Only Yules And Horses (Part Two)

Yesterday we looked at the Only Fools And Horses Christmas specials that aired in the first half of the 1980s, and saw that they received a minimal amount of press coverage. Between 1986 and 1989, the show took a break, with no new series – but there were three festive episodes in that time.

The first of these was A Royal Flush, which aired on Christmas Day in 1986. This was a feature length episode, with such a tight production turnaround that they were editing it right up until the morning of broadcast. This meant there was no studio audience. A shorter version of the episode was edited years later, and an audience laughter track was added.

The 1985 Christmas special would also enjoy a repeat as part of the BBC’s festive line-up.

The Stage – Thursday 11 December 1986

It was a good telly Christmas for John Sullivan all round really.

That’s nearly two million more viewers for the special than the year before, which itself was the fourth highest rated festive show.

Liverpool Echo – Wednesday 24 December 1986

Hilary Kingsley really liked it, even if she was massively underwhelmed by one of Eastenders most famous moments, in one of its best known episodes.

Daily Mirror – Saturday 27 December 1986

Looking at most of the TV spreads for this year though, they seemed more interested in ‘Allo ‘Allo and Just Good Friends, I suspect mostly because of the promotional photos.

Daily Mirror – Thursday 04 December 1986

It must have been difficult for the BBC to see Only Fools riding so high in the ratings, without a new series to segue into for 1987. Or maybe they were pleased they now had a banker to build around for the following Christmas.

The Frog’s Legacy would mark the end of producer Ray Butt’s involvement with the show.

The Stage – Thursday 08 October 1987

I fully expected to see Del, Rodney, and Albert’s faces all over the papers for this year, but they’re not. Which may partly explain why the special was watched by a relatively smaller number of people (14.5m), finishing 15th in the ratings, behind Hi-De-Hi and Russ Abbot. The schedule was dominated by soaps and big tentpole movies like Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom.

So 1988 marked the show’s seventh Christmas special, this time a 79 minute story called Dates, and now produced by Gareth Gwenlan. It saw the introduction of Raquel, and would be followed in the new year by a full series.

But again, the impetus would be on movies.

The Stage – Thursday 08 December 1988

The break from full series had given the stars time to go off and bolster their reputations, with Jason playing Skullion in Porterhouse Blue and starring in A Bit Of A Do, and Lyndhurst cementing himself as a big sitcom draw.

Daily Mirror – Monday 04 January 1988

Which makes it all the more surprising that the papers seemed focused on other sitcom offerings for Christmas ’88. Or maybe not …

Daily Mirror – Wednesday 14 December 1988

And in spite of it all, sitcoms dominated viewers’ attention once more.

The new series in January of 1989 saw Del’s makeover into a yuppy, the introduction of Casandra, and fifty minute episodes. Yuppy Love was the opening episode, with 13.9 million viewers witnessing Mr Trotter tumbling through an open bar hatch.

Only Fools And Horses saw out the decade with The Jolly Boy’s Outing, a Christmas special that’s set in August. And finally, we see the sort of double-page spread that I’ve been expecting all this time.

Daily Mirror – Saturday 23 December 1989
Sunday Mirror – Sunday 24 December 1989

But it’s surprising to see that it didn’t quite do it in the ratings …

Maybe that was down to its 4pm broadcast slot. Hilary Kingsley agrees, and loved it.

Daily Mirror – Tuesday 26 December 1989
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