United Kingdom

Nicholas Lyndhurst's heartbreak at the death of his only son Archie, writes ALISON BOSHOFF 

Anyone will tell you that Nicholas Lyndhurst's greatest role was as dim-witted Rodney Trotter, the 'plonker' brother of Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.

Record-breaking TV audiences of up to 24 million tuned in to watch perpetually luckless Rodders utter lines of brilliance like: 'If there is such a thing as reincarnation, knowing my luck I'll come back as me.'

But for Lyndhurst and his wife Lucy, a former ballerina, his greatest role was without question as a devoted father to his son Archie.

Loving family: Archie with parents Nicholas and Lucy

Archie as a child with his father. When Archie was four, he went on tour with the stage play The Dresser, and phoned his boy 'about every 20 minutes' because he missed him so much

When Archie was born, Lyndhurst turned down project after project which might have taken him away from family life for too long. He explained: 'After Archie was born, I didn't want to do anything. I knew how to make a television programme, but didn't know about fatherhood, so I took three years off. When I went back to work, I thought: It's not fatherhood, is it?'

When Archie was four, he went on tour with the stage play The Dresser, and phoned his boy 'about every 20 minutes' because he missed him so much.

He said: 'I love being a daddy. It's just the best thing I've ever done. You know how children laugh so much that they cackle? I can get Archie to do that, and it's the best feeling.'

He and his wife were in two minds about having another child as they reasoned: 'Is it possible to give the same amount of love to another child, or have a second one as perfect as this?'

Their heartbreak at the shocking, unexplained death of Archie, their only son, at 19 is total.

As the couple's friend, actor John Challis said: 'My heart aches for Nick and Lucy. They could not have loved him more.'

Lyndhurst's own father had been largely absent – Joe Lyndhurst was a philanderer who left his mum and started another family with a girlfriend while he was a child.

He didn't have a relationship with Joe as an adult, and didn't even go to his funeral.

Perhaps because of that very disappointing role model, he threw everything into being the very best dad to Archie.

'I love it all,' he said. 'When Archie was born, I wanted to be at home with him. I knew what a TV studio was like, but I didn't know what bringing up a baby was like.

Their heartbreak at the shocking, unexplained death of Archie, their only son, at 19 is total. Archie pictured above 

'The times when I felt especially useful were when Lucy was breastfeeding – Archie was a hungry baby; he fed every two hours – and I'd nip out to the supermarket to get whatever she wanted. The kitchen was like an organic farmers' market. We were always steaming, pounding and sieving.'

At eight, Archie decided he wanted to act – the same age his father had – and he supported his son's dream every step of the way, just as his own mother had supported him.

The blow, then, could not be any harder. Friends of the family say there had been absolutely no inkling of any health problems before Archie's sudden passing 11 days ago, but that he 'died overnight'.The family had been dividing their time between their London home in Fulham and a country house near Chichester, West Sussex, where Lyndhurst grew up.

Archie, who went to a stage school, had been acting since he was ten and appeared destined for stardom. Lyndhurst said proudly that, while he was rather shy, his son was the opposite.

'He came to visit me when I was doing a play a while back. He had a look at the dressing rooms, the set, then he turned around and saw the auditorium and his face lit up. He said, 'Daddy, go and sit where the people sit'.

Archie Lyndhurst pictured with his dad Nicholas. When Archie was born, Lyndhurst turned down project after project which might have taken him away from family life for too long

'So I jumped down and he cleared his throat and announced, 'And now I will be singing the theme from The Incredibles'.

'I can't believe it because I really am a bit shy, to be honest. When I go to America, one of the few places where most of my stuff hasn't sold, and people ask me what I do, I lie. Mostly I tell people I'm a pavement inspector.'

Archie was sent to a theatre school in London from the age of ten. His parents bought a house in the capital so they could be near Archie while he studied. As Lyndhurst said: 'It would break our hearts to be apart.'

He also generously funded a £10,000-a-year scholarship so that another child could have the chances which his boy was getting at stage school.

Lyndhurst had only had the first half term of fees paid by his mother, Liz, herself a former dancer, who didn't have the money to pay for any more. From that point onwards, he had to fund the rest of the education by working.

Liz had become pregnant aged 17 while performing a summer season by Joe Lyndhurst, a charming businessman. She and Joe split, and by the time their son was eight his father had started another family – with a waitress at the same holiday camp.

Joe was only intermittently there when Lyndhurst was growing up, and father and son saw each other a handful of times when he was in his teens before contact petered out altogether.

He said: 'I didn't miss Dad when he was not there. I don't know if that makes me callous, but that is the fairest answer I can give. It was lovely to see him when he did visit, of course. He was a gentle man; very funny and charming and he always made me laugh. There are no regrets. I had a happy childhood with not a moment's sadness.'

His mother had to struggle to create that stability for him. He remembers hiding from the electricity board man, and searching behind cushions for small change.

Some meals were foraged mussels – he thought that activity was fun, and only later realised that they were too poor to afford food. 'I wasn't told that if you didn't forage you weren't going to eat. I had the happiest childhood, I really did. Mum had stresses, but I never knew,' he said.

Archie and Nicholas Lyndhurst appearson CBBC together

When he was 13, his stage school training paid off and he was cast as Peter in a production of Heidi. He had crisp received pronunciation and joked: 'In Heidi, I sound like Celia Johnson.' At 15, he got a part in Porridge sequel Going Straight, alongside Ronnie Barker. He then got a role as one of Wendy Craig's sons in the long-running sitcom Butterflies by pretending he could drive, play guitar and roller skate.

By now he was very tall – having shot up an inch a year in his teens – and played lanky lassitude to great comic effect.

At 19, he was cast as Rodney in Only Fools And Horses. The show wasn't an immediate success and the BBC contemplated axing it. As a shy yet famous bachelor in his twenties, Lyndhurst had just a couple of romances and lived alone with his cat. He was scared of commitment and had a recurring nightmare as a teenager about getting married to a bride he didn't know.

All of that changed when he met Lucy, 12 years his junior. She was in the audience of a stage show in 1992 and he found that he was mesmerised by her blue eyes.

She and a friend sent the cast champagne and chocolates along with a note, and he contacted her. They were married in 1999, an event which, unusually for Lyndhurst, he sold to OK! magazine. He later explained he had only done so to have full security surrounding the event, after details of the forthcoming nuptials leaked out.

Archie was born the following year. At that point, he was at the peak of his fame with Only Fools And Horses, which ended in 2003 after seven series and 15 specials.

With that huge success came fame, which he didn't much enjoy. One issue was that everywhere he went, people were wont to shout 'You plonker!' at him. He sighed in 2007: 'Imagine being on Parkinson every day. That's what it's like. People still get irked I don't talk like a south London market trader. '

He has managed to retain a great love for the show, and for Rodney, but isn't able to watch it any more as it brings home too forcefully the sad deaths of many of the cast, and of writer John Sullivan.

Afterwards, he starred in Goodnight Sweetheart and the dramas David Copperfield and New Tricks, but in truth he said no to almost everything.

He explained: 'Since I got married, and especially since my son was born, I drive everybody nuts by looking at everything I'm offered and saying, 'It's quite good, but I'm just so happy being married I don't want to be away from home'.'

Naturally shy, he was in retreat from the spotlight before this tragedy – happy instead to let his beloved boy take his place in it.

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