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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 02:47 GMT
Fools writer leaves room for more

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

It has become a Christmas TV institution to rival the golden days of Morecambe and Wise or the Queen's speech.

Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses is one of the UK's most popular comedies
When Only Fools and Horses airs on Christmas Day, millions will tune in to follow the latest seasonal saga involving Del Boy, Boycey, Trigger and the Trotter family.

This year's show, Sleepless in Peckham, will be the 20th made-for-Christmas episode - and there is continued speculation it will be the last.

But series creator John Sullivan has refused to rule out further adventures for Peckham's favourite sons and their beloved yellow Reliant three-wheeler.

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"I haven't said it's the last," Sullivan told BBC News Online.

"We said it in '96 and made fools of ourselves. Within a couple of weeks we knew we were coming back. So we're not going to say it again.

"It may be the last one. Maybe we will come back and do a special."

Sleepless In Peckham is the final part of a trilogy which began with If They Could See Us Now in 2001, followed by last year's Strangers On The Shore.

It chronicles the Trotters' ongoing mixed fortunes after they lost their millionaire status and ended up mistakenly smuggling an illegal immigrant from France.
Del Boy and Rodney Trotter
Millions tune in to watch the Christmas specials

Now they face being evicted from Nelson Mandela House after 22 years unless they can pay back a huge tax demand.

Sullivan describes Sleepless in Peckham as a "very busy" episode.

"Del is still being pursed for 53,000 by the Inland Revenue and the Trotters have got to find somewhere else to live.

"Trigger is now very much into the X-Files and Close Encounters, and spends a lot of time looking at the sky. I think he's been waiting for the mother ship to return."

The 75-minute episode was actually completed 18 months ago, although Sullivan often leaves the final touches literally to the final moments.

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"One year I was still putting the credits on on Christmas morning," he revealed. "We came so close to the wire."

Sullivan used to be a scenery shifter at the BBC before he made his name writing Citizen Smith in the 1970s, starring Robert Lindsay as a would-be urban revolutionary in Tooting.

His own comedy writing heroes were Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the team behind Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

"They were like my gods. I followed their construction very consciously; trying to learn how to construct a sitcom. They did the big things rather than the little bitty things, and they always ended the scene with a laugh."

Rodney and Derek Trotter, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst (l) and David Jason
David Jason (r) and Nicholas Lyndhurst first played Del and Rodney in 1981
Sullivan also spent his Saturday mornings devouring Laurel and Hardy films at the cinema - and the legendary comic pairing had a big influence on the creation of Derek and Rodney Trotter.

He believes Britain is enjoying a new "golden age" of comedy writing, citing Ricky Gervais, Peter Kay, BBC sketch show Little Britain and Harry Hill's latest work as his favourites in the genre.

If Sleepless in Peckham does turn out to be the final episode, fans have not seen the end of Del Boy entirely.

Sullivan is working on a prequel set in the 1960s following the Trotters' parents and their teenage Derek on his mod's scooter.

The writer is happy with his life's work - "I have made my mark and I'm very proud" - but he will not sit down with the rest of Britain to watch his creation on Christmas night.

"I record it. I get so hypercritical - the family ask me to leave or throw me out."

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