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GENTEEL SECRETS OF DEL BOY'S HOME

From The Bristol Evening Post, January 1, 2004

Millions of viewers settled in front of their televisions on Christmas Day to watch what could be the last episode of Only Fools and Horses. To mark the occasion, reporter STEVEN SWINFORD took a look at the Bristol-based Mandela House

Tucked away behind Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City football club, lies one of the city's best-kept secrets. It seems unremarkable at first.

Three council tower-blocks rise into the sky, no different to the passing eye from the hundreds of similar high-rise residences found up and down the country.

But spend just a few moments walking around and it all becomes startlingly familiar.

Here, off Duckmore Road, in South Bristol, lies what most people would regard as a slice of Peckham.

The central building, Whitemead House, regularly doubles up for exterior shots of the Trotters' home at Nelson Mandela House.

Spin round and the memories come flooding back.

There, surely, lies the garage where Del Boy famously found the priceless antique clock that finally fulfilled his dreams of becoming a billionaire.

The same garage where, in the Trotters' more impoverished years, Del kept a store of inflatable sex dolls which later exploded in spectacular fashion.

And isn't this the square where, in a 1993 Christmas special, Del managed to start the Peckham riots?

"Oh yes, the BBC often came to film here," Shirley Bush, chair of the Duckmore Road Tenants Association, remembers proudly.

"They were so nice to us, David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, real gentleman.

"They always had time to say hello."

Only Fools and Horses will always have a special place in the hearts of Duckmore Road residents.

A signed photo from the Trotter family hangs on the wall at their community centre.

Eight beautiful conifer trees, paid for by the BBC, line the edges of the estate.

But the links end there. While Nelson Mandela House was a run-down, gritty Peckham estate, Duckmore Road has some of the most sought-after council housing in Bristol.

And the Only Fools and Horses link has nothing to do with it.

Take a look around and it's easy to see why. Most of the 275 residents are friendly pensioners, and have the utmost respect for each other and their environment.

The courtyard is a model of tidiness, lovingly maintained by caretakers and residents, litter-free and complete with an immaculately trimmed lawn.

It is not surprising that when the BBC used the area for filming they actually had to bring in graffiti-covered boards and cast- aside barrels of their own.

Step inside and the difference between fiction and reality becomes even starker.

The living room of 127 Nelson Mandela House was recently voted the tackiest in the history of British sitcoms.

The dreary wallpaper, kitsch curtains and tacky furniture would be unwelcome in the homes of any viewer.

But just a brief glance at the home of house-proud 68-year-old Shirley Bush reveals a very different story.

The lounge contains comfy, cream leather sofas that visitors can just sink into, while a cabinet filled with china and elegant porcelain figures stands against the wall.

Mandela House this is not.

But the real attraction of Duckmore Road is the residents themselves.

There are certainly no teenage tearaways wreaking havoc here.

Indeed, the rowdiest time they have is when Shirley and her 10 friends - aged between 68 to 79 - get away on holiday.

They have just spent a week dancing the night away in Benidorm.

"It was wonderful," said Shirley happily. "There was wine, music and dancing. We all had a lovely time. Now we just can't wait to get away next year."

Then there's 90-year-old Mary Charlton, who remembers coming face-to-face with the actors when they filmed the riot scenes during the 1990s.

"That was when they approached me," she said. "It was 11pm and I had David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Buster Merryfield sitting on my settee between filming."

Mrs Charlton had her photo taken with all the actors and remembers Buster, who died in June 1999, as being especially nice.

"I had a nice chat with him and he explained how he got into the show," she said. "I never used to watch the programme but now I really enjoy it because it's good clean fun."

The Duckmore Road towers are also a hive of social activity.

On Wednesday morning it's a tea meeting, in the evening it's ladies night, then on Thursday morning it's a coffee meeting.

And that's not to mention the Christmas and New Year's parties.

"Everyone likes to have a good time at Christmas," said Shirley. "We're even hiring out the bowling club this year so we can have a nice party."

One thing is for sure. When Only Fools and Horses was on TV this Christmas the residents of Duckmore Road were glued to their screens, picking out their homes with pride.