Only Fools and Horses remains one of the most quintessentially British television shows of all time. It embodied the working class of modern Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, it being one of the first television comedies in the UK to embrace the multi-culturalism of London as opposed to other shows of the time that concentrated on the traditional cockneys. While the series did start out concentrating on a family of three white cockney “general traders” its ensemble cast grew to cover almost all aspects of London life.
Above all though the show was about colourful characters each with their quirks and traits. For me the greatest of them all was Uncle Albert’s “During the war…” stories. Played magnificently by Buster Merryfield, every time Albert quickly uttered those immortal lines you knew you were about to hear a story that would have you rocking with laughter. While it feels like he would say the line every episode the fact was he didn’t say it as often as you’d think. In fact most of his war stories were told without the line starting us off.
So, here are my top 5 “During the war-” stories
(The three Trotters are bedding down in a grotty b&b in Margate)
Del: Do with an extra blanket, I’m freezing in here.
Rodney: Yeah, it is a bit cold, innit?
Uncle Albert: Cold? You bits of kids don’t know the meaning of the word. You should have been with me on the Russian convoys. One night it was so cold the flame on my lighter froze.
Uncle Albert: I saw the periscope half mile off starboard. I saw the wash through the torpedo’s fins. It caught us at the…at the pointed end. Wallop! Up it went. Foam, flame, fine smoke, burning metal! As soon as it happened I thought to myself, ‘Hello, we’ve been hit.’
Rodney: I s’pose you get to know the little signs, eh?
Uncle Albert: Yes!
Uncle Albert: I know a lot more about the sea than you do Rodney.
Rodney: Oh God, here we go!
Uncle Albert: You’d be surprised how quickly these whales breed.
Uncle Albert: And they’re not all as gentle as some people imagine.
Uncle Albert: You get a quite a lot of ’em together and they can be quite dangerous.
Uncle Albert: During the War…
Rodney: We have lift off.
Uncle Albert: I was in a submarine up in the Barents Sea and we got attacked by a whale.
Rodney: It was most probably trying to protect its young, Albert.
Uncle Albert: No it wasn’t. It fancied us!
Rodney: A whale got the hots for your submarine?
Uncle Albert: Yeah, it was horrible. We were shaking all over the place.
Trigger: It’s like your worst nightmare, ain’t it Dave?
Rodney: No. My worst nightmare is sitting in the pub having a conversation with you two!
Uncle Albert: It went on for about half hour. The skipper told us to hang on for dear life and don’t do anything to annoy it. He put the periscope up at one point.
Trigger: Up where?
Uncle Albert: He looked through the viewfinder and went as white as a sheet. God knows what he saw, but that man never ate halibut again!
Rodney: So what d’you do when it was over? All lie back and had a cigarette?
Uncle Albert: Don’t take the mickey out of me, Rodney. Have you ever tried to lay a underwater telephone line during the mating season?
Rodney: No, No, I haven’t.
Uncle Albert: Well, my advice to you, son, is don’t ever attempt it.
Uncle Albert: So… So what part of Africa did you go to?
Del (To Rodney): I bet he’s been there!
Joanne: Well, the trip ended at Dar Es Salaam.
Uncle Albert: I’ve been there.
Stephen: Okay! Look, this is really boring. We left Nairobi then went south to Moshi, across the Serengeti to Musoma then the long trek east to the coast.
Del (Quietly mimicking Albert): During the war.
Uncle Albert: During the war we pursued a German battleship down the eastern coast and right the way through the Zanibar Channel. Three days and nights we chased it.
Joanne: Did you catch it?
Uncle Albert: Yeah, worse luck, it sunk us.
Uncle Albert (Holding a photo of him in the war): I’m talking about HMS Peerless.
Del: Oh sorry.
Uncle Albert: Just a few hours after that photo was taken we was in action.
Rodney (Studying photo): I’m surprised it took you that long!
Uncle Albert: A Japanese sub was spotted in the area.
Del: That’s all you need, innit?
Uncle Albert: There was an American aircraft-carrier, anchored off-shore. The USS Pittsburgh. It was our job to protect her. Well, we’d only been sailing for about an hour and we crashed right into her. Cor, didn’t half make a noise!
Del (Incredulous): You went and whacked into the boat that you were going out to protect?
Uncle Albert: Yeah. It was a good job she was there actually, she picked up most of the survivors.
Rodney: Was your ship badly damaged?
Uncle Albert: We couldn’t tell, Rodney, it sunk. Course, they tried to put the blame on me.
Del: Sounds fair.
Uncle Albert: Just ‘cos I was on watch at the time. I had me excuses ready.
Rodney: What, you were drunk?
Uncle Albert: Don’t be silly! The American vessel was at battle stations and was showing no light. You weren’t allowed, there was a war on.
Del: Course there was.
Uncle Albert: So then they tried to get me on naval technicalities, like it happened in broad daylight.
Rodney: You didn’t see an aircraft carrier?
Del: Forty-two thousand tons of steel!
Rodney: In broad daylight!
Uncle Albert: Well, I wasn’t close enough!
Rodney: You must have been reasonably close, Unc, you hit it!
Del: They’d have stood more chance with Ray Charles in the crow’s nest!
Uncle Albert: Well, I mean I wasn’t up on deck. I was in the radar room watching the screen. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. It was all blibs and blobs. Still, the Japanese sub had it away a bit lively.
Rodney: I suppose it didn’t feel needed with you around. Did you get into trouble for it?
Uncle Albert: Court-martial. The papers were sent to naval headquarters, Singapore.
Rodney: You were court-martialled?
Uncle Albert: No. As luck would have it, before my trial the Japanese invaded! And I never heard another word about it. And the blokes in my lifeboat used to say I was unlucky!
Uncle Albert: During the war…
Del Boy (interrupts Albert): If you say during the war one more time, I’ll pour this cup of tea over your head.
Uncle Albert: During the 1939-1945 conflict with Germany.
Ok that last one is cheating a bit since it’s not a story but that scene was hilarious.
Thanks for reading.