"Only Fools And Horses" first aired on the 8th September 1981 and had further series in 1982, 1983, 1985, a 1985 Xmas special, 1986 series, 1987 and 1988 Xmas episode, 1989 series, 1989 and 1990 Xmas special, 1991 series, 1991 two-parter Xmas special, 1992 and 1993 Xmas special, 1996 trilogy, 2001, 2002 and 2003 Xmas special. Plus a few rare episodes such as "Christmas Trees" in 1982, and "Licensed to Drill" in 1984.
However at times during the series canon the episodes are not set at the time of transmission, some were set weeks or months before the transmission date, or even slightly after the transmission date. Occasionally the timeline has been a bit iffy but mainly it has been quite kushti as Del would say. A few examples is "Miami Twice", the 1991 Christmas special, if you look very carefully near the start of the second part "Miami Twice, Part 2: Oh to Be in England" you can see a close up of the camper van owner reading the newspaper and the date is "3rd September 1991".
"The Jolly Boys' Outing" was shown on the 25th December 1989 but was set in the summer of 1989, probably late August as a few times they said it was a Bank Holiday weekend. From dialogue given in episodes and dates on newspapers or other stuff seen in the background in some scenes I have tried to examine the timeline of events in the series.
Trotter family timeline 1960-1962
The first episode of the Rock & Chips trilogy took place throughout February, March, June, August, September, and October 1960, ending on 2nd November with the birth of Rodney.
The second episode of the trilogy, "Five Gold Rings, took place in December 1960, and ending on 1st January 1961.
Then, the first half of the third and final episode of the trilogy, "The Frog and the Pussycat" was set in July 1961, with the second half happening seven months later in February 1962.
Trotter family timeline 1981-2003
The episode "Big Brother" appeared to have been set in early 1981, several months before it was aired, and the next episode "Go West Young Man" was set a few weeks after the ending of the previous episode. "Cash and Curry" was probably set in March or April 1981. According to Del's He Who Dares, "The Second Time Around" takes place in July 1981, as he mentions that he took Pauline to see The Cannonball Run in the cinema. "A Slow Bus to Chingford" was probably set in about August or September 1981. "The Russians Are Coming" was set in October 1981 as you can see a calendar in the purpose built nuclear fall out shelter. "Christmas Crackers" needs little explanation.
The next episode was "The Long Legs of the Law" which seemed to be set in May 1982 as we see a close up of the Financial Times which Del Boy is reading and it says "19th May 1982". So it had been a few months since Del and Rodney visited the Monte Carlo Club in the previous episode, and the flat had new wallpaper put up. The next few episodes seem to be set in June 1982, however the first 4 episodes are at odds with "The Yellow Peril" where Del and Rodney visit their late mum's grave for the anniversary of her death and the gravestone says "12th March 1964", so the scene at the graveyard should have been set in March 1982. One explanation is in this series, some of the episodes were set out of sequence to transmission, i.e. in the fictional show "" that series first episode could have been set a month or two after "The Yellow Peril". "It Never Rains..." was set in July 1982 as Del Boy said how they had just had the world cup held in Spain, where they were visiting. "A Touch of Glass" was set in maybe October 1982 and "Diamonds Are for Heather" was set over November/December 1982 as halfway through, Rodney said Del had been dating Heather for six weeks now.
Christmas Trees was the rare episode which saw Del Boy sell Christmas trees. This must have been a week or so after he and Heather split up. Del thought ethics was a company who made model aeroplanes. AirFix.
"Homesick" the first episode of the 1983 series (Series 3) was set in mid or late May 1983 as at the start of the episode Del looks at Rodney's catalogue of crimes and he says "6th May, Grandad's shopping trolley stolen from pram shed". "Healthy Competition" was set in June 1983, and "Friday the 14th" was set on the 14th July 1983. A short time afterwards, Del accidentally backed his van into someone's Mercedes. "Yesterday Never Comes" was probably set in August 1983. "May the Force Be with You" was likely set in September 1983, and "Wanted" in October, and "Who's a Pretty Boy?" set in November 1983. The first half of the episode, "Thicker than Water" was set in Christmas 1983 and the final two scenes of the episode were actually set on New Year's Day 1984, a week forward of the transmission date. 20 minutes into the episode, it was said to be New Year's Day, as shown when Del was in The Nag's Head.
"Licensed to Drill", the rare episode made for schools, was set sometime during 1984. Maybe April or May 1984.
"Happy Returns" the first episode of the 4th series, shown 21st February 1985 was probably set in late 1984, maybe November/early December, and Grandad had been in hospital for a while recently. The following episode "Strained Relations" was set up to 2 or 3 weeks afterwards, where Grandad was buried, probably mid to late January 1985, as the weather seen on screen at the funeral looked very December/January ish. "Hole in One" was set a month after "Strained Relations" as Del mentions Albert had lived with them for four weeks. Probably set in mid to late February 1985. "It's Only Rock and Roll" was set in mid March 1985 as Del mentions St. Patrick's night. "Sleeping Dogs Lie" and "Watching the Girls Go By" were set within a week or so of the transmission as was "As One Door Closes" shown 4th April 1985.
"To Hull and Back" the 1985 Christmas special was set in June 1985 as one scene inside Slater's office at the police station, a calendar says "June 1985". So it was set 6 months before transmission.
"White Mice" was set and shown at Christmas 1985.
"From Prussia with Love" was shown in late August 1986 but maybe set in late July or early August, "The Miracle of Peckham" set in mid August perhaps. "The Longest Night" was set in September 1986, at time of transmission, in the supermarket office, a calendar says "September", and as was "Tea for Three" and "Video Nasty". "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" was set about end September/early October 1986.
"A Royal Flush", the 1986 Christmas special, and "The Royal Variety Performance" was set in November 1986.
"The Frog's Legacy" was set in about October 1987 as in the first scene you can hear Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" being played in the background. That song was released that month. The end of the episode, where Del finds out where the gold is buried is probably late October 1987.
Now the timeline of events from "Dates", the 1988 Christmas special, to "Little Problems" is a bit tricky. In "Dates" Albert's birthday is mentioned as being 19th November and he has his birthday party in that aforementioned episode. The following episodes, "Yuppy Love" to "The Unlucky Winner Is..." seem to be set around March, April, May, and June 1988. "Sickness and Wealth" appears to be set in July 1988, the start of the episode set a few weeks after the end of the previous episode. "Little Problems" shown 12th February 1989 was allegedly set in January 1989 as in Rodney's wedding scene we see a shot of the marriage certificate which says "15th January 1989". However the 1989 Xmas episode seems to make the 1988-1989 timeline a bit tricky, as explained below.
In "The Jolly Boys' Outing" shown 25th December 1989, the Trotters and their friends go on a beano to Margate in the summertime. It seems to be set in late August 1989, as it is a Bank Holiday weekend. Yet Rodney and Cassandra celebrate their first wedding anniversary near the start of the episode, meaning "Little Problems" was probably set in August 1988 instead of January 1989. It is possible that "Dates" was set in November 1987 and not November 1988, so just a month or so after "The Frogs Legacy". However, this would cause an anachronism as the Status Quo song 'Burning Bridges' can be heard and this was released in November 1988. Also in the 1989 series, lots of songs that were indeed released from November 1988 to January 1989 can be heard in the background. (John Sullivan may have forgotten about the timeline, or he used a bit of poetic licence to write an episode surrounding Rodney and Cassandra's wedding anniversary, and his jealousy over her boss leading to marriage woes in future episodes). 'The 1988-1989 series seem to be the only time the timeline is called into question. All subsequent episodes seem to have a good timeline.
"Rodney Come Home" the 1990 Christmas special was set in about February or March 1990, 6 months after "The Jolly Boys Outing". Rodney mentions the film Honey I Shrunk The Kids being shown at the cinema which was premiered in February 1990. The next episode "The Sky's the Limit" seems to be set in about late March 1990 and Del says Rodney and Cass have been married 18 months. "The Chance of a Lunchtime" is probably set in about June 1990 as Raquel finds she is pregnant. "Stage Fright" is where Del says Raquel is 3 months pregnant so is set in about August 1990. Also, she has won a 6-week contract for a duet with Tony Angelino.
"The Class of '62" is set about five months after "Stage Fright" so set in about late December 1990 or January 1991. Rodney says Del has had a fax machine for 2 months, and we never saw it in the previous episode. Also, Raquel and Tony's 6 week contract seems to have expired. "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle" is set in about mid January 1991, we can see Rodney reading the newspaper which has an advert saying "January sales" and "Three Men, a Woman, and a Baby" is set over the week up to the transmission date, 3rd February 1991.
"Miami Twice" "Miami Twice, Part 1: The American Dream" the first part of the 1991 Christmas two parter seems to be set in late August 1991. In "Miami Twice, Part 2: Oh to Be in England" the day Del and Rodney arrive appears to be 3rd September 1991 as we see the close up of a newspaper with that date on it, when the camper van man is reading it. So the day Del and Rodney escaped the Mafia was probably 9th September, they flew home on their 10 or so hour flight over the night of 10th/11th September and arrived to find the flat full of crates of wine on 11th September 1991.
"Mother Nature's Son", the 1992 Christmas special had been about 14 months since the Trotters came back from America and had their brush with the Miami Mafia. The start of the episode seemed to be set in November 1992 and the Trotters had put their bad holiday to Miami a year earlier well and truly behind them. The end of "Mother Nature's Son" was set in about mid December. In the episode, Del had some toxic waste dumped, and at the end of the episode, a news report on the TV in Rodney and Cassie's hotel room says they have been found and were dumped a month ago. Also, at the start of "Mother Nature's Son", Rodney stated that him and Del had not bought or sold a thing in months so they probably hit dire straits in the summer of 1992.
"Fatal Extraction", the 1993 Christmas special was set in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1993.
"Heroes and Villains" the first episode of the 1996 Christmas trilogy was set in early November 1996, Rodney celebrated his birthday and Del won a medal after him and Rodney apprehended some muggers. The next episode "Modern Men" seemed to be set in about mid November 1996, the start of the episode set about a day or two after the end of the previous episode. "Time on Our Hands" was set 2 weeks after the end of "Modern Men" as Rodney had stated it had been 2 weeks since Cassandra had her miscarriage, indicating the start of the episode was set in late November 1996. The following day James discovered a priceless watch in Del's garage and the following auction and the Trotters becoming millionaires was probably over the course of early to mid December 1996.
Although the episode was transmitted 29th December 1996, it did seem a bit quick for the Trotters to become millionaires and to swiftly buy a new house in the countryside and move out of London all in a couple of weeks so it could be the end of the episode was set a month or so after the transmission date. Perhaps January or February 1997.
"If They Could See Us Now", was set 5 years after "Time On Our Hands". Although it was probably set earlier on in 2001 as the newspaper seen in the episode appears to say June 2001 when Boycie, Denzil, Trigger and Sid are laughing at the Trotters losing their millions.
"Strangers on the Shore", was probably set October to December 2002. Denzel says Christmas is coming. And the shrink wrapped pallet of beer Del is buying has a slip on it saying "15. 12. 2002". And Cassandra is pregnant, so over a year has passed since the previous episode. Although Del said Albert died a few months ago, yet Albert died in 2001.
"Sleepless in Peckham" was probably set in early 2003. Cassandra is still pregnant, so it must be set in January 2003. A month after the previous episode. Boycie and Marlene have their 34th wedding anniversary, which does go against "Video Nasty", the September 1986 episode, where they say 20 years, so should have married in 1966 not 1969. Bless John Sullivan. One theory is in 1986, maybe Boycie and Marlene were lying about their anniversary so they could get a free party held for them and 1969 is their real wedding date. (In the spin off Green Green Grass, Boycie and Marlene were said to have met in June 1968).
The 2014 mini episode "Beckham in Peckham" was set in February or March 2014. It seemed like winter. David Beckham must have hurt himself when he fell over onto the icy ground after leaning on a rack, then leaning off it, then going to lean back on it and it having been moved, a nod to "Yuppy Love".