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Only Fools and Horses star John Challis dies aged 79 after battle with cancer
19 September 2021, 14:07 | Updated: 19 September 2021, 18:04
Actor John Challis, who played the iconic sitcom character Terrance Aubrey Boyce or "Boycie" in Only Fools and Horses, has died at the age of 79.
John's portrayal of unscrupulous second-hand car dealer Boycie in the beloved show made him a household name, alongside Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst.
His family said in a statement today: "It is with heavy hearts that we bring you such sad news. Our dear friend and yours, John Challis, has died peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer."
"He will always be loved for being 'Boycie' and leaves a great legacy of work that will continue to bring pleasure and smiles for many years to come."
Challis played Boycie in Only Fools And Horses from 1981 to 2003, as well as in Boycie-focused spin-off show The Green Green Grass.
John recently became an honorary citizen of Serbia, where the sitcom remains hugely popular.
He also made the documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why the show was so beloved in the Balkan country.
Boycie, a cigar-smoking businessman with a mocking laugh, was married to the feisty Marlene - played by Sue Holderness - and regularly butted heads with Sir David's Del Boy.
Challis was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV sitcom Benidorm.
His family have requested that instead of flowers, donations are made to his favoured animal charities - Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Tusk and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
The family statement added: "As Boycie would have said... you know it makes sense!"
Sue Holderness, who played Boycie's wife Marlene in Only Fools And Horses, paid tribute to John Challis as her "beloved friend".
She said in a statement: "Marlene without Boycie - it's unthinkable. John Challis was my partner on screen and stage for 36 years and my beloved friend. R.I.P. darling John. I will miss you every day."
I’ve been waiting for this for a few days now. It is with great sadness that I tell you that my dear friend, John Challis (Boycie from OFAH) has just passed. I’ve been in touch with his wife, Carol, who is obviously heartbroken, as am I. Much love,— Sheila Ferguson 3° (@SheilaDFerguson) September 19, 2021
Sxx ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/nOmxCj35eK
Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson wrote on Twitter: "I’ve been waiting for this for a few days now. It is with great sadness that I tell you that my dear friend, John Challis (Boycie from OFAH) has just passed.
"I’ve been in touch with his wife, Carol, who is obviously heartbroken, as am I. Much love."
John was born in Bristol in 1942 but moved to south-east London with his parents when he was one.
His father was a civil servant from Sheffield while his mother, who harboured dreams of becoming an actress, oversaw plays for youth clubs.
After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at becoming an estate agent, he set his sights on a career in the arts.
One of his early roles was as Sergeant Culshaw in police procedural Z-Cars, which he thought was of no interest to his father.
It was only years later that he found out from a family friend how proud his father was. They later shared a rare moment of personal affection.
Speaking to the Guardian, Challis said: "The only time he let his guard down was when he was quite pissed and he'd watched me in Tom Stoppard's play Dirty Linen.
"We were sitting at the kitchen table and he suddenly said 'I was so proud of you', and I burst into tears because he'd never, ever said that. And then he said 'How do you do that? How do you get up there on stage and do that?' I said 'It's my job, Dad'. 'Fantastic', he said. It was an unbelievable breakthrough, but then the doors closed and he never mentioned it again."
Challis's parents split later in life. By the time Only Fools And Horses became a hit, his father, a heavy drinker, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Challis later had to have him sectioned.
His mother died from cancer in 1987 aged 67, with his seriously unwell father following in 1990.
An only child, Challis said in 2011 that his only living relative was an aunt in Sheffield.
Challis was in his late 30s when he landed the role of Boycie after impressing Only Fools And Horses creator John Sullivan in Citizen Smith, the show he made before making the Trotters household names.
Boycie was married to the feisty Marlene - played by Sue Holderness - and the state of their marriage became a running joke, with repeated gags about her alleged promiscuity.
With his south London nasal twang and distinctive mannerisms, the character easily stood out even among the colourful cast of Only Fools And Horses.
Some of Boycie's more memorable moments included losing to Del Boy in a high-stakes card game, revealing his middle name was "Aubrey" during a seance, and inadvertently acting as a jailer to a kidnapped "asylum seeker" in the Trotters' Peckham flat.
In September 2021 it was announced that Challis had been forced to cancel a speaking tour due to ill health amid reports he had been diagnosed with cancer.
As well as Only Fools And Horses, Challis was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV sitcom Benidorm.
He is survived by his fourth wife, Carol. Challis had no children but admitted his regret in 2011.
He said: "I'd have liked to have had a daughter and I think we would have been good parents.
"It would have been nice to pass on all the stories and the experiences that I've had. Not that they'd take any bloody notice, of course. Like me."