Only Fools and Horses

Only Fools and Horses: Every episode that was based on a true story John Sullivan had seen over the years

Some of the best episodes were born out of bizarre incidents that happened in real life

Only Fools and Horses is widely regarded as one of the best UK sitcoms of all time, and for good reason. Its famous Christmas specials routinely broke viewing records and the show is now deeply ingrained in British culture. Part of what made this happen is the way writer and creator John Sullivan was able to weave real stories of family members, friends, or just strangers that he had heard, into his scripts, often giving them a ‘stranger than fiction’ comedic edge.

Of the 64 Only Fools episodes that were made over the 23 years the show ran for, almost all of them will have featured some aspect or another inspired by real life. But of those 64 there are 14 in particular where John based the script off of a true story, adding his own flair to them and working out exactly where the Trotters could fit in.-ADVERTISEMENT-

Among these are episodes which produced some of the best-loved moments from the sitcom’s whole run, including the chandelier drop in a Touch of Glass, and the iconic fall Del takes through an open bar counter in the classic Yuppy Love. Read on below for the full list of episodes with a true story behind them.

Part of creator John Sullivan’s genius came from his ability to embed real life events into the scripts for Only Fools and Horses (Image: Chris Ridley/Radio Times/Getty Images)

The Russians Are Coming

This episode in the first series sees Del come into over £1,000 worth of lead from a factory, which Rodney points out is actually a DIY fallout shelter that the two plan to put together on Grandad’s allotment, fear of a nuclear war playing on their minds. This script idea was based on a true story John Sullivan read, about a group of people living in fear of nuclear war who had done just what Del did, buying up tonnes of lead to build their own makeshift fallout shelter.

The Trotters in their bomb shelter (Image: BBC)

The Long Legs of The Law

In this episode which opened the second series of the show, Rodney is dating a police officer named Sandra, leading Del to worry about all the dodgy merchandise stored in the Trotter’s flat. His fears are proved right when Sandra comes over and breaks it to Rodney that he has 24 hours to get rid of the stolen goods before she informs on him. John Sullivan was inspired to write this episode based on his niece’s experiences as a policewoman.

Rodney with his police officer girlfriend Sandra (Image: BBC)

A Losing Streak

In this series two episode, Del is battling gambling troubles but still decides to host a poker game with Boycie at his flat. His luck only gets worse from here as he loses everything to his friend, before realising Boycie had been fixing all the games, erasing Del’s debt to him. John based this script on the gambling sessions his father used to enjoy with his friends.

John based Del’s gambling nights on his dad’s (Image: BBC)

A Touch of Glass

After helping a woman in need whose car has broken down who turns out to be a Lady, the Trotters score an opportunity cleaning the chandeliers at her stately home, a job that naturally goes disastrously wrong leading to the iconic chandelier drop moment.

John wrote the entire episode around this event working backwards from an incident his dad had as a plumber in the 1930s installing a new heating system along with several other workmen in a big house. At one point they had to move a chandelier, they undid the wrong one, smashing it just like in the show and getting all of them sacked.

A touch of glass is a fan favourite episode (Image: BBC)

Yesterday Never Comes

Del tries to con a fancy antique dealer with a worthless old cabinet, but after coming to see some of Del’s wares she warms to him, leading the smitten Del to give her an old painting he has among his stock. It later turns out she’d been playing Del as she tries to auction the actually valuable artwork. Del gets the last laugh though when he breaks it to her that she’s selling stolen goods. John once again used a family connection with this script, basing it on the experiences of his mother who worked as a cleaner at an Art gallery.

John’s mum’s memories of working as a cleaner in an art gallery helped him write Yesterday Never Comes (Image: BBC)


After Rodney helps a drunk woman and is accused of rape, he runs away scared, Del quickly realises his accuser is a mentally ill woman called Blossom. He also decides to turn the screw on his scared brother, making up a story that police are searching for ‘the Peckham pouncer’ and convincing Rodney that he’s a fugitive. This episode was based entirely by John on an experience his friend had who found himself in the same position as Rodney, the woman his friend’s story was also called Blossom.

Rodney on the run in Wanted (Image: BBC)

Hole in One

The Trotters are in another financial mess after some bad investments, but after Uncle Albert takes a tumble through a cellar door at the Nag’s Head, the trio sees a chance to sue for damages. However, the case is thrown out of court when it turns out Uncle Albert has a history of pulling damages scams in the very same way. This episode was based on John Sullivan’s grandfather Dickie. A coal miner, he had apparently made a habit of claiming compensation by falling down holes.

Uncle Albert’s fall turns out to be one of many after the Trotters try to sue the Nag’s Head (Image: BBC)

As One Door Closes

After Del makes a bad deal to sell a number of louvre doors he can’t follow through with, the Trotters need to find £2,000 fast. After scamming Denzil out of his redundancy money, the three are in even more trouble as he comes looking for them. But they find a lucky solution after fleeing to their mum’s grave, where they find a butterfly Rodney recognises from a magazine, worth £3,000 to collectors. Much like Rodney in the episode, John Sullivan based the script around a rare butterfly he’d read about in a magazine.

The Trotter’s manage to get out of a tight spot thanks to a valuable butterfly, something John read about in a magazine (Image: BBC)

The Longest Night

The Trotters are mistakenly apprehended for shoplifting at a supermarket, then to make matters worse they get caught up in a robbery as a real shoplifter holds up the store at gunpoint, leaving the Trotters stuck overnight. In the end though, Del uses his gift of the gab to unravel the robber’s conspiracy along with the store manager and security guard, getting the boys out safely as well as bagging himself £1,000.

John based this plotline on a petty criminal he’d read about who had pulled a similar scam, working with a supermarket security guard and manager to rob a store, planning to split the money.

The Trotters get caught up in a bungled robbery scam (Image: BBC)

Video Nasty

This episode follows Rodney’s doomed attempt to produce a community film after he gets a £10,000 grant from his evening class art teacher to make one. After suffering writer’s block Del volunteers an off-the-wall ‘rhinoceros loose in the city’ idea which Rodney shrugs off. Soon Rodney discovers Mickey Pearce has been shooting a porn film with his girlfriend using the camera equipment, with Boycie and the Driscoll brothers closely involved. Rodney, in the end, falls back on Del’s rhinoceros idea.

John based this episode on a story he read about a youth club who were given a grant by a local council to produce a film of their own, but all the money and equipment disappeared soon after.

Rodney catches Mickey in Video Nasty (Image: BBC)

Yuppy Love

Del changes his image up to match Gordon Gecko from Wall Street, while Rodney meets Cassandra for the first time and ashamed of his background, pretends to be from a posh neighbourhood.

With Del’s change of look obviously based on the spread of yuppy culture at the time John Sullivan also based Del’s classic bar fall on a moment he’d seen himself in a pub, remembering how funny seeing the man try to recover his cool was. He’d also done something similar to Rodney as a schoolboy where he was dropped off in a posh neighbourhood.

Del mid fall in the infamous Yuppy Love scene (Image: BBC)

The Sky’s The Limit

Del comes into possession of a satellite dish after Boycie needs a new one. Meanwhile, Rodney looks for a way to get back with Cassandra after his breakup, attempting to meet her on her way back from holiday at Gatwick, only for her plane to be diverted to Manchester as the satellite dish Del has is stolen from Gatwick airport.

John Sullivan based the idea of the episode on his own airport nightmare after he was set to go on holiday to Portugal before realising last minute he wasn’t actually booked on the plane.

Del unknowingly sets up Gatwick Airport’s satellite dish on his balcony (Image: BBC)

The Class of ’62

Del is invited to a mysterious school reunion with Boycie, Denzil, Trigger, Rodney and the organiser who turns out to be crooked cop Roy Slater who is now married to an unhappy Raquel. After discovering Slater’s involvement in some shady diamond dealings, Del blackmails him into divorcing Raquel. John based this one on his experience after attending a reunion of one of his old football teams.

Roy Slater makes a return in Class of ’62 (Image: BBC)

While clearing out Grandad’s old allotment, Del comes across what he believes is a natural spring, seeing an opportunity for some quick money, he sets up his own bottled water company ‘Peckham spring’, and lands a deal with a supermarket unaware the water has been contaminated.

John wrote this script after reading about a real incident where an area’s water supply was cut-off after toxic material was dumped in a nearby reservoir.

Del Boy, Grandad, and Rodney on the set of the Only Fools and Horses episode Mother Nature's Son
Del Boy, Uncle Albert, and Rodney on the set of the Only Fools episode Mother Nature’s Son (Image: BBC)

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