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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

He gave the gift of laughter

One of my heroes died last week - John Sullivan was a superstar of UK television. - most well known as the writer of Only Fools and Horses, John had a string of comedy hits behind him - Citizen Smith, Just Good Friends to name but two and even his lesser shows Roger Roger, Sitting Pretty and the Green Green Grass were a cut above most sitcoms.

I used to write him fan letters and once, he responded to my questions on scriptwriting by sending me a scipt from his then current show, Sitting Pretty. His characters, although caricatures, seemed so real. His sharp eye for character and acute ear for comic dialogue transcended the sitcom genre. Characters emerged fully-fledged from the page, shaped by deft observations about ordinary life. Moreover, he could move an audience and make them feel emotionally involved. His best known characters led by Del Boy Trotter are truly immortal.

John died in hospital after a six-week battle with viral pneumonia. He was a genius. Britain's greatest ever sitcom writer.

John Richard Thomas Sullivan was born on December 23 1946 in Balham, south London, the son of an Irish-born plumber and a charwoman. At Telferscot secondary school he learned nothing beyond the acquaintance with Dickens characters acted out by his English teacher, Mr Trowers, and left at 15 with no qualifications.

Swiftly realising the scale of his ignorance Sullivan took evening classes in German and English and each week bought a Teach Yourself book for half-a-crown. Meanwhile he took a job with the Reuters news agency as a messenger boy, followed by a stint in the second-hand car trade, where he encountered, in his own words,"a lot of villains, quite a rich seam to tap into later when I started writing".

Goodbye John - you gave us the gift of laugher...perhaps the greatest gift of all.

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