'I visited the 'shabby' Only Fools and Horses tower block before it's destroyed but residents are happy'

MyLondon's TV reporter Angie Quinn visited Harlech Tower
MyLondon's TV reporter Angie Quinn visited Harlech Tower -Credit:Angie Quinn

Only Fools and Horses has been a part of my life since I can remember thanks to my family, who love the BBC sitcom. Being a fan from a young age means it took me a while to realise that Nelson Mandela House wasn't a real place, nor had anything to do with the former South African president.

The Trotters lived on the 12th floor of the tower block on the Nyrere Estate in Peckham, South London, but in reality the exterior of Nelson Mandela House was filmed on a council estate in Acton, West London. It is seen at the beginning of every episode of Only Fools episode during the title sequence, and also appeared in the 1985 special To Hull and Back.

The three-bedroom flat was home to the Trotter family, including Del Boy (Sir David Jason), his younger brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst), and other relatives who also lived there during the show's run between 1981 and 2003. Being a Londoner it seemed criminal that I'd never seen the high rise in all its glory, so I visited Harlech Tower before the council bulldozes it, and I caught up with residents who live there.

READ MORE: Demolition date 'confirmed' for Only Fools and Horses tower where Del Boy 'lived' being replaced by £850m flats

Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield), Del Boy (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst)
I've loved Only Fools and Horses since I can remember -Credit:BBC

When is Harlech Tower being demolished?

Ealing Council has earmarked Harlech Tower to be torn down in 2027 as part of an £850 million regeneration project that will offer more homes. The block of flats was developed after World War Two and offered residents modern features including indoor bathrooms and central heating, which was a huge luxury at that time.

But despite taking 30 years to complete, Harlech Tower fell into disrepair fairly quickly - which made it so perfect to feature in Only Fools and Horses as the dingy home of a working-class family. Ealing Council is planning to replace the "shabby" tower blocks high-quality homes that will be able to accommodate more people. In a statement, a spokesperson from Ealing Council explained the importance of replacing Harlech Tower and the plans to provide social housing in the area in the future.

They said: "In 1949, work began to clear the old housing in South Acton and replace it with a new estate centred on large tower blocks of the kind that sprang up across the country after World War Two. The redevelopment – widely considered at the time to be a huge step forward, with indoor bathrooms and central heating – took over 30 years to complete.

Harlech tower in London has been described as 'shabby' despite being featured on hit comedy Only Fools and Horses -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon
Harlech tower in London has been described as 'shabby' despite being featured on hit comedy Only Fools and Horses -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

"Unfortunately, it also quickly fell into decline, suffering from the same fundamental design and social issues that blighted many post-war high-rise estates. Harlech Tower was already so shabby by 1981 that it perfectly fitted the bill when BBC producers were casting the down-at-heel Nelson Mandela House for Only Fools and Horses’ opening credits. Although we have worked hard to maintain it, it has not got any better in the 43 years that have since passed."

The continued: "As it is nearing the end of its life expectancy, the South Acton estate is currently undergoing an £850 million rejuvenation to become Acton Gardens, which will eventually provide around 3,500 brand new high-quality, safe, and energy-efficient homes alongside a community hall, youth centre, and other facilities.

"There will be twice as many homes at the rebuilt estate than before the regeneration programme started. More than 40% of all new homes will be genuinely affordable – in other words, let at social rent levels. And two thirds of the new homes will be family-sized, replacing the one-bed homes which dominated the old estate."

The spokesperson confirmed: "The regeneration programme has proved very popular with existing residents – the vast majority have exercised their right to request a new home at the redeveloped estate. The decanting of Harlech Tower’s residents so it can be demolished is provisionally earmarked for 2027."

A general view of the Harlech Tower in London
A general view of the Harlech Tower in London -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

What is Harlech Tower like now?

I was giddy to visit the "home" of the Trotter family before it becomes a piece of history and as I approached the Ealing estate, Hooky Street played over in my head. The exterior looked neat and several council workers were maintaining the grounds, it looked pretty decent and not in any disrepair - until I went inside.

In the yellow communal hallways, there was paint peeling from the walls, lights that didn't work in some areas making it very dark and dingy - and rather uncomfortable, and walls crumbling. But what shocked me was the metal security coverings over the windows of the hallways, it felt like a prison.

The ceiling had also seen better days with parts of it missing and wiring dangling down on some floors. The interiors were shabby and needs a complete makeover.

But despite all of this, I spoke to a few residents living in Harlech Tower and no one had any complaints, but one person also didn't even know the tower was being demolished.

The communal hallways in Harlech Tower are run down
The communal hallways in Harlech Tower are run down -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

'I remember the famous Yellow car outside'

There is no doubt about it, the residents at Harlech Tower are very welcoming and kind with three people from different properties taking the time to speak to me about their experiences living there.

I was even invited me into their homes to have a look around and I was blown away by the size of them and how much natural light they let in. There are long hallways with rooms coming off on each side with brilliant viewers across West London, I could even see as far as Wembley from one flat.

Speaking to MyLondon from inside her cosy flat, Beverly, 75, explained how she had lived in Harlech Tower since the late 1980s and remembers the Trotters' famous yellow Reliant Regal parked outside.

A general view from the Harlech Tower in London
A general view from the Harlech Tower in London -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

She said: "I remember on the odd occasion the three-wheeled car used to come along to the little street along here, you can see it from the balcony, and there would be camera crews and all that around, maybe two or three times since I have been here.

"I am very blessed to live here because of the size, it's very convenient for trains, tubes, buses, the size of the flat, and the windows. There have been big changes since we moved in, but I think I'm very fortunate to live here. I mean nowhere is perfect is it, but like last year I had quite a big of a problem with damp coming down - and they (Ealing Council) fixed it very well.

"I know there are still problems with infrastructure, I don't know when they are going to knock it down as they keep changing the date, in 2027 is the latest I've heard."

Speaking about the prospect of Harlech Tower being taken down, Beverly added: "I feel sad in a way. I heard somebody was going to buy their flat and they had a surveyor come round and they told them it's not worth buying it because of the infrastructure of the building, it's getting old and crumbly, it would be a big job to keep it up to a standard."

A general view inside of Harlech Tower in Acton, London,
A general view inside of Harlech Tower in Acton, London -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

What do the other residents at Harlech Tower say?

One resident, who wished to not be named, had lived in the building for only nine weeks and was very happy with her high-rise home. She said: "I like living in Acton, it's a nice area. The neighbours are nice, it's quiet. I have had no problems with anyone and everything in my flat works well. It's a good flat, it's nice and I have a lot of space."

After having a conversation about Ealing Council's plan to knock the block down, the resident expressed her surprise as she "hadn't been made aware" of the plans but was happy with her living conditions, and to stay there for the next few years.

Another resident named Shaba, 55, has lived in Harlech Tower for 18 months after she was decanted from a neighbouring tower where she had lived for 11 years. But despite having to move home from one tower block to another, she also expressed her gratitude for her home.

She said: "I have no problems, I enjoy living here. I don't mind that they are redeveloping the area as I just moved opposite, I'm still in the area and I'm so happy". Shaba had been informed that Harlech Tower was also listed to be destroyed but was confident she would stay in the area that she "loves" and was thankful for any home she would be given by Ealing Council.

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