As one of Britain’s best loved comic and dramatic actors over almost half a century, Sir David Jason looks back on an incredible career…
National treasure, godfather of British TV, one of the greatest comedy actors of all-time – however you wish to describe Sir David Jason, ‘living legend’ just about sums it up.
The 73-year-old has spent nearly 50 years in the entertainment business, from the stage to the radio via the small screen, where as beloved characters such as Granville, Jack Frost and, of course, Derek Trotter he has become one of the most successful, enduring and adored actors in television history.
His roles in Only Fools and Horses, Open All Hours and A Touch of Frost (to name but three) have cemented David’s place in history, and thrillingly for his legions of fans, the London-born star’s personal history is now being told for the first time in his own words via his newly released autobiography, My Life.
“I didn’t want it – I didn’t want to talk about myself,” he shrugs. “But I’ve had two unofficial ones done over the years; terrible books that people wanted to cash in on. And I thought ‘this is a rip off!’ It’s not fair. So I wanted the story told in my own language.”
Recalling his lengthy career was assisted by the swathes of keepsakes and memorabilia he’s preserved from various roles, such as his first ever TV part in Crossroads in 1964. “I was so pleased with what I was doing,” he smiles, “I wanted to keep a memory of it. Every job that I did, every show I was on I have a programme, reviews which I kept, photographs as well.”
He calls the process ‘a curate’s egg’, some parts more enjoyable than others, and admits there was a bittersweet element to recalling the happy moments of his life.
“When you look back on some of the good times and the fun times you had, you realise it has gone. For example, every single episode of Fools and Horses, Open All Hours, Frost, everything that I’ve done… you couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to go to work because you knew you were going to work to make yourself laugh. And because of that, when you remember those good times, you realise that it’s in the past and you can’t grab hold of them, it’s gone. That was the most difficult thing.”
“But the book tells the story, which is what everybody wanted. Nothing is too serious. There are one or two moments, obviously, like when Myfanwy [his partner of 18 years who died in 1995] was diagnosed with cancer, I had to go through all that side, but then everyone’s life has ups and downs. Nobody wants that to happen, nobody wants their nearest and dearest or a good friend to die, but it happens. But otherwise – at least I’ve told it and nobody else has!”
Although he had already enjoyed success as the naïve Granville, Ronnie Barker’s shop assistant in Open All Hours, in 1981 he landed the role that changed his life. David’s portrayal of the underhand market salesman and lovable rogue Derek Trotter in Only Fools and Horses is undisputedly one of the greatest sitcom performances ever. The show provided so many classic moments that are ingrained in the national psyche.
David explains the secret formula: “Well, the first thing is it is funny. The second thing is that it is British, and British humour is something everyone can relate to and they also relate to the struggles of the working man – or the not working man! Someone who would do anything to succeed, to earn a crust, to keep the wolf from the door. All the characters were very funny, silly. But basically it was all about people you recognised.”
Fans will be delighted to hear of his new one-off Christmas episode of Open All Hours, with David “playing Ronnie’s part, so I am taking over the shop. And now, I’m really an Arkwright. And I’m looking forward to that,” he smiles. And it’s testament to his longevity as a successful actor, of which he’s only too appreciative.
“I never thought until I started to do this book how many successful shows I have been in, right from the theatre into television. There were so many actors I worked with when we were all struggling to make a living, all in love with the business, but so many fell by the wayside. And yet I am still here!”