Another notable episode from the first series of "Only Fools and Horses" is "The Russians Are Coming", in which the Trotters build their own nuclear fall-out shelter.
The premise of "The Russians Are Coming" is not exactly original, as lots of movies, television shows, comedies and the like were eagerly tapping into unease and paranoia about the Cold War and nuclear weapons in the early and mid-1980s. In the event, this episode contains some of the most affecting observations and passages of any of the show's plot-lines. Their impact and poignancy is perhaps heightened by the humour with which they are surrounded and occasionally clothed.
The plot stems from a business deal concluded by Del, a by-product of which results in him inadvertently "acquiring" an experimental "do it yourself" atomic fall-out shelter. The family decides to assemble it and spend some time living in it, as their own form of emergency planning.
Following an amusing effort to replicate the panic of the four-minute warning, and a simulation of the journey to a prospective location of refuge, the story really takes off when Del, Rodney and Grandad are safely ensconced in the shelter itself. The logistics and practicalities of surviving Armageddon are the source of some good, strong material. The highlight is perhaps Grandad's monologue about the true nature and horrors of war, delivered to chastise and rebuke Del for some of his excessively gung-ho and glib talk on the subject.
Whenever the subject matter threatens to become too serious and heavy, John Sullivan's comedic genius kicks in, and the mood lightens. The "captive" situation in the shelter creates an atmosphere conducive to sharp, taut and rich exchanges, and all three of the actors are on fine form, with great use of lighting to accentuate the intimacy. There is a noticeable absence of filler or padding in the script, and the shelter sequences are indeed very concentrated, fluent and absorbing. A real high point of the early days of OFAH, on more than one level.
Some speculation on the likely social consequences of a nuclear war adds to this episode's resonance and charm. Besides the humorous ruminations on the likely effects of the feared catastrophe, this is an intelligent and finely judged piece of work, addressing a difficult and emotive topic with more simplicity ,honesty and acuity than many more "serious" works arising from that era. It is also highly entertaining and funny.