John Richard Thomas Sullivan's writing was influenced greatly by his South London past, and through his words and his comic creations, we can remember the moments that distinguished his remarkable life. He wrote of his father's late-night poker sessions (remember Del Boy and Boycie's gruelling encounter in 'A Losing Streak'?), and recalled a family tale of a dropped chandelier (foreshadowing Del and Rodney's famous dilemma in 'A Touch of Glass'). He even penned an ode to his grandfather's habit of falling down holes (as Uncle Albert did in series four's 'Hole In One'). Watching a friend nearly fall through a bar inspired one of Only Fools and Horses
' greatest moments.
Sullivan was born in 1946 in a working-class community. His mother was a charlady and his Irish father a plumber. Like them, he left school before he was 16 without any qualifications. For 15 years after, he grafted at the very lowest rung of the job market. In the mid-'70s, however, he found work in the BBC props department. This was to be a pivotal moment in his life, as he found the contacts to kick-start his writing career.
Recognition soon came in 1977, as his script for what would become Citizen Smith
- centred on an unemployed petty criminal - was accepted by the corporation and piloted . Running for four series on BBC One, Smith
- starring My Family
's Robert Lindsay - was a minor success, concluding in 1980. Before that, Sullivan had penned sketches for The Two Ronnies
, but had little other experience.
A year after Citizen Smith
finished, Only Fools and Horses
began, and at first failed to capture the imagination of the British public. It was supposedly on the verge of being axed after two series. Critics began to warm to the show only after the show's sternest test - the death of Lennard Pearce (Grandad). By 1985, there was little doubt that Only Fools
was BBC One's flagship sitcom, pulling in over 15 million viewers.
But it hadn't peaked yet: for series six and seven, the BBC allowed Sullivan to extend the episodes to 50 minutes. Suddenly the cockney wheeler-dealer partnership of Del and Rodney was over, as Sullivan proved not just
a master of the sitcom, but also a master of heavy drama - the epitome of which can be seen in the last ten minutes of series six ('Little Problems'
), and the last moments of series seven ('Three Men, a Woman, and a Baby'), as the Trotters found love.
Indicative of his writerly range and commitment to his craft during this period in his career was romantic comedy Just Good Friends
starring Paul Nicholas, another hit for Sullivan in the late '80s. Dear John
followed in 1986, as did Roger Roger
a decade later.
For his work on Only Fools
, Sullivan was awarded an OBE in 2005. That followed a Writers' Guild of Great Britain comedy award in 1997, as well as three BAFTAs in 1986, 1989 and 1997. His commitment to the show was never questioned throughout its three-decade run. He wrote every episode and composed the theme tune. The poignant 'finale' which saw the brothers finally become millionaires, 'Time On Our Hands', remains the most-watched episode of a sitcom to this day, attracting 24.3 million viewers.
The franchise spawned two spinoffs The Green Green Grass
and most recently prequel Rock and Chips
, which airs its final ever episode next Thursday.
Following a short illness with pneumonia, he leaves his wife Sharon, two sons, one daughter and two grandchildren.> 'Only Fools and Horses' creator John Sullivan diesLeave your tributes to John Sullivan below