TV review: Rock and Chips | The Bible: A History

JOHN Sullivan hasn't written anything of worth for almost 15 years, so it was reasonable to presume that his Only Fools and Horses prequel, Rock and Chips, would be, to pilfer the vernacular, a steaming pile of pony. After all, his only other OFAH spin-off, the pitiful The Green, Green Grass, appeared to suggest an irreversible drought in his once overflowing well of inspiration.

But guess what? It was actually pretty good. Not great, not perfect, but a watchable production from which everyone emerged with their dignity intact.

Revisiting his most beloved set of comic creations, and the era in which he grew up, evidently rekindled his warmth and soul, as he whisked us back to Peckham in 1960 to explore the background of Rodney Trotter's birth.

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It was revealed long ago in the original series that, as a result of a brief affair between their late mother, Joan, and a criminal called Freddie "The Frog" Robdal, Del Boy and Rodney had different fathers. Although some things are best left to the imagination, it was actually quite nice to witness the meeting of the oft-mentioned but hitherto unseen Joan (a sympathetic turn from Kellie Bright) and the incorrigible Freddie, especially as the latter was played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, clearly relishing a rare opportunity to stretch himself as an actor. We all know he has immaculate comic timing, but he was superb here, striking an assured balance between icy menace, dry wit and romantic longing.

It was to the credit of all concerned that the relationship between Freddie and Joan was not only believable but actually quite touching. Sullivan at his best has always displayed a deft ability to marry comedy with pathos, and Rock and Chips contained some of his most astutely judged writing in years.

It was overstretched at 90 minutes and the plot was disjointed, but it was consistently likeable, with a few good comic sequences including Del and Boycie failing to woo a pair of wannabe beatniks, and Freddie and his sidekick (the undervalued comic actor Paul Putner) terrorising a young greaser merely by repeatedly demanding that he play Johnnie Ray on the jukebox. And the always reliable Robert Daws was magnificently oily as Joan's licentious boss.

But what of teeny Del Boy himself? Although they could have chosen an actor with at least a passing physical resemblance to David Jason, James Buckley from The Inbetweeners delivered a charming performance in what was effectively a supporting role. Wisely choosing to suggest Del's familiar mannerisms without opting for outright impersonation, he carried off a difficult task with modest lan.

Sullivan has hinted that he'd quite like to turn this into a series, but he would be wise to leave the Trotter-verse behind with this pleasurable addition to the canon. An affectionate prologue will make a fitting final chapter.

In the first part of The Bible: A History Howard Jacobson argued that devout atheism is just as stifling and wrong-headed as devout belief. Although a non-believer himself, he railed against those who dismiss the story of creation, feeling that it is a poetic masterpiece as inspiring as any great work of art.

Although I didn't agree with his slightly confused argument, he delivered it with, well, with devout conviction.