Tributes have been paid to John Sullivan, the scriptwriter famous for creating Only Fools and Horses, who has been described as “the Dickens of his generation”.
Sullivan, 64, who was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to drama, died after a short illness, the BBC announced. In addition to creating one of Britain’s most popular television series, he also wrote Citizen Smith, Roger Roger, Dear John and Just Good Friends. The third and final episode of his latest work, Rock & Chips, a comedy drama prequel to Only Fools and Horses, will be shown on BBC1 on Thursday.
Sir David Jason, who played Del Boy in the hit comedy, said he was “devastated” at the loss of his friend. He added: “We have lost our country’s greatest comedy writer but he leaves us a great legacy, the gift of laughter. My thoughts at this time are with his lovely family.”
Nicholas Lyndhurst, who played Del’s brother Rodney, said he was deeply saddened and described his friend as “without doubt” Britain’s finest TV writer. “He was a shy and self-effacing man, but had a huge passion for his work and was looking forward to writing more Rock & Chips. I hope the last episode makes him proud.”
Sullivan is credited with penning some of the most memorable catchphrases from Only Fools and Horses, including “lovely jubbly” which made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003. He also wrote the theme tune.
Mark Thompson, BBC Director General, said Sullivan had created some of the UK’s most-loved comedies. “He had a unique gift for turning everyday life and characters we all know into unforgettable comedy. His work will live on for years to come. We will miss him and we send our condolences to his family.”
Sullivan, born in 1946 in South London, always said the secret to his success was that he wrote about what he knew, and revealed Del Boy was an amalgam of many characters he came across.
He landed his first job at BBC Television Centre as a scene hand aged 16. During his spare time he wrote sketches and his break came when he submitted one of his scripts to Dennis Main Wilson, the renowned BBC comedy producer, who commissioned him to work on the series that became Citizen Smith.
But it is for Only Fools and Horses, which followed the ups and downs of Derek “Del Boy” Trotter and his family as they tried to make a quick fortune, that Sullivan will be best remembered. It ran for 10 years between 1981 and 1991, with several Christmas specials in the years that followed, and was regularly voted the best British comedy of all time.
A 1996 episode called Time On Our Hands, in which the Trotter brothers become wealthy following the discovery and sale of a valuable watch, attracted 24.3 million viewers and gained the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode.
“The sudden death of John Sullivan has deprived the world of television comedy of its greatest exponent,” said Gareth Gwenlan, the show’s producer.
Mark Freeland, BBC head of comedy, said: “No one understood what made us laugh and cry better than John Sullivan. He was the Dickens of our generation.”
Sullivan died at a hospital in Surrey following a battle with viral pneumonia. He had two sons and a daughter, with his wife Sharon, and two grandchildren.
(Source – The Guardian)