By Graham Chalmers
By Graham Chalmers
The sad news for fans of Only Fools and Horses is that actor John Challis has had to cancel his Knaresborough show.
Called Only Fools and Boycie, the intimate show has been scheduled for Sunday, November 9.
Tickets already purchased will be refunded at source.
At least, it gave me the chance to interview this much-loved British comic actor.
Bubbly and bright and full of the sort of star-studded anecdotes on the phone, John Challis certainly knows how to tell a story or two.
By the way, you might know him better as Terrance Aubrey Boyce, aka ‘Boycie’ in Only Fools and Horses, the phenomenally popular British sitcom which run from 1981 to 2003.
Talking to me from his country home in Shropshire, the one that inspired The Green Green Grass ‘spin-off’, but that’s another story, he gives me a telling off at the kick-off.
I’d begun by saying I wasn’t a huge fan of Only Fools, though I did watch it a lot when I was younger, before adding quickly that Boycie had always been my favourite character.
“You’re getting better now,” he responds.
I next make the mistake of asking this distinguished 72-year-old comic actor with his trademark moustache and lugubrious drawl what he was doing before he appeared alongside the likes of Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst in Only Fools.
What follows is a ten minute list which makes John’s personal CV sound like a general history of British TV over the last half century.
Apparently, he’s appeared in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars, Dr Who, Coronation Street, The Sweeney, Citizen Smith, Ever Decreasing Circles, One Foot in the Grave, The Bill, Soldier Solider, Heartbeat. . .the list goes on.
He even nearly appeared in a Beatles movie, he adds, casually.
It’s the sort of anecdote that pops up in passing in his intimate Only Fools and Boycie tour where he reveals a treasure trove of secrets from a dazzling career – as well as answering questions and signing books.
“This was in 1967. I’d met John, Paul and Ringo, George was away, and had gotten on famously. They all had a terrific sense of humour. Lennon asked me to join the coach in this film they were about to make, Magical Mystery Tour. This is great, I thought.
“Unfortunately, their shooting scheduled clashed with my first big break on the BBC by just two days. The BBC wouldn’t release me. I never saw John or the rest of The Beatles again.”
Born in Bristol, the son of a civil servant, John tells me he’d wanted to be an actor from an early age.
“I had a facility for getting noticed and enjoyed showing off at school. I virtually ran away from home and joined children’s theatre and went all over the country, graduating to repertory theatre and then TV.”
His career seems always to have followed a course as gradual as his drawnout vocal delivery with its slight hint of menace which meant he was once much in demand as a ‘heavy’, though he’s always been too versatile to be pigeon-holed.
His early appearances on Only Fools were sporadic at first, slowly becoming a favourite much in the same way as writer John Sullivan’s classic show did itself.
Eventually the cast became almost as close as the characters they played. The recent passing of some of his fellow actors has felt like a family bereavement, he says.
Not that the days of Only Fools were all wine and roses.
“It was quite competitive on set. I would only be in it for a few minutes each episode with a few great lines but David and Nicholas were in almost every scene. David used to say “I do all the work and Boycie and Trigger get all the laughs.”
Such was the strength of the Boycie character, that John became the only cast member in Only Fools to get his own spin-off, The Green Green Grass, which ran for four series
“It was extradordinary. I moved from London to Shropshire around 16 years ago to live in this big medieval pile which my wife had an ancestral connection to.
“I’d invited John to come to my birthday party there and he came. He loved the place.
“It must have inspired something in him. He took me aside and said “I’ve got an idea for a new show built round Boycie.” I heard nothing for two years then he pitched me the series. ”
The stories keep on coming. There’s more about Only Fools, something involving George Best and the Rolling Stones and also his recent career as a fiction writer which has seen his second novel about Reggie ffinch-Leigh, another lovable rogue, just published on Wigmore Books.
I’m beginning to get the impression, the modest but witty John Challis was born to succeed.
A fan of The Goon Show, Jacques Tati and The Marx Brothers when he was young, everything seems to lead back to his sense of humour.
“I’ve got quite a dark, old face and look a bit grumpy. I was always getting told off for frowning.
“But I know naturally how to time things. I could always make people laugh at school. I suppose it’s part of a desperate need for acceptance.”
His books Reggie: A Stag at Bay and Reggie: In The Frame are available at Amazon or www.wigmorebooks.com