Only Fools & Horses Series Three, episode: Thicker Than Water review by Brett Shaw
Only Fools & Horses Series Three has to be one of my favourites. Series One and Two are without doubt classics. Episodes like ‘Cash & Curry’, ‘Second Time Around’, as well as ‘Diamonds are for Heather’, ‘Long Legs of the Law’ and ‘It Never Rains…’ are great episodes littered with great comedy.
For me, John Sullivan’s writing really gets into its stride in series three. I love all 8 episodes, from Rodney being a desperate man on the run in ‘Wanted’ to Del winning over an axe-wielding maniac in ‘Friday the 14th’. Series three also sees the introduction of two great characters, Mike and Denzel in the very funny ‘Who’s a Pretty Boy’? My favourite episode has to be the Christmas Special ‘Thicker Than Water’, which sees the return of Reg Trotter.
Thicker Than Water
(1983 Christmas Special)
It’s Christmas Day night, Del’s out with his latest girlfriend and Rodney and grandad are in watching a film ‘that the Germans tried to bomb’. The doorbell rings and Rodney is met by a man he thinks is begging for money. To his surprise, it turns out to be his father who deserted the family 18 years ago.
An angry Del returns home with the aim of kicking his father out of the flat for having the front to return after running out on the family 18 years previously. A heated discussion ensues between Del, Rodney and Grandad. Although Del clearly hates his father, Rodney never knew his dad growing up and wants to make up his own mind about him. Rodney says to Del, ‘I wouldn’t mind the opportunity of judging him for myself. To which Del replies, what do you mean, judging him, he walked out on you when you were 5 years old, not only that he walked out on his own father’. In spite of this, Rodney is still keen to have his father around. Similarly for Grandad, Reg is his son, so he naturally takes his side.
Reg cunningly informs Del, Rodney and Grandad he has recently been a patient in Newcastle Infirmary suffering from a hereditary blood disorder. Del is not convinced of his father’s mysterious illness and responds with the words, ‘Jackanory…Jackanory’. Reg says his reason for returning was to do right by his children and warn them. As such, Del and Rodney need to have blood tests to check they have not been afflicted with the same hereditary condition. As a result of Reg’s illness and the fact it’s Christmas, Del allows Reg to stay. Reg goes to bed wishing them all a Merry Christmas’. Del reacts, ‘a right blindin’ Christmas this has turned out to be; some people get wise men bearing gifts, we get a wally with a disease’.
Results day arrives. Del and Rodney anxiously open their results, but discover the envelopes have already been opened. Grandad says Reg must have opened them due to being worried. After the excitement of both Del and Rodney being all clear of any hereditary illness, grandad and Del notice Rodney and Del both have different blood groups; Rodney being group ‘A’ and Del being ‘AB’. Del comes to the surprising realisation that Rodney is not Reg’s son.
A furious Reg bursts into the flat. He’s angry about the test results and believes Del and Rodney’s mum must have cheated on him; meaning one of his sons is not his. Reg says to Del, ‘how would you like to have a son who you loved and cared for… only to find years later that’s he’s a mystery’! Del replied, ‘what do you mean loved and cared for him, you walked out on Rodney when he was 5 years old ‘. Reg states, ‘I don’t know what you keep bringing Rodney into it for – you’re the mystery’!
Shocked by his dad’s revelation, an isolated Del decides to stay at Triggers. Rodney, naturally still loyal to his brother convinces him that a different blood group does not mean they have different fathers. He urges Del to go and see Dr Becker to double check the results.
Meanwhile, Rodney and Grandad have found the last couple of weeks with Reg challenging. He’s drunk the flat dry of booze and money, wrote a bet on the back of Rodney’s GCE certificates and smoked all Del Boy’s cigars.
Del returns confidently to Nelson Mandela House after taking Rodney’s advice. Del has rumbled Reg’s plan and finds out he cunningly changed Del’s blood group from ‘A’ to ‘AB’ on his hospital letter to isolate him from the family and take advantage of the situation. This exposes Reg’s plans and angers Rodney and Grandad. Del also questions Reg’s mystery blood illness, saying,’ Dr Becker rung up Newcastle Infirmary and they’d never heard of him [Reg]. They didn’t have a patient called Trotter, but they did have a porter called Trotter, but he left 2 weeks ago with 57 blankets, 133 pairs of rubber gloves and the chief gynaecologists Lambretta’. As the full truth of Reg’s actions is discovered, and the upset he’s caused, he has no option but to pack up his stuff and move on. In spite of all the false hope and upset Reg has caused, out of loyalty for his father, Del gives him a few quid.
John Sullivan not only writes good comedy but also good drama. Thicker Than Water is not just funny; it also deals with real-life situations like family breakups. In such situations family members are affected in different ways like Del, Rodders and grandad, leading to arguments and disagreements.
People like Reg are always going to be relying on the goodwill of others to get by. His departure from Newcastle meant he needed to take advantage of others – who better to visit at Christmas than his family? Through family loyalty and cunning he tried to take advantage of Del, Rodney and grandad for his own selfish interest.
Also, John Sullivan wanted to exploit the fact that Del and Rodney, although brothers looked completely different, highlighting the emotive issue that they probably had different fathers. John planted the idea for this with the blood test plot in Thicker Than Water. It was to be developed further in the excellent special ‘Frogs’ Legacy’ and later ‘Sleepless in Peckham’. Secrecy in families will always exist. However, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the stigma of children being born out of wedlock or with different parents was far more of an issue than it is today. It was normal for such situations to be hidden for many years before being discovered, if discovered at all.