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A sad end for Sullivan

I FIND myself between a rock and a hard place today, and the reason I'm stuck here is Rock & Chips, the final television work of Only Fools and Horses creator John Sullivan.

Like practically everyone in Ireland and Britain who ever watched Only Fools, I adored it and I thought Sullivan, who died last week aged 64, was something of a genius.

Over the course of its original 10-year run (1981-91), Only Fools redefined the British sitcom, surpassing in breadth and scope even the work of television's finest comedy-writing partnership, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who wrote Steptoe and Son and Hancock's Half Hour.

Sullivan -- especially when allowed to expand his scripts from 30 to 50 minutes -- created not just a brilliant and enduring comedy, but a whole comedy universe peopled with richly-drawn, poignant characters you grew to genuinely care about over the years, even while laughing your head off at them.

Only Fools ended perfectly, with Del and Rodney finally becoming millionaires, and literally walking off into the sunset, at which point that should have been that.

But Sullivan resurrected the characters for a series of specials. Even though these felt redundant and unnecessary, Sullivan's writing was never anything less than sparkling.

I wish I could say the same for Rock & Chips, the last (unless the BBC has more finished scripts by Sullivan lying about the place) of three prequels to Only Fools, charting the exploits of the young Del Trotter (James Buckley from The Inbetweeners) and his family in the pre-Beatles 1960s.

Sullivan had been kicking the idea for a Trotters' prequel around long before Only Fools reached the end of its second life and you can understand the appeal of the project for the BBC.

But Rock & Chips was a total dud.

It bore all the hallmarks of a writer who'd become such a revered television institution that no one in authority was prepared to say no to him.

This instalment was even more flabby and unfocused than the previous two.

For what it's worth, and it's not much, the meandering plot concerned the efforts of thief Freddie Robdal (Nicholas Lyndhurst, playing his original character's biological father) to beat the rap for a jewellery heist and go straight with Del and Rodney's mother Joan (Kellie Bright).

It was too jokey to be taken seriously as drama and too weak to work as comedy, and except for Buckley's spot-on Del Boy, the casting was as off-key as the humour.

Lyndhurst is a fine comedy actor with superb timing, honed by his years in Only Fools, but even hidden behind a spiv's pencil moustache and weighed down by a heavy overcoat, he's no one's idea of a tough East End hood.

This was a sad parting shot from a great writer. May Mr Sullivan rest in peace and may his creations be let rest alongside him.

If only Rock & Chips had been as funny as William and Kate: The Untold Story. Yes, yes, I know you're probably as fed up with the royal wedding thing as I am, but this already infamous American TV movie, shot in Los Angeles and looking it, was simply too bad to ignore.

It was the most unintentionally hilarious dramatic mutilation of real public figures I've seen since Clark Gable played Charles Stewart Parnell with a full head of hair back in the 1930s.

Where to begin? The wooden performances? The wandering accents? The cheesy, Seventies TVM-style production? The red London buses driving on the wrong side of the road?

Still, at least it lived up to its original title, William and Kate: The Untold Story. I mean, who knew William proposed to her in front of unconvincingly painted backdrop of an African sunset?


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