JOHN Challis, who played the much-loved character Boycie in legendary television programme Only Fools and Horses, talks to EDWIN GILSON before an event in Brighton

HE HAS one of the most distinctive faces, voices – not to mention laughs – in British television history. Boycie’s stiff superiority and competitive yet touching relationship with David Jason’s Del Boy was a major part of Only Fools and Horses, the wildly successful BBC programme that ran until 2003.

Anyone who has ever seen the show will be able to summon the memory of Boycie addressing his wife in his typical nasally way: “Marleeene”. Challis has enjoyed a varied career either side of Only Fools and Horses. He was a successful theatre actor and made cameo appearances in Doctor Who and Brass Eye among other TV shows. Latterly, he was given his own Only Fools spin-off – The Green Green Grass – and has most recently been filming for the ITV series Benidorm.

Before an appearance in Brighton to discuss his role as Boycie and his life in general, however, Challis admits there is usually one thing the public want to ask him about.

“I’ve just been in out in Benidorm playing a completely different character, but there are loads of Only Fools fans out there and they keep saying ‘It’s great to see Boycie in Benidorm’. I have to explain that I’m playing a different character now.”

Challis denies that being recognised for a role he played for the last time over 15 years ago is irritating. Instead, he feels joy that so many people took Only Fools to their hearts. “It gives me great pride to have given people that pleasure,” he says. “People still come up and shake all of us [cast members] by the hand. That’s very gratifying.”

Born in Bristol but raised in South East London – where Only Fools was set – Challis quickly got a taste for taking on different identities in the name of humour. At one point he trained to be an estate agent – it was what his school headmaster and parents thought he should do – but he says he was always attracted to the stage.

“I was restless and not made for school, but then I went out on tour with theatre groups doing a show a week. I liked the idea of not being permanent.” It doesn’t take a huge leap to assume that Challis’ youthful restlessness was well channelled through acting. He found that he was naturally talented at impersonating people in his life.

“If I was fed up with one particular situation I could escape into another by being somebody else,” says Challis. “It was a good way of avoiding the bullies – they never quite knew who they were dealing with. And, of course, the merry sound of people laughing at you is seductive.”

It was the art of impersonation that led Challis to create Boycie. He had been playing a policeman in Citizen Smith, written by John Sullivan. At the same time, he started noticing an intriguing character at the local pub he frequented.

“This fellow had a very superior, sniffy attitude,” explains Challis, before putting on his Boycie voice. “He had this way of talking which was pedantic and nasally. So I tried to infuse the policeman with these characteristics. A year later a script came through my door for a new show called Only Fools and Horses. It was written by John Sullivan.”

The rest is history. Challis reckons that Boycie, despite his apparent haughtiness, was a man audiences could relate to – especially at the time of Only Fools’ heyday.

“The whole series captured that 1980s aspirational feel. People really identified with Del Boy trying to make something of himself but getting knocked down. In a lot of ways, Boycie represented where Del Boy wanted to get to. Boycie was the man with the money – the man who you slightly resent because they’ve always got the wherewithal. But everybody wants to make a buck here and there, and in that sense Boycie was successful.”

Challis points out that his character and Del Boy needed each other to fulfil their respective social positions. “Boycie needs to go the Nag’s Head [the pub in Only Fools] to feel superior to Del Boy.” The lasting appeal of the programme is self-evident; it still shows on TV station UK Gold every day. And, while Challis can look back upon a distinguished career with pride, he knows he will forever be remembered as Boycie.

“Only Fools is always going to the biggest thing we’ve done,” he says. “It’s never going to go away.”

Only Fools and Boycie, Komedia, Brighton, Thursday, 8pm. For more information and tickets visit or call 01273 647100