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'

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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference