She’ll be for ever known as Del Boy’s long-suffering partner Raquel Turner in Only Fools and Horse .
But for Tessa Peake-Jones, there’s one thing she’s pleased she no longer has to put up with – the Cockney rogue’s bottom-pinching .
For while she loves the show that made her a household name, Tessa believes Del Boy’s cheeky-chappy flirty behaviour might not be quite so cushty in a post #MeToo world.
“I think now, if programmes were made, they wouldn’t have people pinching people’s bottoms because that would not be acceptable,” says Tessa, 61.
“And I would say that’s a very good thing because, as women, we’ve put up with rather a lot
over the years – of us not being able to say anything for fear of being sacked or whatever.
"You have to say it’s progress.”
Tessa is quick to stress you can only judge Only Fools and Horses by the attitudes of the era – a time when she personally put up with a lot more than she ever would now.
“It’s like a period drama. Those things were acceptable then,” she says. “It was a different world.
“My friends and I regularly had people flashing us on the Tube, manhandling you, doing a little
bit of touching… all those things that in the 70s and 80s were a little more acceptable.
“You didn’t make as much fuss about them because they were part of life. But now you would. Our children’s generation wouldn’t accept it.
“I wish we had all been like that in our 20s.”
Tessa wasn’t exactly shy. She had spent 10 years doing drama before joining Only Fools in 1988 and was well aware of the pitfalls of the industry.
“When I was new and green, there would be opportunities where it might come up, ‘How would you feel about taking your clothes off in this film?’.
“There were times when I did do things like that. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t want to – it just happens that I was quite bolshy.
“But I’m sure there are still times now when people are slightly persuaded into it. And #MeToo is teaching a new generation that we don’t have to say yes to any of this.”
And London-born Tessa, now in ITV drama series Grantchester, was also thrilled her children Mollie, 27, and Charlie, 20, didn’t follow her
decision to go into acting.
“Our business is precarious and full of rejection and unemployment,” she says. “People look at us and go ‘Well, they’re on the telly, it’s great!’ Well, it’s not.
“It’s actually about ‘Will I be able to pay my mortgage next month?’, ‘How am I going to manage without any food for two days?’
“It’s not quite the rosy picture we think it is.”
Of course, some jobs are just too good to resist. Tomorrow night, viewers will see her perform Mamma Mia! as she battles it out against a host of big names, including Alan Titchmarsh and Corrie’s Danny Brocklebank on ITV’s All Star Musicals, hosted by John Barrowman.
And as if stepping out on to the London Palladium stage in front of 2,500 people wasn’t nerve-racking enough, she also had to face a judging panel including Strictly pro Kevin Clifton and musical theatre juggernaut Elaine Paige.
Tessa, who spent two months preparing before last week’s filming by gargling salt water daily, says: “The whole thing was a mixture of joy, excitement and absolute terror. When they called me to the stage I felt like I was walking to my execution, to a bullfight or the electric chair.
“But then came all the cheering and people stamping. It was like being in a rock band.”
Perhaps there could have been a chance
to play Raquel in the new, record-breaking Only Fools musical? “The characters are all in their 20s, unfortunately,” she laughs.
Tessa adds there’s no chance of a real Only Fools reunion with David Jason or Nicholas Lyndhurst, after creator John Sullivan died last year.
“Without him there is no programme so it will never happen now,” Tessa says.
“Being on the show was a huge privilege. Yet I think it’s also nice to look back at things when they were good, rather than try to recapture them years later.”
She is still friends with Gwyneth Strong, who played Cassandra, and the dad of her two children Douglas Hodge, who once played her on-screen son Damien as an adult.
They split in 2013. But is Tessa in the mood to find love again?
“No, I’m enjoying myself and my own time, and it’s really lovely!” she smiles. Sounds lovely jubbly to us too, Tessa.
All Star Musicals is on ITV, 6pm tomorrow.
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