The actor playing Boycie in the Only Fools And Horses musical has recalled how John Challis told him to “carry the torch for us” shortly before his death.
Jeff Nicholson met Challis, who died from cancer on Sunday morning aged 79, during the opening night of the West End production in 2019 and the pair continued to exchange messages until shortly before his death.
The show premiered at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in February that year but closed shortly after due to the pandemic, and is due to reopen on October 1.
Nicholson, 39, from Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, said Challis had been supportive of him when they met and given the cast his “seal of approval”.
Describing Challis as “a real stand-up actor”, he told the PA news agency: “He wanted to keep his eye on it. We messaged quite a lot especially through when it shut, then when it was going to open again – all the developments, he always wanted to know.
“It was a nice relationship and it was obviously very sad at the end when I asked him if he was coming to see the show again, because I didn’t quite know how bad.
“I know he hadn’t been well for a while, but I didn’t know how bad. He said, ‘Unfortunately not, but carry the torch for us, Boycie’ was one of his messages.
“The next thing I know we have messaged as a company to say ‘Send him love’ and (his wife) Carol replies saying ‘I have sent the message to him, he very much appreciated it’.”
Nicholson praised Challis for being supportive on him while he took over the role.
He added: “I was half expecting a page of notes but he just loved it and was very complimentary, which was lovely. It was a real morale booster, as you can imagine.
“He was just a really lovely bloke. Really supportive and he just loved the character and everything that goes with it.
“He has written his books about it, about his life and has continued to do the comms, the gatherings of TV people, and has always carried on as Boycie one way or another.
“I think he loved that it was being done again in another way, being kept alive and being celebrated.”
The musical features elements from the whole series, centred around Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad.
The show took five years to complete and features an original score which includes contributions from the late Chas Hodges.