John Challis Interviewed By Alex Wiseman
I have been lucky enough to interview John Challis several times now for Iceni Magazine. The fact he features in my all-time favourite shows ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Benidorm’ makes it even cooler for me.
AW – Since the Iceni last spoke to you, you have been a regular in the last series of Benidorm, written by the finest comedy writer in the UK, Derren Litten (after the late John Sullivan). Having been in the biggest comedy the UK is ever likely to make, how did it feel joining the gang in Benidorm?
JC – I was actually in four series of Benidorm…
AW – Whoops! I stand corrected… when did you first feature and what was it like?
JC – The first time was as a dodgy property dealer in cahoots with Nadia Sawalha’s character, but she decided she wanted to spend more time with her family, so that storyline fizzled out. Derren obviously liked Monty so he eventually asked if I’d be up for doing a whole series as Joyce Temple-Savage’s love interest. However, it would mean staying out in Benidorm for four whole months. Was I prepared for such a long stint? Hahahaha! Obviously, I’d enjoyed my guest appearances and getting to know some of the actors, so I was thrilled to be welcomed into the Benidorm family. It was a unique experience which I shall never forget, and my wife and I fell in love with Benidorm and Spain, which we had not expected. I hope the friendships we made will last for ever.
AW – Will Benidorm ever come back? Surely right now we all need a good laugh and sunshine? Will Monty ever be back? Chips & Rice, John!
JC – It was a dreadful shock to all of us when ITV decided not to recommission Benidorm, especially when Series 10 ended with good viewing figures, and Sherrie and I had been looking forward to exploring our relationship as man and wife. I think it was more difficult for her as she had been part of the show for so long. It’s like losing your family, and there’s a great void there for a long time after.
AW – It’s such a shame (I personally loved it right from series 1!) and I loved Monty. He was so silly and I just found it so funny watching you be silly!
JC – I loved how people enjoyed Monty’s phrase ‘Chips AND rice’ and even today I get asked to write it down or say it and it always gets a laugh. ITV seem to have given up on comedy and unless the people at the top change their mind I don’t see Benidorm coming back, but I’m sure if Derren Litten was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, then he’d be happy to take up his pen again. There’s a bottomless pit of inspiration out in Benidorm and Derren is the best comedy writer we’ve had since John Sullivan. Sullivan rated him highly and asked him to work with him on Green Green Grass. A worthy successor.
AW – Benidorm always attracted great guests. My favourite has to be Tony Hadley singing at Monty & Joyce’s wedding…
JC – Tony Hadley! What a stroke of genius that was. Sherrie couldn’t believe her luck when he turned up! Always been a big fan. Some of the best moments came off camera-we we’re all staying in the same hotel and breakfast was a big buffet affair for hundreds of guests. One morning during the Benidorm Elvis Festival, we were in the dining room surrounded by Elvis and Tony’s standing at the buffet. He’s turned round to go back to his table and suddenly a table of ten Welsh rugby players bursts into GOLD. Poor Tony had to stand there until they’d finished, much to the delight of the whole room! Then one evening after dinner, he came with us to watch ‘Elvis’ at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Palace across the road. It’s packed out with Brits, drunk and singing along with Elvis, as is Tony. The looks on the faces when they realised who was singing American Trilogy from the back of the room; it was a moment I shall treasure for ever!
AW – I know all good things have to come to an end, but I do find it shame when things end and there is clearly still a big audience for it.
JC – We’re all surprised and angered when shows are taken off while viewing figures are good, and there’s no rhyme nor reason for it. It’s usually accountants who force the decision, as with Benidorm which was always a massive logistical expense, being shot in Spain over five months. The cost of accommodating actors, air flights, using a Spanish crew as well, catering, taxis, etc. must have been astronomical. I don’t think it would have worked as well if we’d had to cut down to half an hour and of course, there were a lot of guests coming and going every week. We had the best job and must be thankful for our ‘time in the sun’.
AW – I and the other millions of fans still adore Only Fools and Horses. I watch it every Sunday on GOLD. How does it feel to have been part of the show? It really is a national treasure…
JC – A big part of all our lives and certainly the single main event that changed my life for ever.
AW – I like most people would love to see it return, but understand that is very unlikely…
JC – As for Only Fools and Horses, I don’t think anyone would want to see us come back as geriatric old codgers and I think it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie! There’s only a few of us left standing now.
AW – I guess I agree with you. It’s just simply the best show ever… I doubt we will all love something as much as Only Fools again. Any suggestions on how I can get some Only Fools fix without watching GOLD?
JC – Well there’s a terrific musical version of the show at the Haymarket Theatre in London that’s a great tribute to the original. It’s been a runaway success for Jim Sullivan and the producers, which goes to show how much people love OFAH.
AW – I have tickets booked. I was persuaded by your wife Carol to go! One last Only Fools question… what’s your favourite episode? Mine is the ‘Jolly Boys Outing’.
JC – I have a lot of favourite episode of Only Fools and Horses, mostly ones that I was in! I love Jolly Boys Outing because it really was a chance for us lads to spend time together and we had a ball down in Margate. It’s the music as well and it always evokes happy memories. I also think Heroes and Villains was wonderful with the Batman and Robin sketch. John Sullivan said to me that he didn’t think he’d ever write anything as good again. In Sickness and Wealth is a good episode for me because it’s the first time we hear what Boycie’s proper name is. ‘I am here’ is a phrase I’m always asked to say!
AW – How about the ‘Green Green Grass’ stage show?
JC – I thank my lucky stars that Sullivan thought the characters of Boycie and Marlene were strong enough to carry the spin-off Green Green Grass because that was a joyous four years of madness that we all loved doing. It was the happiest of jobs, but I don’t see it as a stage show, like Benidorm. Again, Sue and I miss those cast members, like family, but that’s what this business is like. Jobs throw you all together into a very intense relationship for a period of time and then it all comes to an abrupt end. It’s a terrific wrench to be parted from your ‘family’ like that.
AW – What’s planned for the next 12 months in television land?
JC – As for television, I think my career came to an end with the end of Benidorm. I am forever grateful to Derren Litten for giving me the chance to play a different character. Thankful as I am for all that Boycie has brought me, I’m still an actor and actors want to show off their capabilities! I really thought the character of Monty had legs, so that’s a sadness for me. Luckily, I have another string to my bow in that I have written five books which have gone pretty well over the past few years. I also do a one man show called Only Fools and Boycie which I take on tour each year.
AW – Ahh yes ‘Only Fools and Boycie’ is a great show, I saw it back in 2015! Norfolk is very lucky to have you visiting twice this year (Diss & Norwich). What can people expect from the show?
JC – It’s just me talking about my life and times, how my career started and took off when television came on the scene, the famous people I met on the way and lots of good stories about the business.
AW – Thank you for talking to us again today and we wish you lots of luck with the tour.
JC – Thank you. If any of your readers would like to see the tour dates visit www.wigmorebooks.com/events, where you can also order signed copies of my books.
AW – Chips and Rice John, Chips and Rice.
Interview By Alex Wiseman.