Reviewer: Selwyn Knight[rating:4]
John Sullivan’s Only Fools And Horses first appeared on our TV screens in 1981, and made little impact at first. In one of the episodes, a slightly spivvish character, Boycie, appears selling a second hand car to Rodney. The show was recommissioned for a second series, and Boycie made a return. Ultimately, he became a regular among the ensemble of characters, together with wife Marlene. After Only Fools and Horses ended, John Sullivan wrote the spin off, The Green Green Grass, in which Boycie and Marlene escape London to live as farmers near the Welsh border. Until last night, those few sentences summed up my entire knowledge of Boycie and the actor who brought him to life, John Challis.
Challis has now written two volumes of autobiography and is currently promoting it around the country, arriving last night at West Bromwich’s The Public. And so a theatre packed with fans sat awaiting anecdotes from the man himself. And they were not disappointed. We learned how his love of theatre was first ignited, how he discovered a talent for mimicry and “silly voices”, and how that talent enabled him to escape his first job as a trainee estate agent and begin work in a touring Theatre in Education show. Challis honed his skills in rep, and had stints with, among others, the Royal Shakespeare Company – the source of a lovely story involving the 1966 World Cup final. Being tall, he found a ready niche on TV playing policemen. He has also toured plays in America and South Africa, played with the national Theatre and owned a garden centre, before finding his niche as Boycie. There are some lovely nuggets here, for example, how Boycie got his first name, and how John Sullivan got the idea for The Green Green Grass following Challis’ 60th birthday party.
The evening is described as an intimate evening with Challis, and it is as intimate as one can get in a fairly traditional environment with a stage and rows of seats facing it. Challis has an easy manner and is a pleasure to listen to as he ambles through his early career, illustrated by clips from, for example, his appearance in Doctor Who opposite Tom Baker. After a short interval, we get to the part many want to hear about: his time on Only Fools and Horses and beyond. Again, he speaks authoritatively and with gentle humour, and the audience of fans positively lap it up. Some elements are perhaps glossed over and there is occasionally an annoying lack of detail in some of the earlier reminiscences, but overall it is a very pleasant evening with a cultural icon, who can, as he says, always get a laugh with the single word, “Marlene…”
This is an evening mainly aimed at fans, and the audience self-select on that basis. Nevertheless, well worth a visit.
Reviewed on: 1st June 2013