John Challis: Here I was greeted by a sea of faces - all mine

You find yourself in the strangest situations in my game. I’ve been in an office with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, a bar with Oliver Reed and backstage with The Rolling Stones, down the years.

Only Fools and Horses star John Challis, promotes the masked ball at The Public, West Bromwich..
Only Fools and Horses star John Challis, promotes the masked ball at The Public, West Bromwich.

But a recent photocall to promote my spring tour almost took the biscuit.

I drove from my home in Ludlow to The Public, West Bromwich. It was the first time I’d visited – though I promise you it won’t be the last.

John Challis

The photocall was to promote my spring tour, which is called Only Fools And Boycie. When I arrived, I was greeted by a sea of faces in The Public’s theatre – the only trouble was, they were all mine.

Boycie lives on, you see. He remains one of the nation’s favourite comedy characters. Some bright spark had decided to make a set of masks featuring Boycie and Marlene. And when I walked into the theatre, I was staring back at myself – quite literally.

I’m used to walking down the red carpet, donning a tuxedo or pulling peculiar faces for photographers. But I’ve never before been asked to have my photograph taken – with myself.

The photo shoot was almost as funny for those of us taking part as it was for the people watching.

I sat in the centre of the picture, with two Boycies either side of me. Behind us, there were five Marlenes. Before one particular photograph, the assembled photographers barked instructions so that we all got into the correct position.

Apparently, one of the Marlenes had slumped down too low in her chair. So one of the photographers shouted: “Marlene, could you sit up a bit please, you’re too low down.” All five Marlenes sat bolt upright at once. It was like a Mexican wave, or a Marlene wave.

I’ll be back at The Public on June 1 – and I’ll also be at Ludlow Assembly Rooms on May 25. I’ll be sharing the highlights – and lowlights – of my 50 years in the business.

I started out after leaving a job as a trainee estate agent – and have never looked back.

Since those early days, I’ve appeared in The Sweeney, Doctor Who, Coronation Street, Citizen Smith, The Bill, One Foot In The Grave, Open All Hours and Heartbeat.

But it was my work for Only Fools and Horses and the Green, Green Grass that remains the best known.

They were written by John Sullivan, who based his Only Fools characters on his own youthful friends. They were people who had the confidence and ambition to make something of themselves, but neither the education nor the nous to do it.

I was quietly pleased with Boycie’s debut TV appearance as one of Peckham’s leading pre-used car dealers. I felt that the cleverness of Sullivan’s writing was obvious. I could see that my character would serve as a very useful function as a ‘role model’ for Del.

It was clear that Boycie was set to become a key player in Only Fools, while the show itself soon regularly attracted 14-15 million viewiers.

Eventually, John Sullivan decided to introduce Boycie’s wife to the public.

He cast Sue Holderness for the part. We hit it off instantly and enjoyed the longest-lasting on-screen marriage of any TV couple. We’re still good friends.

One thing is for sure, though. When we started out our on-screen relationship 38 years ago – I didn’t imagine I’d come face-to-face with five of us at a photoshoot.

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