear viewers responded positively as well. For myself, I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the family conversation because of how good those scenes are, but I’m now also interested to see what other elements Sullivan et al threw at the wall to see what would stick as the series progresses.