Born in 1946 in Balham, South London, John left school at the age of fifteen with no qualifications but a Charles Dickens-inspired passion for the written word and, in particular, comedy. Having worked as a messenger, car cleaner, delivery driver, plumbers mate and a brief stint as a second hand car trader, John got himself a job at the BBC in 1974. It was through this that he got to meet the likes of legendary producer Dennis Main Wilson and the great Ronnie Barker, who liked John’s comedy sketches so much he commissioned him to write for The Two Ronnies. In 1977 John followed this up with his first sitcom, Citizen Smith (title role played by Robert Lindsay) the loveable revolutionary leader of the Tooting Popular Front (all six of them).
This was followed in 1981 by Only Fools and Horses (which starred David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Lennard Pearce and Buster Merryfield) a show that would span twenty-two years, win numerous awards (including three BAFTAs) and become Britain’s best-loved sitcom. In 1983 John wrote the BAFTA award winning Just Good Friends (which starred Jan Francis and Paul Nicholas) and in 1986, Dear John which starred Ralph Bates as the luckless divorcee seeking support at the 1-2-1 club (a show which was also a hit in the USA, starring Judd Hirsch and running for four series). In 1992 John wrote Sitting Pretty, about the life of sixties good-time girl Annie Briggs (played by Diane Bull).
In 1996 John wrote the two-part Second World War based comedy-drama Over Here (starring Sam West, Jay Goede, and Martin Clunes). This was followed in 1998 by Heartburn Hotel (featuring Tim Healey and Clive Russell) and Roger Roger (starring Robert Dawes, David Ross and Keith Allen), a comedy-drama about the lives of the workers of a mini-cab firm. In 2001 John (paying homage to Dickens) wrote Micawber with David Jason playing the title role. In 2005 he created the Only Fools and Horses spin-off The Green Green Grass (starring John Challis and Sue Holderness) and in 2009 the critically acclaimed prequel to Only Fools, Rock & Chips (starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, Kellie Bright and James Buckley). Among his many achievements and awards, John received an OBE for services to drama in 2005 and in 2008 was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Goldsmiths College, London.
In early 2011, shortly after finishing the filming of the last episode of Rock & Chips, John became ill and was diagnosed as suffering with atypical pneumonia. After a two month long battle with the illness, John died on 22nd April. Missed every day by his family and friends, John’s spirit, warmth, his passion for comedy and the laughter he created lives on in the amazing body of work that he has left us.