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Boycie, Marlene and a 25-year 'marriage'

PUBLISHED: 10:11 26 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:30 06 July 2010

AS Boycie and Marlene, actors John Challis and Sue Holderness have one of the longest on-screen partnerships. AMY GRAY spoke to the stars of Only Fools and Horses and spin-off The Green Green Grass ahead of their show at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre on Sunday.

AS Boycie and Marlene, actors John Challis and Sue Holderness have one of the longest on-screen partnerships. AMY GRAY spoke to the stars of Only Fools and Horses and spin-off The Green Green Grass ahead of their show at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre on Sunday.

“It's the luckiest thing in the world really, I had no say in the casting,” said Only Fools and Horses actor John Challis on his successful on-screen relationship with Sue Holderness, who played Boycie's leopard print loving wife Marlene in the comedy classic.

“When someone comes in to play your wife on screen or in a play, you hope you get on. You hear countless examples of people who are thrown together and don't get on at all. We, luckily, always have.”

Little did they know when Boycie's wife was introduced on-screen in 1985 in the much-loved comedy, that the pairing would still be a favourite 25 years later.

As well as being the catalyst for spin-off series The Green Green Grass, the dynamic between the two actors and their experiences together are the basis of their new stage show, Boycie & Marlene.

The show is coming to the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft on Sunday and features a combination of comedy sketches, anecdotes, and questions from the crowd.

John, 67, and Sue, 60, had the idea for the show after successful stints talking about their careers on cruise ships and as after dinner speakers.

The show starts with a picture of a six-year-old John Challis, the age when he was first taken to the theatre for a performance of

Peter Pan. It sparked his interest in acting, and for his first role the young John played a girl in the school play - “I was looking really quite beautiful”.

In Only Fools and Horses, Boycie, aka Aubrey Boyce, was a second-hand car dealer who liked to drink with Del, Rodney and Trigger at The Nag's Head. His wife, Marlene Boyce, was originally intended to be in just one episode.

They soon became popular characters in their own right, and in 2005, the BBC granted them their own spin off - also written by Fools creator John Sullivan - which saw the family uproot from Peckham for a new life in the Shropshire countryside.

The Boyce's son, Tyler, is grown up in The Green Green Grass. At least, viewers think he is Boycie's son - there's a chance he is the result of Marlene's alleged affair with Del Boy.

The popularity of The Green Green Grass, which regularly got about 6m viewers and enjoyed four series and Christmas specials, was in contrast to the more in vogue comedy of shows such as Peep Show, Mighty Boosh and Mock the Week.

“I think there's room for both, I really do,” said John. “Even quite young people come up to use and say it's nice too see comedy you can watch with your gran and kids and not be embarrassed.”

Fellow actor and on-screen wife Sue Holderness agreed that the genteel, almost slapstick, comedy of The Green Green Grass was still popular with viewers - as proved by the millions who watched it.

“An awful lot of young people watch and love it. They like that sort of larger than life comedy, like the Vicar of Dibley,” she said.

The section of the show that invites questions from the crowd gives fans an opportunity to find out more about the two television shows, how they got started, and what happened behind the scenes.

“People want to know what our favourite episode is, and what it's like working with David Jason. It's very informal,” said Sue.

“People don't really know quite what to expect, but we can guarantee we can give you a nice, funny, entertaining evening.”

Although both actors have partners, Sue admitted that working together for so long meant they did behave “like a married couple”.

“It is extraordinarily rare and the interesting thing I found out, which never occurred to us, is that we've probably got the longest on-screen marriage in comedy. I thought Terry and June were longer but they've only been together 20 years, we've done 25.

“It's just luck. You hear about double acts who hate each other but we do get along. And my husband and his wife get on remarkably well.

“We all stay at my house or their house when we are touring. We live out of each other's pockets.”

The pair hope to continue working together once the current tour is over, and hope the BBC will commission a fifth series of The Green Green Grass.

“We're asking people to write to them. We'd like to do series five,” said Sue.

Next for Sue is a stint in Calendar Girls, and she is already on a no sugar, no alcohol diet in preparation for her role.

For now though, Sue is happy to be back in full-on Marlene mode - which means lots of leopard print, big hair, and lashings of pink lipstick.

Tickets cost £18.50, concessions and priority friends £16.50. To book, call the Marina box office on 01502 533200 or visit www.marinatheatre.co.uk.

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