Rock & Chips

It’s February 1960 in Orchard Street, Peckham, and the glamorous Joan Trotter is off to work at the Ritz Cinema, strutting down the road with her clickety-clack heels and swinging hips, drawing disdainful glances from her jealous neighbours.

Through a leafy country lane, a 1959 Jaguar Mark 9 races towards London with Freddie “The Frog” Robdal at the wheel, Gerald “Jelly” Kelly alongside.

And a young Del Boy sits with his mates Trigger, Boycie, Denzil and Jumbo Mills polishing off their half-pints of beer while Bobby Day’s Rockin’ Robin plays on the jukebox of the Nag’s Head.

Welcome to Rock & Chips, the bittersweet, feature-length comedy-drama from the pen of John Sullivan, starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, Kellie Bright and James Buckley.

Kellie Bright is Joan Trotter. Stuck in a loveless marriage to the workshy Reg (Shaun Dingwall), her only escape is the movies, working as an usherette at the Ritz Cinema and losing herself in the glamour of the black-and-white films on the silver screen.

Here she shares a joke with her friend Reenie and does her best to evade the “hands on” approach to uniform inspections from her manager, Mr Raynor (Robert Daws). Outside, life is hard as she holds down two jobs to feed her family including Reg’s dad (Phil Daniels), who has moved in with them.

Then Freddie (Nicholas Lyndhurst) arrives back in town, fresh from a stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. He soon spots Joan and starts to befriend the family, offering Reg work as a way to ingratiate himself. But he also has big plans which need paying for… despite his best intentions to stay on the straight and narrow!

Meanwhile, Del (James Buckley) is making use of his new friend Denzil’s dockyard connections, taking care of “damaged” stock that’s arrived from America. LPs, watches, clothes, and even some brand new carpet, Del can sell anything: “I guarantee you, one day I’m gonna be a millionaire,” he boldly claims.

This bittersweet love story sheds new light on the lives of South London’s most famous family, the Trotters.

Rock & Chips is written by John Sullivan, directed by Dewi Humphreys and produced by Gareth Gwenlan. The executive producers are John Sullivan (Shazam Productions) and Mark Freeland (BBC). It will transmit on BBC One on Sunday 24 January 2010, 9.00-10.30pm.

For young Inbetweeners’ star James Buckley, winning the part of young Del Boy in Rock & Chips was a dream come true. Here he talks about dinner with David Jason and chewing Nicholas Lyndhurst’s ear off.

Can you give us a flavour of the teenage Del Boy?

“I wasn’t trying to do a David Jason impression but there are very small traits of Del Boy that I tried to put in the part. The young Del is still a bit of a wheeler-dealer, even though he’s still at school, but he hasn’t yet turned into the Del Boy that we all know.”

How did you feel when you heard you’d got the part?

“After the last audition I was waiting to hear and I was travelling up to Edinburgh on the train. I was late for my train and didn’t have time to pick up a paper so all I could do was sit on a train for hours wondering if they’d called my agent yet.! Then I finally found out that evening and was really, really chuffed. I grew up with it, I love Only Fools And Horses.”

How did you go about preparing for the part?

“I bought the complete box set of Only Fools And Horses to make sure I hadn’t missed any episodes and I was watching a series a day at one point! It was really interesting because there were scenes and characters mentioned that didn’t seem that important at the time but then they have a new significance once you know the story of Rock & Chips. But, in terms of research, if there was anything I wasn’t sure about John Sullivan was always on set to help. He’s got such a specific idea about what he wants and it’s so detailed. He was just a huge help about what certain words meant and what the props were and the things he used to get up to when he was younger. He was probably the biggest help I could have had.”

Did you feel any pressure following in David Jason’s illustrious footsteps?

“There was no pressure to imitate David Jason and I don’t think anyone would have wanted that. It’s just important to remember that this isn’t an episode of Only Fools And Horses. That’s already been done and so brilliantly that there wouldn’t be any point in trying to do it again. This is completely different and I think as long as people realise this is something new and exciting then they’ll get a lot out of it.”

What was it like filming with Nick Lyndhurst?

“Working with Nick Lyndhurst and Phil Daniels was really important to me as a young actor. I’ve mostly acted with people my own age and people in the same boat as me so to talk to these people that have been successful in the industry for so long, well, you’ve got just got to take that opportunity and chew their ears off! They never seemed that annoyed by me or anything and I’m sure they understood as they were in the same boat as me once.”

What is it like being part of the Only Fools family?

“It’s something that I’m immensely proud of. I’m really pleased and really proud and it was a dream come true and a great opportunity for me. The biggest challenge was just to remind myself that I’m not David Jason and that what I can do is completely different to what he did. But I just didn’t want to let anyone down. Only Fools is just so important to me and to millions of people. I did take it very seriously and it would have been irresponsible and disrespectful to fans of the show if I hadn’t. And I’m really pleased with the end result, it’s just such a lovely story about a simpler time.”

You got to meet David Jason on set, what was that like?

“It was a really special moment and just so surreal. I was having lunch with David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and John Sullivan and it was just a dream dinner! I just sat there and listened to everything they had to say. David Jason joked that he had a few notes for me, and that he was keeping an eye on me, but he never really did. I just never saw it coming – the character of Del Boy is like a working-class hero and so beautifully created by David Jason, it was a real pleasure to be able to spend time with him.”

Best-known in TV for her roles playing lesbian prisoner Cassie in Bad Girls and starring as Ali G’s less-than-glamorous girlfriend Me Julie in Ali G Indahouse, Kellie Bright jumped at the chance to pop into a girdle and put the red lippy on for Rock & Chips! Here she talks about playing Peckham’s answer to Brigitte Bardot.

Tell us about Joan Trotter…

“My word for Joan would be vivacious. She just has this huge love of life. Being poor in the Sixties really meant being poor but Joan manages to get through it with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. It sounds odd but when I think about the Sixties I think about it in black and white, but Joan would be in technicolour! She’s a dreamer but she’s also very practical and would never dream above her station or drop her responsibilities and run off into the sunset.”

And she’s quite a looker…

“Joan likes to make the best of herself and she’s that mum that all your mates fancy! At that time women of her age were kind of middle-aged and dowdy – sort of old before their time – but Joan has managed to hold on to her youth, even though, when we meet her, it’s just starting to fade. She would never want anyone on the street to see her less than immaculate – she wouldn’t even put the bins out without her red lippy on!”

Was it fun to get dressed up for a change?

“It was amazing fun. I had a fantastic make-up designer and I got to look fabulous every day! It took some time to create Joan on a daily basis and the team worked really hard but, when you’re doing a period piece, it really helps to have that element as it helps you to step out of your own life. As soon as I stepped into Joan’s structured underwear – I had to wear a girdle everyday – it made me stand differently and feel completely different and that really helped.”

What was it like being Del Boy’s mum?

“I just loved playing Joan and the fact that she was a mother to these two iconic characters was part of her charm. I tried not to worry too much about what other people would have wanted her to be like and just tried to stay truthful to John Sullivan’s writing and play her as I saw her. I loved playing a mum and exploring her closeness with Del Boy. She was very young when she had him and they’ve sort of grown up together and, in her world, he’s the thing that she’s most proud of. And Del is proud of her too. He’s not embarrassed that all his mates fancy her, he celebrates the fact that she’s gorgeous!”

What was it like working with Nick Lyndhurst?

“I just think he’s brilliant – I mean really brilliant. To come back to work with the same group of people you’ve worked with for 20 years and create something new is just extraordinary and I never felt for one minute when I was working with him that I was looking into the eyes of Rodney – there wasn’t a single glimmer. I have worked with some amazing people but Nick is just the most brilliantly-talented comic actor I’ve ever worked with and I just hope that together we’ve done justice to John Sullivan’s writing and helped create this love story.”

How did you feel being part of the Only Fools And Horses heritage?

“I am hugely grateful and honoured. I grew up with Only Fools And Horses, I’m a huge fan and I am just ecstatic to be embraced as part of that family! Getting the phone call from my agent to say that I’d got the part was the most extraordinary feeling. I was on the streets of Edinburgh while I was working at the festival and was waiting for the call. When my agent rang she just said ‘is that Mrs Trotter?’ and it was the most unbelievable moment – I was really, really chuffed!”

He’s won countless awards, achieved huge viewing figures and is loved by millions for his portrayal of lanky Rodney Trotter, but Nicholas Lyndhurst was originally reticent about being involved in another project with the Only Fools team – that is until he read the script. Here he talks about how Rock & Chips was cooked up.

You have had huge success playing Rodney Trotter. Were you always destined to play the man thought to be his father, Freddie Robdal?

“We’ve all seen prequels and spin-offs, and sometimes they work and a lot of times they don’t, so I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to be involved. I held off making a commitment until I’d seen a script and when it arrived I was really quite scared to start reading it. But when I read it, I knew I’d kill to do the part. It’s just a brilliant piece of writing.”

This film is set in 1960, did you know much about this era?

“John Sullivan started talking about this idea about nine years ago when he had an idea during the filming of Only Fools. The Sixties is John’s era, his heyday, and this film reflects his interest in the Sixties so much. I was born in 1961, so it’s obviously before my time but I read up a lot before we started filming. We think we all know the Sixties – about The Beatles and London, the Swinging Sixties – but this is before all of that – an era of deprivation when there was still rationing from the war and bomb sites hadn’t been cleared. John has written about it so warmly and it’s a fascinating piece. Viewers are in for one hell of a show even if they have no interest in Only Fools And Horses.”

What did you know about Freddie before you started?

“I didn’t know much but it’s clear from whenever Del does talk about him in Only Fools that there’s no love lost between them. Freddie’s the type of person who gets what he wants and takes it when it’s not given. He’s a villain – charming, but nasty.”

Is there any family resemblance to Rodney?

“No resemblance at all. They’re from two entirely different suitcases as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t want to bring into it anything that I’d already done with Rodney and fortunately there wasn’t any opportunity to do so. They’re like chalk and cheese.”

What was it like working with James Buckley as the young Del?

“The team were very clever in casting all the young characters as they cast them not as individuals, but together, to see how they pinged off each other and what kind of chemistry they had. And, of course, they’re all brilliant together. Not one of them tried to caricature what anyone did previously in Fools and they all bring a completely fresh appeal.”

And Kellie Bright?

“Kellie Bright is brilliant in Rock & Chips. She is a fantastic actress and was an absolute gift to this show.”

What did Rodney know of his mum?

“I don’t think Rodney knew much about his mum. During filming I was reminded of an Only Fools scene where Rodney is visiting his mum’s grave asking her if she loved Freddie. But I don’t remember it very clearly – I hate watching myself on screen so I haven’t watched as much Only Fools as many other people!”

Is it true that David Jason came on set?

“Yes, David came down on set but it was a really slow day so we spent most of it sitting around drinking coffee! Some days filming can be laboriously slow and this was one of those days – so he didn’t get to see much but at least we got to have a good catch-up!”

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