‘The Best Episode of Only Fools and Horses’. By Matt Jarvis
Episode: ‘The Unlucky Winner is…’
Transmitted: Sunday 29th January 1989 at 19:15 hours.
Viewing Figures: 17 million
Running Time: 50 minutes
With such a fantastic and iconic series as ‘ Only Fools…’ there will forever be debate about which is the best ever episode and quite often, I find it all comes down to viewers’ personal experiences that they can link to the specific episode and the characters’. Of course that is the beauty of the writing and the acting of the programme – we can all relate to someone or something that happens – I can pretty much guarantee that we all know a Trigger, a Boycie, a Del Boy and countless Rodney ‘the plonker’ Trotters.
Okay, so that is enough of the obvious stuff but what I want to put forward is my own personal choice for the best ever episode and that is the January 1989 episode, ‘The Unlucky Winner is…’ I now know that a lot of people will be asking, ‘Why?’ so I must address that.
For me, the whole episode is hilarious, full of so many funny moments and also is just so simple in its execution. From the very moment that Rodney explains how the picture of the Eiffel Tower became the ‘Marble Arch at Dawn’, I am falling about laughing.
Here we are at the very early stages of Cassandra and Rodney’s relationship and the entire scene in the Trotter’s living room is just pure class. It is no surprise when Del turns up but there in lies the brilliance of the writing and the acting talent on the show. We sit there waiting for Del to walk in but when he does, it still proves to be hilarious but what is even better is the appearance prior to that of good old Uncle Albert.
What I love is the fact that Albert walks in, asks a question and Rodney and Cassandra decide that it ‘sounded like Uncle Albert.’
The whole scene is such a merry go round of what the Trotters are about. No one knows truly what the other has planned and no one really respects what the others wants to do. Even the end of scene that involves a slight error from David Jason playing Del can take away from the beautiful composition of the scene. If you are wondering what the error is then I will enlighten you. Del is expecting a visit from ‘Petula’ but when Rodney tells him that ‘Albert’s old bird is here’, Del Boy responds by saying ‘you saucy Git, that’s Petulia’. Not a major thing but it may come up in a quiz one day!!
So, the scene is set perfectly and Rodney becomes the winner of a Mega Corn Flakes competition. Rodney only sees page one of the letter as Del can be the only one at this stage along with Uncle Albert) to know that all is not as it seems.
As the episode moves to the Pub, it is the point where I feel that this episode excels with its comedy built around real life scenarios. I just love it when Rodney explains his worries about ‘sex’ with Del and passes him the magazine only for Del to reply, ‘what, Ford Escorts?’ It is then just laugh after laugh as Del see’s the correct advert that Rodders is referring to and tells him; ‘you don’t have to worry. They’re not that size in real life.’ Once Rodney recovers from the realisation that Del is perhaps not the right person to have this sensitive conversation with, he explains that he is nervous about the issue as there is a ‘sort of stigma attached to them.’ How can Del possibly respond to this? Quite superbly is the answer as he says, ‘nah, that’s just a bit of silver foil you chuck out of the way.’
What I especially love is the fact that after that last line regarding the silver foil, you can clearly see that David Jason is struggling to bite his lip and stop himself from laughing. I love this about ‘fools’ as in other comedies I have studied, you hear how the directors have shot scenes again due to cast members laughing. Just imagine how Danger UXD would have lost one of its most memorable moments if the scene where Rodney turns up at the Nags Head with the Tomatoes and Mike offers him ‘…bread..’ to mop it up from his suit had been re done to remove Denzel, or rather Paul Barber, absolutely wetting himself with laughter in the bottom left of the screen and trying to avoid the camera!!!
Once we get to the holiday destination and Rodney has asserted that it is ‘time to pour the Sangria Jose, we have arrived..’ it is time for the episode to take off and whilst I assert that in my opinion this is the best ever episode of ‘Fools’, it also contains some of the best scenes and not least the introduction of Alan Perkins and his ‘Groovy Gang’.
Ever since this episode first aired, I have attended countless parties that at some point or another have featured friends and family asking if I am having fun. I just cannot resist the temptation to reply, ‘Groovy!!!’
You know that as soon as Del states once they all get to the hotel the cornflakes people will leave them alone to their holiday and Cassandra has made sure her ‘beloved’ Roddy does not get any ketchup down his shirt that things are going to go wrong as only they can for the clan Trotter.
It is the subtleties that I like as well. The fact that the ‘Arkela’ arrive and Rodney just about manages to give his cigarette to Del is just brilliant acting and the coolness of Del as he stands there as if he had the Cigarette and drink all along is picture perfect.
John Sullivan eventually manages to allow Roddy and Cassandra some time alone and as a viewer, we feel that at last they will get a bit of the holiday to themselves, only for Del to crudely shout back from the door that ‘they are in my flight bag…’ Surely enough to ruin any intimate moment as he also manages earlier in the episode when he explains that every time Rodney discusses art with someone, ‘their buttons come undone,’ and the fact that Rodney is in luck as ‘ Mike has just had a new machine fitted in the Gents.’
It is these set pieces that are such a feature of what ‘Only Fools and Horses ‘ is about and in my opinion, they are written and delivered just wonderfully in this episode.
You really do get a sense of the brotherly love in this episode because although Del is deeply amused by the predicament he has put his Brother in, he still has a sense of wanting Rodney to do well, none more so than when Rodney wants to kill Del because he has just ‘come second in a skateboard derby’ to which Del quite indignantly replies, ‘ second?! You were in the lead when I saw you.’ For a split second Rodney pauses and looks embarrassed as he explains that he ‘fell off.’ Deep down, there is always a sense that Rodney does not want to Del down either, no matter how daft the thing he has been doing may be.
What I also find clever is the fact that although Rodney still wears his normal clothes in the majority of scenes; he still manages to look like he could be an old looking 14 year old. I find it a close call between Rodney as Robin or he dressed as a young skateboarder as to which I enjoy the most – possibly it is just a draw for me.
The episode again shows how much Del would do to become rich by the fact that he will even change dates on Rodney’s legal documents to make sure that his date of birth will match his date of birth for the Mega Flakes people. Of course, in true Trotter tradition, this backfires as when they do win a large sum of money. Del’s little alterations mean they cannot claim their Spanish lottery winnings.
The question of the greatest ever episode will rumble on for an age, and in all honesty, there are so many classics, it is perhaps unfair to nail it down to one episode as each and every one have superb moments, but for me overall and from a comedy point of view, it is this episode that gets my vote and I will never tire of watching it again and again. Then again, I will never tire of watching this iconic and classic series that will forever for me stand the test of time.
As Del may say, ‘The Unlucky Winner is…’ for me ‘the crème de la menthe of the community!!’
By Matt Jarvis
Written 7th December 2012
Matt Jarvis is 33 years old and has been a ‘Fools’ fan all of his adult life.
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