Only Fools star John Challis left indelible mark on British TV as Boycie

The actor has died aged 79.
The actor has died aged 79.

John Challis left an indelible mark on British popular culture with his portrayal of loudmouth second-hand car salesman Boycie in Only Fools And Horses.

The character, usually found at the Nag’s Head pub with a cigar in one hand and a large cognac in the other, was instantly recognisable by his mocking laugh – which often followed a cutting remark about one of the Trotters.

Challis played Terrance Aubrey “Boycie” Boyce from the first series of Only Fools And Horses in 1981, right the way through to the final Christmas special in 2003.

The Duchess of Cornwall meets John Challis
The Duchess of Cornwall meets John Challis at the Sandringham Flower Show (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

He also reprised the career-defining role of Boycie, a close friend and frequent sparring partner of Sir David Jason’s Del Boy, for spin-off series The Green Green Grass from 2005–2009.

Challis, who has died aged 79, was born in Bristol in 1942 but moved to south-east London with his parents when he was one.

His father was a civil servant from Sheffield while his mother, who harboured dreams of becoming an actress, oversaw plays for youth clubs.

After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at becoming an estate agent, Challis set his sights on a career in the arts.

One of his early roles was as Sergeant Culshaw in police procedural Z-Cars, which he thought was of no interest to his father.

It was only years later that he found out from a family friend how proud his father was. They later shared a rare moment of personal affection.

John Challis and Sue Holderness
Sue Holderness played Marlene in Only Fools And Horses, completing a famous double act with her on-screen husband John Challis (Myung Jung Kim/PA)

Speaking to the Guardian, Challis said: “The only time he let his guard down was when he was quite pissed and he’d watched me in Tom Stoppard’s play Dirty Linen.

“We were sitting at the kitchen table and he suddenly said ‘I was so proud of you’, and I burst into tears because he’d never, ever said that. And then he said ‘How do you do that? How do you get up there on stage and do that?’ I said ‘It’s my job, Dad’. ‘Fantastic’, he said. It was an unbelievable breakthrough, but then the doors closed and he never mentioned it again.”

Challis’s parents split later in life. By the time Only Fools And Horses became a hit, his father, a heavy drinker, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Challis later had to have him sectioned.

His mother died from cancer in 1987 aged 67, with his seriously unwell father following in 1990.

An only child, Challis said in 2011 that his only living relative was an aunt in Sheffield.

Radio Times Festival 2015
John Challis embraced the popularity of Boycie (Hannah McKay/PA)

Challis was in his late 30s when he landed the role of Boycie after impressing Only Fools And Horses creator John Sullivan in Citizen Smith, the show he made before making the Trotters household names.

Initially, the part was just one scene before the unscrupulous car salesman became more prominent as the hugely popular series continued.

Boycie was married to the feisty Marlene – played by Sue Holderness – and the state of their marriage became a running joke, with repeated gags about her alleged promiscuity.

With his south London nasal twang and distinctive mannerisms, the character easily stood out even among the colourful cast of Only Fools And Horses.

Some of Boycie’s more memorable moments included losing to Del Boy in a high-stakes card game, revealing his middle name was “Aubrey” during a seance, and inadvertently acting as a jailer to a kidnapped “asylum seeker” in the Trotters’ Peckham flat.

Amid running jokes about Boycie’s lack of potency, he and Marlene had a son, Tyler, who appeared in 1989 Christmas special The Jolly Boys’ Outing.

While many actors strive to escape the shadow of their biggest characters, Challis seemed to embrace Boycie’s popularity.

John Challis
Only Fools And Horses actor John Challis was known for his distinctive laugh (Yui Mok/PA)

He was a regular sight at the ever-popular Only Fools And Horses fan events and his Twitter handle was @BeingBoycie.

Challis wrote two autobiographies, Being Boycie and Boycie & Beyond, and made the 2020 documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why Only Fools And Horses remained hugely popular in Serbia.

In September 2021 it was announced that Challis had been forced to cancel a speaking tour due to ill health amid reports he had been diagnosed with cancer.

As well as Only Fools And Horses, Challis was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV sitcom Benidorm.

He is survived by his fourth wife, Carol. Challis had no children but admitted his regret in 2011.

He said: “I’d have liked to have had a daughter and I think we would have been good parents.

“It would have been nice to pass on all the stories and the experiences that I’ve had. Not that they’d take any bloody notice, of course. Like me.”