Only Fools and Stories by David Jason – Review
By Roger Crow
Years ago, while on a day trip from Orlando to Miami, the ex-pat tour guide popped an episode of Only Fools and Horses on the coach DVD player. When we arrived in town for a few hours, nobody got off the coach until the episode finished. Such is the power of David Jason, one of the best loved actors of the past few decades. An old episode of a show pretty much everyone had seen was strong enough to stop them spending precious minutes of their day in Miami. (I later told that story to John Challis, aka Boycie, who was amazed).
But while Jason is undoubtedly a great actor, many forget he’s also a terrific storyteller, as he proves in his latest book, Only Fools and Stories. (He does remark that the 1991 Christmas special ‘Miami Twice’ is his favourite episode, probably because cast and crew got to spend a few days filming in the Sunshine State).
It opens, as all celebrity memoirs should, with a bang. Or thankfully a lack of one as he agrees to present an award in Afghanistan for ITV. The thought of cuddly David Jason in a war-torn area is enough to get me hooked. And it’s that fish-out-of-water premise that draws me in. Had it been a later chapter in which he goes through a stack of old props for an Only Fools and Horses documentary, I might have been underwhelmed.
Not that it’s a dull chapter at all. You can sense the waves of nostalgia emanating through the pages, especially as cardboard boxes from the Trotters’ flat generate the most profound emotions. The book, after all, promises memories of John Sullivan’s classic sitcom, and as someone who still remembers watching that first episode on the night of its original transmission, as well as every episode after, I’m more than happy to take a trip down “Magnifique Hooky Street”.
By the time Jason reveals how Sullivan got his break in TV comedy writing, I’m hooked. I was lucky enough to meet the much missed writer at a Press launch in 1996 for a long forgotten show called Over Here. His determination to succeed as a writer, as detailed by Jason, is an inspiration for anyone with a passion for sitcoms and writing. Little wonder I soak up that chapter like blotting paper on fresh ink.
It’s not long before I’m lost in Jason’s memories, amazed that he was originally going to play Clive Dunn’s character Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army, and actually was cast in the role – for about two hours. Or that Enn Reitel was among the top choices for Del Boy, along with Robin Nedwell; Jason was further down the list. Though it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role now, even Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent, was considered.
As Jason auditions for the part of Del Boy (he was originally considered for Grandad), it’s great to see how fate lends a hand. Some thought he was light years away from the role of Del, but a snooker game years earlier came to play a crucial part in convincing the powers that be that maybe he did have what it takes to play the role. Of course he did. Anyone with any sense can see that now, but in the early eighties, with thousands of pounds of licence payers’ money at stake, the show backers wanted a sure thing.
Obviously Jason landed the role, but it’s the little secrets of how he dressed and played the part that really appeal. A story involving Robin Nedwell, a gold medallion and Eric Morecambe is gloriously funny, along with his memories of recording advert voice overs with an unsung legend like Bill Mitchell.
When I reach the first set of photos (amazingly I hadn’t checked them out until I’d read the first chunk), I’m stunned to see Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst sat down the road from where those reluctant passengers refused to get off the bus in Miami until they had finished watching that episode. Looking back on it, I can see why.
‘Only Fools’ might be seen now as one of those knockabout sitcoms, filled with iconic scenes involving blow up dolls, a dropping chandelier, and that perfect pratfall, but the beating heart of it was the relationship between the protagonists. When Del deliberately stops that lift to get Rodney to talk about his fractured relationship with Cassandra, that’s the stuff which keeps viewers hooked.
And while David Jason’s new book might look like a generic celeb’s memoirs, it soon turns out to be one of my favourite of the year. Beautifully written with a great tone of voice, and plenty of self deprecating lines, I can see it shifting copies by the truck load in the run up to Christmas rather than clogging up warehouses ready for pulping like an Alan Partridge tome.
Whether you’re a showbiz addict like me or just love great stories expertly told, this is an essential purchase.
‘Only Fools and Stories’ by David Jason is published by Century, £20