23 February 2011
A Touch Of Glass was the first episode of Only Fools And Horses that passed into sitcom folklore. The punchline of the chandelier crashing to the ground is of the most familiar and reassuring gags, and yet that gag alone acts as not just a stealer of the show, but a saviour of it too.
If you watch the full episode now, you'll see that it is very much short on great gags in dialogue as John Sullivan manfully tries to concoct a sequence of events that would allow this rough, corner-cutting and uncouth family to find themselves cleaning a peer of the realm's priceless chandeliers, with permission, in a stately home, despite the hideous prejudices of the lady of the manor. In order to make sure the story fitted and the final pay-off hit all required heights, the rest of the episode was almost entirely sacrificed.
Of course, when it was first aired and nobody knew what was coming, it was easy to sit back and chortle at the incorrect chimes in the china cats, the ignorance of Del as he tries to comment on his Lordship's art and the brand of grandiose spiel he comes out with to persuade Rodney that getting the dust off a pair of chandeliers is their gateway to Gucci clothes and an invitation to the "Hendon regatta".
But then the chandelier hit the deck and all before was forgotten. Now you watch it as a repeat episode and you can't really hear the jokes. You're waiting for the chandelier to drop. No more.
John Sullivan had the chandelier gag from the off, courtesy of a story told by his father. He had to put it into an episode of his comedy show, which wasn't yet a fully-fledged hit but was starting to make a noise. His dad was livid that an incident that lost many men their jobs was being exploited, but professional judgement took hold and the episode was written. When it aired, the phone rang in the Sullivan household and it was his dad, with the simple words: "Yeah you're right - it was funny."
I think A Touch Of Glass is, dialogue wise, one of the least funny episodes of the programme. But as actors don't count their laughs and see a story as the main factor in a performance, it had to be written and it remains absolutely compelling now. Because of the one immortal gag at the end, it allows you to see a writer's imagination at work, getting from an apparently uninspiring A to an explosive, unique B. It's theatre for the telly and it's brilliant.