Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died ‘peacefully in his sleep’ aged 79 after a long battle with cancer, his family have said.
Challis was best-known for his portrayal of second-hand car dealer Boycie – a cigar-smoking businessman with a mocking laugh who butted heads with Del Boy – in the beloved British sitcom, starring alongside Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst.
He cancelled a 30-date speaking tour earlier this month after only one appearance due to ill health.
The TV star recently became an honorary citizen of Serbia, where the BBC sitcom remains hugely popular. Challis made the documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why the show was so beloved in the Balkan country. He was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV’s Benidorm.
Challis was born in Bristol but when he was one, the family moved to south-east London. He attended the state boarding Ottershaw School near Woking, Surrey – and upon leaving school he worked as a trainee estate agent before becoming an actor.
Sir David led tributes this afternoon, calling Challis ‘a gentleman in the true sense of the word’ and a ‘dear friend’. He added in a statement that he was a ‘wonderful actor’ and that Boycie was ‘a character so well loved by the many fans of that show so I am pleased that he witnessed the outpouring of admiration recently shown for the 40th anniversary of the first episode in 1981’.
In a statement, Challis’ family said: ‘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. Please respect the privacy of John’s family and friends at this difficult time, and be assured that in the future there will be an occasion to celebrate John’s life – when everyone will be welcome to come along.’
Sue Holderness, who played Boycie’s wife Marlene in Only Fools And Horses, paid tribute to Challis as her ‘beloved friend’ adding, ‘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.’
Jim Sullivan, the son of Only Fools creator John Sullivan, said Challis, ‘brought his own unique touch to the character of Boycie’ and described the much-loved actor as ‘an immensely kind, witty and erudite man.’
Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died ‘peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer’ aged 79
Famous role: The actor played Boycie – or Terrance Aubrey Boyce – between 1981 and 2009 (pictured in OFAH in 2001)
John Challis attending the Only Fools and Horses the Musical opening night at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2019
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.’
Challis’ family said donations in his memory can be made to his chosen animal charities Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Tusk or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Their statement added: ‘As Boycie would have said… you know it makes sense!’
The Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson tweeted: ‘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, S.’
Actress Crissy Rock, who appeared in Benidorm with Challis, was among those paying tribute to the actor.
She said on Twitter: ‘I am heartbroken to hear the news that the legendary actor @BeingBoycie has sadly passed away. John you were a true gentleman and always so loving and supportive towards me. I am thinking of your family and close friends at this hard time. Rest well. Crissy xx.’
Jim Sullivan, the son of Only Fools creator John Sullivan, said Challis, ‘brought his own unique touch to the character of Boycie, bags of charisma and charm and, of course, that unmistakable trademark laugh.’
He added: ‘My dad loved that laugh and from the first time he heard it would always include a ‘Boycie does one of his laughs’ in the script stage directions.
‘Away from the camera, John was an immensely kind, witty and erudite man. He will be missed enormously, and our thoughts are with his wife Carole and the rest of his family.’
Jim Sullican, the son of Only Fools creator John Sullivan, said Challis, ‘brought his own unique touch to the character of Boycie, bags of charisma and charm and, of course, that unmistakable trademark laugh.’
Characters: A whole host of legendary Only Fools And Horses characters appear in this photo. John Challis, who played Boycie, David Jason, Kenneth MacDonald, Roger Lloyd-Pack and Nicholas Lyndhurst are all seen standing next to each other out on the street during filming for series six episode three, Chain Gang. The episode, which aired in 1989, saw Del Boy put together a consortium to buy a set of 18 carat gold chains from a retired jeweller
The official Only Fools And Horses Twitter account released a statement mourning the loss of the TV star
Stars including Vicki Michelle, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Sheila Ferguson paid tribute to Challis on Twitter
Former Doctor Who actor Colin Baker, who appeared alongside John Challis in the 1975 safety information film Drive Carefully, Darling, tweeted: ‘Oh my goodness. My friend John Challis has died.
‘What a lovely man he was funny warm and a great lover of his garden and nature. We are all the poorer for his loss.’
‘Allo ‘Allo! actress Vicki Michelle also paid tribute to Challis. She said on Twitter: ‘Shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Wonderful John Challis such a fabulous man. Loved by the Nation. Condolences to his family and loved ones.’
EastEnders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman described Challis as an ‘icon’. She tweeted: ‘Omg just seen news about John Challis. I’m absolutely gutted.
‘He had become such a wonderful friend and ally from meeting here Twitter . Love you John you icon and all thoughts to your beloved family. May your memory be a blessing. So sad.’
Former heavyweight champion boxer Frank Bruno tweeted: ‘John Challis RIP cannot believe it.
‘(He) used to say to me ‘Franklyn my dear boy how the devil are you boxed anybody round the ears recently?’ Loved all the TV he did.’
In tribute to their long-term fan, Somerset County Cricket Club shared a video filmed with Challis earlier this year in which he comically announced the extension of a player’s contract.
‘Somerset County Cricket Club are extremely saddened to hear about the passing of long term supporter John Challis,’ the club tweeted. ‘Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.’
TV writer and Good Morning Britain presenter Adil Ray tweeted of Challis: ‘Very sad news. What a fabulous actor. A writer’s dream. His performance turned Boycie into one of the funniest supporting characters in British sitcom. Thoughts with his family & friends.’
John Challis dead at 79: How Only Fools and Horses actor left indelible mark on popular British culture with his portrayal of second-hand car salesman Boycie
Challis left an indelible mark on British popular culture with his portrayal of loudmouth second-hand car salesman Boycie in Only Fools And Horses.
The character, usually found at the Nag’s Head pub with a cigar in one hand and a large cognac in the other, was instantly recognisable by his mocking laugh – which often followed a cutting remark about one of the Trotters.
Challis played Terrance Aubrey ‘Boycie’ Boyce from the first series of Only Fools And Horses in 1981, right the way through to the final Christmas special in 2003.
He also reprised the career-defining role of Boycie, a close friend and frequent sparring partner of Sir David Jason’s Del Boy, for spin-off series The Green Green Grass from 2005-2009.
Challis, who has died aged 79, 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.
Sue Piper Holderness and John Challis attend the Tusk Conservation Awards at The Empire Cinema on November 21, 2019
Challis was granted honorary citizenship in Serbia for his portrayal of Boycie in the much-loved British comedy series alongside Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst (pictured on Only Fools And Horses in 2001)
After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at becoming an estate agent, Challis 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 p***ed 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.
Steady on: John Challis, who played Boycie, David Jason, Kenneth MacDonald, Roger Lloyd-Pack and Nicholas Lyndhurst take part in a raucous scene from series six episode three, called Chain Gang. The group of characters are seen preparing to give chase to a group of con-men in Del’s three-wheeled van in the 1989 episode
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.
Initially, the part was just one scene before the unscrupulous car salesman became more prominent as the hugely popular series continued.
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.
Amid running jokes about Boycie’s lack of potency, he and Marlene had a son, Tyler, who appeared in 1989 Christmas special The Jolly Boys’ Outing. While many actors strive to escape the shadow of their biggest characters, Challis seemed to embrace Boycie’s popularity.
He was a regular sight at the ever-popular Only Fools And Horses fan events and his Twitter handle was @BeingBoycie.
Challis wrote two autobiographies, Being Boycie and Boycie & Beyond, and made the 2020 documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why Only Fools And Horses remained hugely popular in Serbia.
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.