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'We’ll all be glad when we can get back to normal': John Challis talks ahead of headline show coming to Midlands and Shropshire

By Andy Richardson | Ludlow | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

It was supposed to be quite a year for Midlands comedy star John Challis.

John Challis

The man who became a household name as Boycie, in Only Fools and Horses, before as Monty Staines in the hit ITV comedy Benidorm, was looking forward to a huge tour of England, Wales and Ireland.

Pantomime was due to follow at the end of the year and there would have been dozens of public appearances, guest slots at festivals and more.

Instead, Mr Challis has been isolating at his home near Ludlow, on the south Shropshire and north Herefordshire border. His tours have been rescheduled into 2021 and it’ll be the longest break he’s had in a career that started in the 1960s and is still going strong.

Mr Challis thought he’d seen it all, having been asked to star with The Beatles in a film, and having drunk with George Best, featured in a film with Oliver Reed, starred on London’s West End and New York’s Broadway and having starred in everything from Coronation Street to Dr Who.

“The pandemic has been something completely different,” he says. “We’ll all be glad when we can get back to normal.”

There is a silver lining, of course. While the Government has injected £1.5 billion into theatres to keep them afloat, he’ll be back on the road next year with his one man show, Only Fools and Boycie. In that, he traces the arc of his career, telling remarkable stories and reflecting on how he became a still-popular name.

John Challis

His local dates have all been rescheduled into 2021 – he’ll now play Walsall Arts Centre on April 24, Stourbridge Town Hall on May 1, Stourport Civic Hall on September 3, Birmingham Old Rep on September 5, Stafford Gatehouse on September 15 and Telford Oakengates Theatre on September 16 as well as Tenbury Wells Regal on October 30.

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He’s looking forward to those shows, which will fall into the 40th anniversary year of Only Fools And Horses. That was the show that changed his life. “I was asked by the writer, John Sullivan, to appear in one episode as a used car salesman. John and I had worked together before on another show, Citizen Smith, and he’d liked what I’d done while playing a policeman – I used to play a lot of policemen.

“So he told me that he’d be in touch and a couple of years later I got a script. I read it and laughed out loud. It was my first episode of Only Fools and Horses.”

The show became a cult hit but Mr Challis said it may never have become the iconic series that dazzled millions were it not for a strike by technicians. “There was a strike at the BBC, which meant they couldn’t make any programmes for a while. So they dusted off the early episodes of Only Fools and Horses and put it on at a different time of night. Suddenly, the viewing figures went through the roof. It went from being a cult classic to a mainstream success. The audience shot up and we became household names.”

Mr Challis suddenly found himself stopped every time he left his home. People would go up to him and ask: “Where’s Marlene?” The show ran for seven series, from 1981 to 1991. There were Christmas specials before a spin-off series, The Green Green Grass, which was filmed near Leintwardine and Ludlow and ran from 2005 to 2009.

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John Challis

He married the love of his life, Carol Davies, in 1995 in Brighton and they moved to the south Shropshire border to live in an historic grange.

Mr Challis also took up writing – he’d always written scripts and jokes – and published a series of novels about a character similar to Boycie. In 2014, he devised a one-man show, Only Fools and Boycie, and it hasn’t been off the road since – until this year.

“We were really disappointed when we had to reschedule the shows. We’d been due to be on the road this spring but that tour was originally postponed until this autumn. But then it became apparent that the theatres wouldn’t be back in time so we moved everything into spring and autumn 2021.

“It’s a long time off the road for me, the longest I’ve ever been off a stage, but it’s the 40th anniversary of Only Fools and Horses next year so there’ll be a lot to celebrate. It’s such a shame for theatres because they have a hard enough time of things normally, just to keep going.

“But they have such wonderful people working for them that they’ll be back with a bang when it’s safe for them to operate and I can’t wait to be treading the boards again in my show, Only Fools and Boycie.”

Further details on Mr Challis’s books and shows are available from his website, www.wigmorebooks.com

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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