David Ja­son

Don’t be a wally! He starred in some of TV’s big­gest hits and is back in Still Open All Hours. Just don’t get David Ja­son started on what he got paid (or swear­ing, re­al­ity shows and the PC brigade). By Louise Gan­non

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS -

M ON dieu! David Ja­son (aka Del Boy Trot­ter) has just re­alised that he has been a ‘42-carat plonker’, hav­ing been ‘done over’ by the BBC. He’s here to­day to cel­e­brate the re­turn of Still Open All Hours – the se­quel to the com­edy in which he first made his name along­side the late Ron­nie Barker in the Seven­ties – fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful one-off fes­tive spe­cial. And it turns out that it was Ja­son who sug­gested the BBC re­vive the show in the first place.

Lovely jub­bly, I say. Life must be cushty – surely the BBC gave him a nice lit­tle bung on top of his salary for com­ing up with that idea? Ja­son looks mo­men­tar­ily stricken. ‘No, they didn’t,’ he laughs, as it dawns on him he might have been some­thing of a dip­stick in the ne­go­ti­a­tions depart­ment. ‘I never even thought of that. And no­body else men­tioned it.’

Never mind, I say. It would surely be just a drop in the ocean for a man who must have made mil­lions with the uni­ver­sally ad­mired Only Fools And Horses, which drew a vast au­di­ence and holds the record for the most pop­u­lar sit­com episode of all time, with 24.3 mil­lion view­ers for the 1996 Christ­mas spe­cial. When su­per­fan David Beck­ham joined Ja­son and Ni­cholas Lyndhurst (Rod­ney Trot­ter) for a Sports Re­lief sketch in 2014, the mil­lion­aire foot­baller said af­ter­wards: ‘Now I can die a happy man.’ Ja­son opens his mouth to say some­thing, then stops and shakes his head. ‘Don’t get me started on BBC salaries,’ he says. ‘Sit­u­a­tion com­edy has al­ways been the poor re­la­tion in the tele­vi­sion en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. It doesn’t mat­ter how pop­u­lar you are, if you are a job­bing actor, you are a job­bing actor. The clever ones these days set up their own pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and make the money that way. But it wasn’t re­ally done in my day, you got what you got. And that was never as much as peo­ple thought.’

Nev­er­the­less, Ja­son, 76, is clearly get­ting by OK. He lives a com­fort­able life in a nice house in the coun­try with his wife of 11 years, Gill Hinch­cliffe, 56, a for­mer floor man­ager and mother of his 15-year-old daugh­ter, So­phie Mae. He clearly wears good clothes – to­day he’s sport­ing a well­cut tweed jacket and an ex­pen­sive tai­lored shirt – and he is a qual­i­fied he­li­copter pi­lot, al­though he doesn’t own his own he­li­copter.

Yet he’s never cashed in by star­ring in a block­buster movie or ap­pear­ing in a lu­cra­tive ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, though at the height of his fame in the Eight­ies, Nineties and Noughties, Ja­son was the king of prime­time TV, mov­ing from Only Fools to The Dar­ling Buds Of May and A Touch Of Frost. ‘Peo­ple look at things dif­fer­ently now. It’s all about money and fame. I be­came an actor be­cause I wanted to be­come an actor. But what I re­ally wanted was suc­cess, which is a dif­fer­ent thing from fame and money. We are liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world to­day, where peo­ple con­fuse those things. I’ve been ap­proached to do re­al­ity shows but even though the fees are very, very at­trac­tive, I al­ways say no be­cause money should never be your mo­ti­va­tion.

‘Ron­nie Barker, who I still call The Gu­vnor, gave me the best ad­vice of my ca­reer. He used to say that as per­form­ers we are our own cur­rency and you must spend it wisely.

‘When my ca­reer was at its ab­so­lute height with Fools, it was Ron­nie’s words that kept my feet on the ground. There were no flash cars or fast women for me. I kept my head down, got on with the job. I never wanted to be a star, I’ve never had any time for that. I just wanted to be thought of as good at what I do and to have good stan­dards. You’ve got to have stan­dards.’ T HERE is per­haps an­other rea­son why he has never been of­fered a big movie or a Net­flix role. He ab­so­lutely re­fuses to con­sider a part that in­volves fruity lan­guage. ‘Don’t get me started on swear­ing,’ he says. ‘It’s all over the place. In come­dies on tele­vi­sion now peo­ple swear. All the time. It drives me in­sane.’ Would he ever look at a script con­tain­ing a pro­fan­ity? He shakes his head.

It is an un­fash­ion­able point of view but Ja­son does not fol­low fash­ion. His opin­ion of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is that we live in a world gone mad. He him­self has been hauled over the coals by

‘the PC brigade’. Ear­lier this year he was ac­cused of racism when, dur­ing a Ju­bilee ra­dio broad­cast, he re­counted a story the Queen had once told about mis­tak­ing an am­bas­sador for a go­rilla. ‘It’s all gone too far,’ he says. ‘We should be able to laugh at our­selves. Com­edy is an­ar­chy and if you start mak­ing rules about what we can­not laugh about then it’s all lost.

‘I find it sad that we al­low the voices on Twit­ter and the like to take over and dic­tate what we can say. It’s given too much cre­dence. A lot of the com­edy I’ve done couldn’t be done to­day for those rea­sons. My first role with Ron­nie Barker was when he was play­ing Ab­dul The Filthy and he was throw­ing banana skins and I was slip­ping on them.

‘When we did Open All Hours, Ron­nie wanted Ark­wright to have a stut­ter. We had two let­ters of com­plaint sent to us and two let­ters from peo­ple say­ing they were pleased Ron­nie was bring­ing stut­ter­ing to the fore. We did all have a dis­cus­sion about it. The pro­duc­ers talked to Ron­nie. Ron­nie stood his ground and said the char­ac­ter is funny and that the stut­ter­ing was a comic de­vice that worked on sev­eral lev­els. The pro­ducer wrote a long let­ter back to the four peo­ple and the whole mat­ter was dis­cussed, thought about, ex­plained and dealt with. Now you just need one com­ment to de­stroy ev­ery­thing.’

Now in his eighth decade, it’s Ja­son who dom­i­nates the screen as the hap­lessly grumpy Granville in the ex­ple­tive-free Still Open All Hours, along­side a new cast in­clud­ing Johnny Ve­gas and Tim Healy. The orig­i­nal series, which starred Barker as penny-pinch­ing north­ern shop­keeper Ark­wright, ran from 1975 to 1983. It was the show that trans­formed Ja­son’s ca­reer and the series that per­suaded Only Fools pro­ducer, Ray Butt, to cast him as Del Boy af­ter Jim Broad­bent turned down the role.

Per­haps the rea­son why Ja­son is so loved by the pub­lic is that he has al­ways been an un­der­dog. Even his great­est mo­ments have been tinged with re­gret. When he was knighted by the Queen in 2005, he was dis­ap­pointed that she clearly had no idea of the mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity of his TV shows. The only re­mark she made was, ‘You’ve been in this busi­ness a long time.’

He says rue­fully, ‘She didn’t know who I was. I have no idea why. But I know the Queen Mum loved Only Fools.’

Ja­son was born David White in 1940, the son of a Welsh char­lady and a Lon­don fish­mar­ket porter. His twin brother died at birth, though he re­futes the much-re­peated as­sump­tion that his death made him strive harder in life, and his el­dest brother, Arthur, won a place at Rada to study drama (the broth­ers have ap­peared to­gether on screen in Frost). His fa­ther would not, how­ever, let his youngest son fol­low the same path and in­sisted on him get­ting an ap­pren­tice­ship, so he spent six years as an elec­tri­cian be­fore fi­nally pluck­ing up the courage to pur­sue his real dream of act­ing.

HE SPENT years in reper­tory the­atre, which he says was a valu­able train­ing ground – ‘you haven’t lived un­til you stand on a freez­ing rail­way sta­tion in Crewe in the early hours of the morn­ing try­ing to find a place where you can get a cup of tea’ – be­fore be­ing of­fered parts in TV sketch shows. In 1967 he was brought in as the to­ken work­ing-class comic to star along­side Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Do Not Ad­just Your Set be­cause the show’s pro­ducer wanted some­one to off­set their in­tel­lec­tual hu­mour. When the show ended in 1969, Idle, Palin and Jones left to set up Monty Python with­out him. He then tried out for the role of Cor­po­ral Jones in Dad’s Army but was re­jected in favour of Clive Dunn. ‘I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed at the time in both cases,’ he says. ‘You build yourself up, you think some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen and then it doesn’t. I should have been in Monty Python. I should have been in Dad’s Army. But I wasn’t. They didn’t want me. You pick yourself up and you look for an­other fork in the road. And it can be hard at the time but it worked in my favour. ‘When I started work­ing with Ron­nie Barker [he first ap­peared in Hark At Barker in 1969] he gave me a lot of con­fi­dence. He told me I had good comic tim­ing. I was good at fall­ing over. He liked that. And he took me un­der his wing. I lis­tened, I learned and I worked and worked and worked.’ He pauses and smiles as he em­pha­sises a more se­ri­ous point. ‘So when peo­ple say to me I’ve been lucky be­cause of Only Fools and Open All Hours and Dar­ling Buds I think of good old Don­ald Sin­den, who said: ‘I tend to find the lucky peo­ple are the ones who work the hard­est.’

I ask if he is in touch with his for­mer co-star Cather­ine Zeta-Jones, the Ma­ri­ette to his Pop in The Dar­ling Buds Of May. ‘I had lunch with her and her hus­band a year or so ago when they were rent­ing a house near Rich­mond. What I loved was when I turned up, Michael [Dou­glas] had been in the pool. He greeted me com­pletely drenched and drip­ping in his trunks. Cather­ine told him off and he said: ‘What’s the prob­lem? He’s our friend. We can be just who we are.’ He’s a great actor who has man­aged to keep his feet on the ground and I like that. And Cather­ine has al­ways been a won­der­ful girl.’

Ja­son says he has lived his life back­wards. In his 20s, 30s and 40s he worked non-stop. His long-term girl­friend was the Welsh ac­tress My­fanwy Ta­log, and they spent 18 years to­gether un­til her death from breast cancer in 1995. Dev­as­tated by the loss, he threw him­self into work­ing even harder. ‘I didn’t ever think there would be a fam­ily for me in my life – all I ever thought I would have is my work,’ he says.

But sev­eral years later he be­gan a re­la­tion­ship with York­shire Tele­vi­sion floor as­sis­tant Gill. In 2001 she gave birth to their daugh­ter So­phie and in 2005 they mar­ried the day be­fore he re­ceived his knight­hood, with So­phie act­ing as brides­maid.

So how does he find be­ing a fa­ther to a teenage girl at the age of 76? ‘I don’t think of my­self as old,’ he says. ‘In my head I’m still in my 30s. It al­ways con­fuses me when peo­ple ask me about my age. I don’t think of my­self as an older fa­ther, just as a fa­ther.’

Is he strict? ‘I don’t think so,’ he says. ‘My daugh­ter is a clever girl. She’s happy, we have a lot of fun to­gether.’ As an old-fash­ioned fa­ther did he change nap­pies? ‘Of course I did,’ he snaps. ‘I can’t say it was pleas­ant but I did it.’

Has Ja­son ever felt it is time to hang up his flat cap and re­tire? He looks as­ton­ished. ‘Never,’ he says. ‘Why would I do that? You don’t do this be­cause it’s a job. You do it be­cause it’s a vo­ca­tion. It’s just the parts you need. I’m not rest­ing, I’m read­ing. I’m wait­ing for more good parts. And I will keep read­ing un­til I find some­thing spe­cial.’ „‘Still Open All Hours’ is on BBC1 at 8.30pm on Sun­day

David Ja­son to­day (left); with James Bax­ter and Lynda Baron in Still Open All Hours (above); and with Buster Mer­ry­field and Ni­cholas Lyndhurst in Only Fools And Horses David as Pop Larkin with Cather­ine Zeta-Jones in The Dar­ling Buds Of May

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