Del trades in London accent
as only fools and horses is set to be remade in America, pat stacey looks at the plight of comedy exports
If sitcoms were children, Only Fools and Horses should by rights have been the pale, sickly waif who, following a difficult birth, failed to make it past the first few years of life. While the role of Del Boy Trotter would eventually turn David Jason into the most bankable star in British television, the BBC was initially unsure if the diminutive actor -- who'd had more pilots in his time than a Pan Am air hostess, yet still hadn't found a hit leading role -- could carry the weight of a series.
Back then he was still best known as Granville, Ronnie Barker's long-suffering sidekick/punchbag in Open All Hours.
The first series of Only Fools in 1981 received unremarkable viewing figures and the reviews were lukewarm. When the second series fared little better, the BBC was ready to axe it, until repeats of the first season started picking up a large following. After that everything was, as Del Boy would say, lovely jubbly.
From being the sitcom that barely lived, Only Fools became the sitcom that won't die. Repeats on BBC1, RTE2 and satellite channel Dave continue to draw more than respectable audiences. And now it's about to receive a new lease of life with the news that an American remake is in the works.
When the idea was first mooted last year, Steve Carell, who starred in the American version of The Office, said he was desperate to play Del Boy, and suggested his pals Paul Rudd and Ben Stiller should play Rodney and Grandad (he might have had his tongue in his cheek for that last one).
Whoever ends up playing the American versions of the Trotters, the good news is that the behind-the-scenes talent is strong. Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley, the writers-producers of the excellent series Scrubs, are the men charged with bringing Only Fools and Horses to life on US soil.
But could this quintessentially English comedy ever find a place in the hearts of American viewers?
Stranger things have happened. Sanford and Son, an American remake of Steptoe and Son starring black actors, ran for six seasons between 1972 and 1977.
In 1971 the Steptoes' BBC contemporary, bigoted Alf Garnett of Till Death Us Do Part, was reincarnated as Archie Bunker of All in the Family.
Although softer in tone than the original, it still dealt with issues that were previously taboo on US TV and topped the ratings for five of its eight years on air.
But great comedy doesn't always export smoothly and transatlantic sitcom transfer is a route fraught with failure. There were no less than three separate American remakes of Fawlty Towers, including one starring The Golden Girls' Bea Arthur as a female Basil Fawlty. All were aired, none lasted long.
Reggie, a US remake of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin with Richard Mulligan in Leonard Rossiter's role, was dropped after one season, although some might say it was no worse than the awful BBC reboot with Martin Clunes, while Rear Guard, a remake of the beloved Dad's Army, got no further than a pilot episode.
Still, even with those unfavourable odds, Del Boy Trotter himself would surely take a punt on conquering the land of opportunity.
>soldiering on It's tough for a hit series to survive the loss of its leading star but Spartacus: Vengeance looks set to march triumphantly on, despite the sad death from cancer of Welsh actor Andy Whitfield, who was just 40.
It got off to an impressive enough start on TV3 and Sky 1 last Sunday, with Australia's Liam McIntyre acquitting himself well as the new Spartacus.
John Hannah's Batiatus, killed in the first season finale, is sorely missed already but it helps no end that his scheming wife Lucretia, played by the excellent Lucy Lawless, is still around and has a few scores to settle.
Great bloody fun.
>Hollywood to weatherfield Am I the only one who finds it slightly surreal watching Robert Vaughn ambling around the cobbles of Coronation Street?
Okay, so Vaughn is hardly a stranger to the UK. He's been in all eight series of the BBC's Hustle and was also the lead in The Protectors, an awful piece of early '70s ITV crap from Gerry 'Thunderbirds' Anderson.
But still. This is Napoleon Solo -- The Man From UNCLE! -- we're talking about, for chrissakes, as well as the last surviving member of The Magnificent Seven.
The man's a legend, yet here he is fraternising with the locals in the Rovers Return.
Somehow, that's just so wrong.
>US INVASION Speaking of veteran American stars, the news broke this week that Shirley MacLaine, star of Billy Wilder's The Apartment and Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry, is to join the third series of Downton Abbey.
At this rate, MacLaine's little brother, Warren Beatty, will be turning up in EastEnders playing the lost American uncle of Alfie Moon.
"What's up, pussycat, innit?"