Only Fools and Horses celebrated its 40th-anniversary last year, and the sitcom is still famous all over the world, renowned as one of the staples of British culture in the 20th Century. We all have our favourite characters from the long-running BBC show, and for many, that was lovable Uncle Albert – portrayed by the iconic Buster Merryfield.
Although he died of a brain tumour in 1999, his memory lives on in the hearts of viewers and his fellow cast and crew. The actor joined the cast of the show, set in Peckham, in 1985 as a replacement for Lennard Pearce’s granddad after he died.
Only Fools and Horses ran from 1981 to 2003 and dozens of actors forged successful acting careers following their stints on the programme – not just Del Boy and Rodney Trotter actors, David Jason and Nicolas Lyndhurst. Merryfield quickly became a fan favourite and was a natural on screen, but his job before acting was far more normal.
Born in Battersea as Harry Merryfield to an ordinary working-class family in 1920, just two years after the end of the First World War, he suffered a huge loss early on in his life when his sister Irene died and the shockingly young age of eight. The reason for his nickname, Buster, is owed to his grandfather, who called him it due to the fact he weighed, an above-average, nine pounds when he was born.
Even super fans of the show might be shocked to read that he was an incredible athlete, and quickly rose up the ranks in the world of child boxing in the 1930s. He was so successful inside the ring that he was in fact named British Schools Champion in 1936 – a high honour indeed.
Buster put his fitness skills to good use when he joined the army at the start of the Second World War in 1939. He quickly rose to the rank of jungle warfare instructor before being discharged in 1946 – one year after the war had come to an end.
After the war, he settled into an incredibly ordinary job, working as a bank manager for 40 years. He was incredibly late to the world of acting, not landing his breakthrough role in Only Fools and Horses until he was 57 years old. When Buster arrived in Peckham as Albert Gladstone Trotter, he became an instant success.
Audiences warmed to his character immediately however in real life Buster was nothing like the man he pretended to be on screen. The fitness nut was a teetotal non-smoker his entire life which isn’t something you can imagine Albert attempting even for a week.
After 14 years on the show and 37 hilarious episodes, Buster was eventually written out of the show following his death from a brain tumour in 1999, shortly after his 78th birthday. The character of Uncle Albert was written out of the show during the If They Could See Us Now episode when Cassandra took a phone call and was informed of his death. Buster was buried in Poole, Dorset, alongside his loving wife Iris.