John Sullivan, Del Boy's creator, dies at 64
Showbusiness mourns 'Only Fools and Horses' writer, the 'most natural, heartfelt comedy writer of our time'
Sunday 24 April 2011
John Sullivan, one of the nation's favourite comedy scriptwriters, has died after a short illness, aged 64. His funeral will be a simple one, with only fools and hearses, fans said, in a pun on his award-winning sitcom.
The writer died at a private hospital in Surrey, where he spent six weeks in intensive care after catching viral pneumonia. He leaves his wife Sharron, two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren.
He will be best remembered for Only Fools and Horses, which ran for 10 years from 1981, defining the decade's get-rich-quick materialism for a generation. The show returned for several Christmas specials, rescuing the day for millions of families who would unite around the box for some of TV's funniest moments.
Along with such colourful characters as David Jason's Del Boy Trotter and Nicholas Lyndhurst's Rodney, Sullivan bequeathed some of the English language's best-loved words. "Plonker" and "cushty" were both his inventions, and he popularised "lovely jubbly", resurrected from an advertising slogan for the frozen orange drink Jubbly.
Mark Freeland, the BBC's head of comedy, called Sullivan "the Dickens of our generation", adding: "No one understood what made us laugh and cry better than John Sullivan... Simply the best, most natural, most heartfelt comedy writer of our time."
Pubs across Britain last night reverberated to the sounds of people falling through the bar in tribute to the scriptwriter and the episode that saw Del Boy and his mate Trigger (Roger Lloyd Pack) trying to impress two women in a bar. "I think we're on to a winner, here Trig. Play it nice and cool, son, nice and cool; know what I mean," Del said as he leant sideways and fell through an open hatch on the bar.
Jason said yesterday he was "totally devastated to hear of dear John's death", adding: "We have lost our country's greatest comedy writer, but he leaves us a great legacy, the gift of laughter." The comedian David Schneider called Sullivan's work the "benchmark", describing him as "a true inspiration to all comedy writers". Stephen Fry said he was "one of the great comedy writers of our time".
Only Fools and Horses was voted Britain's favourite sitcom in 2004 and the 1996 special, Time on Our Hands, holds the record for the most-watched sitcom in Britain with 24.2 million viewers, more than a third of the population. It has been broadcast around the world, with a number of countries, from the Netherlands to Slovenia, making their own versions. An American remake has long been on the cards, but has yet to materialise.
Sullivan, who not only wrote but also sang the Only Fools and Horses theme, even wrote a prequel, Rock & Chips, the third part of which goes out this Thursday on BBC1. Two of the show's characters, Boycie and Marlene (played by John Challis and Sue Holderness), also featured in a spin-off, The Green Green Grass, which ran for four series.
Sullivan, who was born in Balham, south London, in 1946, always wanted to be a writer, but started out as a scene hand at BBC Television Centre aged 16. He wrote sketches in his spare time, landing his big break while still a teenager when he tried out a script for what would become Citizen Smith on Dennis Main Wilson, the renowned BBC comedy producer. Gareth Gwenlan, a close friend who worked on Only Fools and Horses, said Sullivan became "a full-time writer literally overnight".
The son of a plumber, he was appointed an OBE in 2005 for services to drama. He said his secret was that he wrote about what he knew.
Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, said: "John had a unique gift for turning everyday life and characters we all know into unforgettable comedy."
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for? The Independent quiz matches best political party for undecided voters ahead of the general election
Met Gala 2015: Beyoncé manages to out-skimp Rihanna, Miley and Kim Kardashian combined with near-naked ensemble
Syria's 'circle of hell': Aleppo residents describe children without heads, streets filled with blood and injuries never before witnessed by surgeons
General Election 2015: Photographic history of Bullingdon Club tracked down - including new picture of David Cameron in his finery
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...