Les Dennis interview Why Only Fools and Horses is still so popular

Les Dennis, is an English television presenter, actor and comedian best known for hosting Family fortunes which saw Two families play against each other in the big money survey-based gameshow.

TV host Les Dennis, 69 talks about playing Grandad in Only Fools And Horses The Musical, working on Extras with Ricky Gervais and why he keeps going.

You’re playing Grandad in Only Fools And Horses The Musical. Are you excited?

I was so excited to get the job. The three characters, Rodney, Del Boy and Grandad, were like the holy trinity of British comedy and such an important part of our comedy culture. It still not only stands up as a great show because of the comedy but also because of the truth of the characters and the pathos. When Del says, ‘This time next year we’ll be millionaires’, you really feel for them and when that did eventually happen, everybody was in tears.

So you’re a big fan of the television show?

Absolutely. At the time that it was really big in the 1980s, I was recording The Laughter Show with Dustin Gee at the BBC in the studio next to the Fools And Horses studio. We used to say hello in the canteen and Nicholas Lyndhurst and Lennard Pearce actually came in to do a sketch with us as Grandad and Rodney.

Why do you think it remains so popular?

It captures that dysfunctional family we can all relate to and their aspirations. It’s got great comedy but it’s got great heart and that’s what we try to bring to the show as well. People identify with the characters. We all think we know a Del Boy or we’ve got a Grandad in our family.

Do you do any singing?

I do. It’s not like a West End production in the sense that it’s a massive big musical. It’s more a play with songs and they’re really integral to the story. Singing isn’t a worry for me.

I did Hairspray last year and I did my first opera last year too: HMS Pinafore, at the London Coliseum. That was a new thing. It was the comic patter songs I was singing, but even so,I was working with amazing classically trained opera singers.

Ever think about taking it easy?

I’ve just turned 69 and I keep going because I keep getting interesting jobs that make me want to do them. You can’t just go through the motions, you’ve got to really invest and want to do it, especially when you’re doing eight shows a week. When we go into something we’re not up to speed with, we all have a bit of impostor syndrome, but it’s something you fight. Sometimes you have to face your fear and do it anyway.

When are you happiest, on stage or screen?

I love a mix of both. I’ve done a couple of telly things this year that I enjoyed. I unexpectedly hosted Countdown, so that got me back to the game show days and I loved it. I was supposed to be on Dictionary Corner but Colin Murray got Covid and I was asked to sit in the seat and ended up hosting for eight shows. I thought, ‘Wow I’ve missed this’. It was fun.

Do you miss stand-up?

I haven’t done that kind of stuff for 
a long time, although last year I was going to do a retrospective tour about 50 years of being Les Dennis because it was my 50th celebration. I did Opportunity Knocks in 1971. But due to Covid it didn’t happen, so maybe 
I’ll come back to that because I’ve got loads of stories and anecdotes.

What’s been your most pinch-yourself moment?

Certainly Royal Variety Shows. I remember watching those shows when I was a kid, seeing Ken Dodd, Jimmy Tarbuck and all the Liverpool comedians, thinking I want to do that one day. And then when you do get to stand in that line there’s a pinch-yourself moment. Working with Ricky Gervais [on the TV show Extras] was another one, where you’re thinking, ‘Am I really doing this?’.

What would you be doing if you hadn’t been discovered?

I remember thinking to myself when I was starting out doing the clubs, ‘I’ll give myself ’til I’m 30 and if I haven’t done anything, I might do something else’. But I don’t know what I’d have done. I think I’d have carried on being a jobbing comedian, doing the working men’s clubs that don’t really exist any more. So it might have fizzled out for me.

I’ve been very lucky. But I’ve worked very hard to be this lucky. I think I’ve managed to move with the business, otherwise you’ll just not be around anymore.

We hear you’re a big fan of the game Wordle…

I am. I was doing a radio sitcom earlier this year – Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s The Learners – and the other actors were Wordle fans so I thought, ‘Right, I’m going to do it every day’. And I do. Sometimes I wake up and do my Wordle just to get it out the way. It’s good for keeping the brain going.

Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I haven’t done Shakespeare, which I’d love to do. I did a season at the RSC in 2019, doing restoration comedy and tragedy, so I got pretty close.

Dennis stars in Only Fools And Horses The Musical at Theatre Royal Haymarket until January 7, onlyfoolsmusical.com

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