David Jason reveals his favourite Only Fools & Horses episode & why it makes him sad – and names very famous superfan
ONLY Fools And Horses is Britain’s best-loved sitcom – and its 1996 episode Time On Our Hands holds the record for our most watched comedy ever, with 24.3million delighted viewers tuning in.
Fans love to debate what the show’s best bits are, but what does Del Boy himself – David Jason – think?
The acting legend reveals some of his most treasured memories of playing the Cockney wheeler dealer in his new book, The Twelve Dels Of Christmas.
Here, in exclusive extracts from the book, he shares the moments that make him laugh, cry . . . and swell with pride.
- Extracted by EMILY FAIRBAIRN from The Twelve Dels Of Christmas, by David Jason, (Century), out on October 13, £22. ©David Jason
THERE weren’t many situations involving Only Fools where Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad, didn’t seem to be enjoying himself enormously.
The whole experience appeared to come as a fantastic gift to him at a point in his career when he had begun to think he was edging towards that state nearly every actor dreads: Retirement.
He really relished it.
Actually, now I come to think about it, there was one time when Lennard wasn’t entirely buoyant about the way things were going, and that was when Nick Lyndhurst and I crept into the dressing room, where his costume was laid out ready for him, and nailed his shoes to the floor.
That really didn’t go down well.
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Normally Lennard would see the funny side of a prank very quickly — which was a highly necessary attribute to have on the set of Only Fools.
But with this one I think we must have just got him at the wrong time or something, because he absolutely lost it.
At one point he was even threatening to get the police involved which, of course, only made Nick and me laugh harder.
DIAMONDS ARE FOR HEATHER
I’VE got quite a soft spot for Diamonds Are For Heather, the 1982 Christmas special in which Del falls head over heels for a single mum called Heather — played by Rosalind Lloyd — investing himself wholly in both her and her little son, only to be rejected by her in the end.
If I managed to make something ring true about Del’s predicament in those scenes then maybe that wasn’t entirely a surprise, given where I was in my own life at that stage.
I was getting into my forties, and surrounded by friends and colleagues who had long since started having families, and naturally wondering if, having wholeheartedly dedicated the last 15 years to doing all the acting I possibly could and to trying to build a career, I might have missed the boat in that regard.
Of course, with regard to that particular boat, I got exceptionally lucky eventually — as, indeed, would Del in due course.
But in the meantime I definitely had the odd bout of anxious reflection about the pros and cons of the choices I had so far made.
I tend to resist comparisons between myself and Del, the two of us being — as I am always extremely keen to point out — such different people.
But in the case of the kind of melancholy thoughts about his future that Del was having, I can make a small exception. This was acting for which I’d done a bit of research.
HULL AND BACK
THE 1985 Christmas special, To Hull And Back, was a 90-minute film, shot over six weeks, with a budget that ran to location shoots on the North Sea and in Amsterdam.
Unimaginable luxuries. It felt like we had graduated to the movies.
Lots of scenes stay with me, but I particularly enjoyed doing that bit when the motion of the boat on the waves causes Del to be abruptly overcome with a surge of patriotism and to step across the deck with some declamatory oratory in celebration of “this septic isle”, while Rodney is in the background, trying to hold on to the contents of his stomach.
That was great fun to do, although Nick barely needed to act at that point.
And then, of course, there was the now famous sequence with Del shouting up to an oil worker to be pointed the right way.
We all loved that gag and thought it was an absolutely brilliant piece of imagination by writer John Sullivan, as well as a defining Trotter moment.
Getting lost in the North Sea and stopping to ask directions from an oil rig? It doesn’t really get much more Trotter than that.
That said, Nick tells a story about explaining to one of the oil rig guys how this joke was going to play out, and being a bit disappointed to get no real reaction from him at all, and certainly not the belly laugh Nick had been hoping for.
“Yeah,” the guy eventually said, matter-of-factly. “You’d be surprised how often that happens.”
FILMING this episode in Florida in 1991 I had the opportunity to shout across the water at Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, and then, later, take tea and a piece of cake at Barry’s gaff overlooking the water.
Where I learned, incidentally, that he was a) admirably down to earth and b) just the most enormous fan of our show.
As an ex-pat, Barry apparently used to insist on having two things flown out to him from the UK that he couldn’t get in the States: Jaffa Cakes and tapes of Only Fools And Horses. Ah, that rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
And I vividly recall the Miami hotel we stayed in and drinking cocktails and hanging out in the sun with Nick and mucking about on boats in the Everglades and thinking: “Is this actually work?”
I also vividly recall the looks on the faces of some of the cast when the scripts were handed round and they realised that they weren’t in those scenes.
IF I was picking episodes on the basis of “moments that made me laugh then and still make me laugh now”, well, I’d be a long time getting to the bottom of that particular pile, but Buster Merryfield’s gasp of horror in Rodney Come Home, the special from 1990, will always rank highly with me in this category — and not just because I actually DID laugh at the time.
The set-up is that Rodney and Cassandra are, yet again, having some relationship difficulties, and this time Rodney seems to be planning a crafty date with another woman.
Del, who is appalled, instructs Uncle Albert to assist him with the talking-to that he is about to give his brother by injecting an expression of shocked moral horror into the conversation at the appropriate moment.
The gormless intake of breath that Buster came up with for that moment is rightly treasured — Bafta-worthy on its own, if you ask me.
But when Buster produces that gasp for the third, entirely incorrect time, I’m afraid I go.
As I swipe at him with the newspaper and deliver the line, “I’ll whack you one in a minute, believe me”, there’s a smile in my eyes that, strictly speaking, ought not to be there.
Or I might go for Fatal Extraction and the scene where Del’s late-night, over-refreshed and altogether utterly terrible singing of the Barry Manilow ballad One Voice starts a full-scale riot on the estate.
That seems exactly as funny to me today as it did then, if not a little more so.
And finally I had found a part in which my singing voice — never the strongest weapon in my acting armoury — could be used convincingly.
Initially a professional singer was brought in to cover for me.
I thought about this development for a while: The implicit assumption was that my voice was so bad that I couldn’t even be trusted to sing badly.
Was I a little hurt by that suggestion? I may have been.
And did I feel a small but satisfying burst of vindication when the singer’s recording was dubbed on to the footage and it didn’t really sound right, obliging them to come back to me and ask if I could step in after all?
No, actually, because I really don’t like singing.
MY FAVOURITE EPISODE
MY favourite episode is a question too knotty to be resolved.
But if I could only keep one it would be The Jolly Boys’ Outing, the special for 1989.
And yes, it’s partly the exploding coach, because that’s such an enormous comic moment — wonderfully framed by the conversation that Rodney is having with Cassandra from the nearby phone box, defending his brother against Cassandra’s accusation that something always goes wrong when Del is around.
“I agree that Del gets a bit out of hand. But I think it’s unfair to say that everything he touches goes wrong.” Kaboom!
But more than that, even, it’s the sequence where Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ plays as we see the cast on board the coach to Margate, and the day’s high jinks starting to unfold.
And yes, the show would get bigger than this: The trilogy for Christmas in 1996 would rise to its giddy heights, the Time On Our Hands episode would find that 24.3million audience and break records for good and practically set fire to The National Grid, which, of course, would have been a very Trotter-y thing to happen.
But, for me, the magic of Only Fools is compressed into this single sequence from seven years earlier — the gang of friends that the cast had become, and the sheer fun of it all. And so many of those faces no longer with us, of course.
Nowadays the glimpse of John Challis reaching across to swipe my hat off is so poignant that I practically have to close my eyes, and the whole thing is a world that’s gone.
So if someone were to ask me to sum up what, at its very best, it felt like to be in the cast of Only Fools And Horses, I would tell them to watch that sequence.
Because that’s what it felt like, right there.
HINDI, the official language of India, has no word for “plonker”.
How do I know this? Because I went to a conference centre in a hotel near Bedford in May this year and it turns out that it’s the kind of thing you learn when you do that.
It was in the Sharnbrook Hotel, and the occasion was the Only Fools And Horses Appreciation Society’s 40th Anniversary Convention, marking 40 years since the show’s launch, in 1981.
You don’t need to be Rodney and have the relevant GCSE up your sleeve to be able to do the maths here to find the numbers slightly wonky.
This anniversary event was booked in for 2021, but the pandemic got in the way.
Incidentally, were I a less easy-going kind of person, and more swift to take offence, I might have had cause to remark that it was nice of someone to make an effort to mark the show’s 40th anniversary.
I don’t mean to sound touchy, but others — such as, for instance, anybody in any kind of position of eminence at the BBC — had shown strangely little inclination to mention it.
If there was a note or a card or even a one-line email from the corporation’s upper echelons, saying, “Blimey, doesn’t time fly? Forty glorious years!”, or, better still, “Here’s an evening of commemorative programming on BBC2”, I certainly never saw it.
Neither did we hear anything when Only Fools was voted the favourite BBC programme of all time by The One Show’s viewers.
We took a little time to celebrate the 40th anniversary for ourselves, near Bedford that weekend.
I lost count of the sheer volume and variety of items I signed that weekend — from Reliant Regal doors to a white leatherette cocktail bar and even a woman’s arm, who planned to have my signature turned into a tattoo.
And then came the person who told me about watching Only Fools in India, and realising that the all-important term “plonker” had no natural Hindi equivalent.
In the Hindi dubbed version, apparently, it is rendered simply and consistently as “plonker”.
Don’t ask me how the translators got on with “dipstick”, but it seems they found a way.
Ah, the things that Britain has given the world — in this case, it seems, an untranslatable insult.
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Or perhaps more likely, an insult in no need of translation, whose meaning globally transcends the barriers of language and culture alike.
For my own small part in bringing the people of the globe together like this, I couldn’t be more proud, I’m sure.