Paul Nicholas says surprise coincidence led him to taking Just Good Friends role

Paul Nicholas has spoken exclusively to Daily Star about making Just Good Friends, the unlikely coincidence that landed him the role, behind the scenes secrets of the show, co-star bond with Jan Francis and working with Only Fools writer John Sullivan.

Only Fools and Horses writer John Sullivan gave TV viewers the ultimate will they, won't they sitcom, after he wrote eighties BBC hit Just Good Friends.

The show, which followed former lovers Penny Warrender and Vince Pinner as they rekindled their romance – five years after Vince jilted Penny at the alter – was watched by more than 21million viewers at its peak between 1983 and 1986.

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It was also named one of the best British sitcoms in a BBC poll in 2004, and has recently returned to our screens on streaming service BritBox.

Before his Just Good Friends fame, Paul had previously starred in a number of theatre productions, had leading roles in films including Stardust, and had released chart topping pop hits in the seventies including Grandma's Party and Dancing with The Captain.

However, the talented star revealed that it was actually an unexpected coincidence that led him to landing the part of Vince Pinner in Just Good Friends, telling us: "John Sullivan just so happened to be in on the night I was on TV in this light romantic comedy [Little Rococo], and remembered me."

He added: "Most people would have gone, he's a pop singer isn't he? He doesn't do sitcoms.

"John recognised in me something that most people would have missed. I was very lucky to have got the part."

Not only did he land the part, but his chemistry with Penny actress Jan Francis landed from the moment of the audition too – with Paul praising his Just Good Friends co-star as he reflected on their instant bond.

"We hit it off pretty much instantly," said Paul.

"We shared a similar sense of humour and got on well as people, and that helps too. If you can laugh together at the same things, you build a bit of a chemistry. The parts suited us."

Together, Paul Nicholas' bookmaker and Jan Francis' advertisement agency worker delighted millions of viewers as the former lovers, with Paul crediting John Sullivan's writing and the casting as keys behinds its success.

"Sullivan wrote wonderful stories, wonderful jokes. We knew the characters pretty well, before we even started working on it. We recognised it from the scripts. It made it easier."

"It's not easy to write comedy, but he was brilliant," added Paul.

"Ultimately it was funny, and if something is good, it usually endures. It has that quality that was supplied by John, and the director Ray Butt, who was a brilliant director. I think they cast this pretty well, so all those elements went to make it a success."

So successful in fact that after fan demand for Just Good Friends grew, its original two series run extended into a third series where the couple finally got married, as well as a Christmas special that revealed how Vince and Penny original met.

Yet despite its popularity and the talents of the cast, Paul admitted that acting in a sitcom is not as easy as it appears.

After a long rehearsal period from Tuesday to Saturday for an episode, the cast would perform in front of a live audience – but Paul sometimes worried that they would not laugh in the right places.

"It was daunting," said Paul.

"It got a little easier, but it's quite a difficult thing to do, because although you've learnt the words all week, they may not laugh where you think they're going to laugh, or they laugh somewhere before you think they're going to laugh.

"I have to say, we were very lucky, because John wrote so well that you kind of knew where they were going to laugh – and they usually did."

However, Paul attributed his theatre background to preparing him for the role – particularly his leading part as Danny in the first UK production of Grease, opposite musical icon Elaine Page.

"The fact that I'd done theatre – I'd been in front of a live audience all my life – that wasn't a problem."

"Now Danny is actually quite a funny part," added Paul.

"I remember thinking, 'people are laughing, you've obviously got a little bit of something about you' – because it's all about timing comedy. You hit the right note at the right time to get the laugh."

Paul also revealed a behind the scenes secret called the 'rule of three' that Just Good Friends director Ray Butt taught him, in order to land the jokes at the right time.

"He used to call it the rule of three. You go da, da da, da da da.

"I think I had a bit of a natural inclination towards that kind of thing. I do like to make people laugh."

From rekindling their relationship, to bickering with Penny's mother Daphne and the couple's heated exchanges over everyday life including finding a flat, Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis managed to take the ups and downs of romance and turn it into comedy gold as they delivered the show's many punchlines.

Paul added: "One of things where John Sullivan paid me a really nice compliment, he said 'What I like about the way you do the show, is that you don't try to hit the back wall with the line. You don't set it up and scream it out. You let it [the punchline] find its way in there.'

"That's to do with timing. I think I have a bit of a natural inclination for that scene."

However it was not all humour in Just Good Friends, with its more tender and heartbreaking moments, including the couple parting ways at the end of series two, leaving viewers emotional many times throughout the series.

Paul said: "The other thing the show had, was that it had a little bit of pathos. There were touches of reality.

"Not only was he [John Sullivan] very funny, but he had those moments built in as well. He was a very clever writer.

"That kind of clever comedy, for me, comes once in a lifetime. And of course it's reflected in the viewers. He wrote it so brilliantly."

Now over 29 years since first playing the role, Paul has released a new CD called Paul Nicholas Gold which features the theme song, alongside pop hits and show tunes – as well as speaking about his life and career in a new book called Music, Marigolds And Me.

As well as performing opposite stars including Sylvia Kay, who Paul described as "spot on" in the role of Penny's mother, Paul also landed a hit record from the series after singing its theme song – in a full circle moment for the singer.

A new generation of fans are also discovering Just Good Friends for the first time, with Paul saying: "It still holds up well. I think it's great."

"I think the other thing – it was quite realistic in its comedy. It wasn't over the top. It was a comedy that people could relate to, and I think those kind of couples are still around. There's all those elements that remain constant."

He added: "I think as actors, we'd still be doing it now if we had half the chance I should think, because that kind of writing doesn't come along very often.

"But I think from Johns point of view, and probably from the character's point of view, to finish it when he did after three series, was spot on."


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