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Only Fools and Bridies: The Forfar actor who could have been Del Boy

Enn Reitel could have played Del Boy Trotter in the iconic BBC series.
Enn Reitel could have played Del Boy Trotter in the iconic BBC series.

New York, Paris, Peckham, Forfar?

Meet Enn Reitel, who missed out on the chance to play Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.

But the Forfar actor proved he was no plonker and still became a millionaire!

He would have become the head of the Trotter clan if series producer Ray Butt had got his way before filming started 40 years ago in 1981.

Enn Reitel was the first choice to play Del Boy back in 1981.

With Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney and Lennard Pearce as Granddad already cast, Reitel was the first choice to play Rodney’s elder brother, Del.

Butt approached Reitel’s agent but he was busy filming another series for Yorkshire Television called Misfits and was not available to play the wheeler-dealer market trader, known for his exotic cocktails, dodgy French phrases and yellow three-wheeled van.

Jim Broadbent, Robin Nedwell and Bill Murray were also considered before Butt watched David Jason playing Granville in a repeat of Open All Hours.

Butt was now sold on Jason being Del but other BBC executives and series creator John Sullivan were unconvinced until he was brought in to read with Lyndhurst.

The rest is history.

Ronnie Barker and David Jason in Open All Hours.

Jason wrote in his memoir: “I suppose I could have been offended.

“Some actors, I’m sure, would have been terribly sniffy about not being offered something first, let alone being offered something fifth.

“But I was 40 and a bit of maturity helped.

“My attitude was: I understand all the reasons why you didn’t come to me first.

“Now I’ll show you why you should have done.

“Being tall, both Enn Reitel and Jim Broadbent would, on the face of it, have made a more plausible brother for Nick Lyndhurst.

“But it was better that Del and Rodney didn’t resemble each other.”

“This time next year,” Del Boy used to assure Rodney, “we’ll be millionaires” and the Trotters finally achieved their ultimate dream after years of working on markets selling dodgy gear, such as Russian Army camcorders, luminous yellow paint, men’s wigs, pre-blessed church wine, and sex dolls filled with an explosive gas.

Nicholas Lyndhurst and David Jason became national treasures in Only Fools and Horses.

But what happened to Enn Reitel?

He became a voice actor extraordinaire quicker than you could say “bonnet de douche”.

Born in Forfar in 1950, after his family arrived in Scotland as refugees from Estonia and Germany, he trained as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

He graduated and enjoyed subsequent success on stage and screen in the 1970s including early roles in Coronation Street and General Hospital.

Misfits in 1981, which he was filming when he was offered the role of Del Boy, was the first of a number of 80s sitcom star vehicles for Reitel.

He was later seen in The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim on BBC2 in 1982, the near silent The Optimist on Channel 4 from 1983 to 1985, and Mog from 1985 to 1986 on ITV – the first and last of these scripted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

Enn Reitel and Su Pollard in Me and My Girl at the height of his screen success in the 1980s.

Reitel also replaced Robert Lindsay as Bill in the musical Me and My Girl during its West End run at the Adelphi Theatre in 1986 with Su Pollard as Sally.

He appeared in the first series of the comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? and played two roles in different episodes of One Foot in the Grave.

Reitel worked as an impressionist on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image from 1985 to 1996 with Harry Enfield, Chris Barrie, Rory Bremner and Steve Coogan.

He made his name mimicking celebrities and politicians ranging from Lester Piggott and Dustin Hoffman to Mikhail Gorbachev and John Major.

His versatility with voices became his fortune.

It is by its nature a largely hidden profession, but nonetheless, one that annually generates over $4.5 billion globally for professional voice actors.

Reitel proved he was the ‘Crème de la menthe’ of the profession.

A man in command of more than 150 different accents, he has played everything from the Toilet Duck to Bruce Wayne’s butler in Batman.

The man with 150 voices behind the microphone in the 1990s.

Reitel progressed to the voiceover booth in the 1980s and did an advert for Campari as Alan Whicker when the documentary-maker was too busy.

“I was nervous about getting into the voiceover business simply because everyone told me it was a closed shop,” he said in a 1998 trade magazine interview.

“But actually as soon as I turned up it just took off and I ended up doing all sorts of ads.

“It helped that I had acted in a Cosmos ad and just started messing around at the end and doing funny voices.

“Carol Humphries, who now runs the facilities house, Grand Central, had heard me and started spreading the word.

“I  did, and do, anything they ask.

“I was the Toilet Duck, for example, a dour northern Penguin for the chocolate bar, a bear for Renault, a pig and chicken for Tesco, and often played the celebrity in tests for the finished commercial.”

He has also lent his memorable voice to video games, movies and TV shows during his career including Corpse Bride, Family Guy and American Dad!

Enn Reitel pictured on the red carpet in New York following his role in The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn.

In addition to his voice work, he appeared on camera in The Prestige, Boston Legal, Grey’s Anatomy and The Judge alongside Robert Downey Jr.

Reitel, who is now 71, is currently working on upcoming projects alongside his voice work including movie The Mysterious Death of Lord Harrington.

Anthony Hopkins also turned down a role in Only Fools and Horses in the 1980s

Sir Anthony Hopkins could have been a Driscoll brother!

The sitcom rapidly became one of our most popular of all time, to the extent that its writer, the late great John Sullivan, got letters from publicans, complaining their pubs were half-empty when his show was on telly.

Steve Clark is an expert on the show, having been the only reporter allowed on the set, and he got to see the action and the cast’s skills up close.

While Jason and Lyndhurst became huge household names, the show had more than its fair share of unsung heroes, actors and actresses who helped make it all click with the viewing public.

“The show was full of great characters and that came from John Sullivan,” said Steve.

“He was from South London himself and knew people just like Del Boy, Rodney and the rest of the gang.

“And he was great at weaving real-life events into episodes.

“For example, he actually saw an incident like the one where Del leans on the bar and falls over, and the chandelier crashing down had happened to his father back in the 1930s.

“The Royal Family used to ask for preview tapes of Christmas specials and there are other well-known fans of the show, and some were actors who were keen to appear in it, such as Sir Anthony Hopkins.

“John wrote a part for him, one of the Driscoll brothers, the South London gangsters.

“Sir Anthony was a huge Only Fools And Horses fan, but unfortunately when it came time to film it, some film called Silence Of The Lambs had turned up!

“John Sullivan used to joke that he could have ‘come with us and been a star!’ Sir Anthony did write the foreword to one of my books, though, and said he’d love to have been in it.

“In fact, what he said was: ‘I’d have been delighted to be in the programme, but I know my limitations!’”

Sir Anthony would have appeared in the episode Little Problems where Rodney is down in the dumps despite getting engaged to Cassandra.

He thinks he’s failed his Diploma in Computer Science, which could cost him a good job at Cassandra’s father’s company.

On top of that, he can’t come up with his share of the money for the new flat he and Cassandra plan to buy.

Del comes to the rescue, promising to call in all his favours to raise the £2,000 Rodney needs.

However, Del also owes the Driscoll brothers the same amount – and they want their money.

Managing to buy precious time, Del cons snobby car dealer Boycie into paying for some dodgy video recorders to cover the Trotter’s debts.

Not all goes to plan in the end.

Del ends up fulfilling his duties as a battered and bruised Best Man in a bittersweet ending to the episode.

Actor John Challis became a sitcom legend in the role of Boycie.

In total, 64 regular episodes of Only Fools and Horses, all written by John Sullivan, were produced between 1981 and 2003.

The best comedy of all time?

You know it makes sense!