David Jason on living in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 10:16 16 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:53 02 May 2018
The acting world has taken Sir David Jason to all points of the compass, but today he can't imagine living anywhere other than in his beloved Bucks, Sue Bromley learns
Star of Only Fools and Horses, Open All Hours and A Touch of Frost, Sir David Jason is arguably one of the greatest actors British television has ever produced.
Now 73 years old, the north London-born star admits to being in the twilight of his career, but not only does he continue to work (Open All Hours – the sitcom in which he starred alongside Ronnie Barker, who began his career in Aylesbury – returns this Christmas), he is also active in the local community of Ellesborough, where he has long made his home.
“I love where we live,” he begins. “It’s got great transport links into London and it’s so pleasant and green. I think, over time, you definitely mould yourself into a place, and that’s definitely the case here. I certainly couldn’t see myself living anywhere else now.”
Indeed, David’s impact on those around him is considerable. He was, after all, instrumental in setting up the Chilterns MS Centre to help local Multiple Sclerosis sufferers, a cause he became involved with when he first met a local woman who was suffering with the disease. So distressed was he that there was no official, specialised medical centre, the actor went about championing the cause, and now a full facility has been built.
“I opened the new centre in September 2012 and it has been a really important thing to be involved in. People talk about actors using their influence and I think the public can become a bit untrusting of it, but this was something genuinely from the heart and if I can’t use my status for something productive and important like that, then what can I use it for?
“And the big thing for me was that it was local – that’s really why I got involved. I was quite moved by the woman who was fighting to get a proper centre for MS sufferers, so I thought I’d throw my hat in.”
As one of the country’s best-loved stars, David Jason’s first autobiography, My Life, has been much anticipated. After all, multiple generations have grown up watching the actor in his various guises – from early theatre roles to award-winning TV work.
“It’s me coming out and saying things in my own words, finally,” he laughs. “There’s a lot of humour in there and I wanted things spoken with my voice, not someone looking in from the outside. To be honest, I was reluctant to do the autobiography – for a few reasons really.
“I’m quite a private person, and there were elements in there I knew I’d have to cover – like my late partner Myfanwy passing away – that I was understandably cautious about.
“But at the end of the day I really like how it has come out. It’s honest, good fun and it’s how I would like things told, so it’s a good result, definitely.”
Actress Myfanwy Talog and David were together for 18 years until her death from breast cancer at Stoke Mandeville’s Florence Nightingale Hospice in 1995.
Eventually he found love again, with Gill Hinchcliffe, who was a floor assistant with Yorkshire Television. Fate was going to play its part because despite the distance between where each lived, work kept throwing them together.
To David’s surprise and delight, a ‘connection’ grew into a very strong relationship and in 2001 their daughter Sophie was born. Their marriage at The Dorchester, London, was a small, private affair with close family members and friends present.
While writing the book, did the actor become sentimental over some of those roles from decades gone by?
“I think it gave me an opportunity to be really proud of what I’ve done, definitely,” he says. “Sometimes it’s all a bit of a blur, but I look back now and I realise I’ve had a pretty good ride.
“And what certainly did come out from the book was how lucky I’ve been to have worked with a number of incredible people. Obviously Ronnie Barker is right up there, but the likes of Nicholas Lyndhurst and Catherine Zeta-Jones as well – some great actors and actresses.
“And then there’s John Sullivan, writer of Only Fools and Horses. John and I used to have a fantastic relationship; we used to get on so well. I still miss John to this day, but his mark on British comedy is there forever.”
And, in comparison, few would disagree that David’s turn as Derek Trotter, the loveable rogue trader in Only Fools, will forever remain his own crowning glory. In many people’s eyes the show – which ran fully from 1981 to 1991 before spawning a clutch of Christmas Specials – has become the most popular sitcom of all time. Why does the actor believe it was such a success?
“I’ve said it before, but it was British and funny, and that in itself is a great combination. I really believe we are right up there when it comes to great comedy – we’ve been doing it longer and better than anyone else. And we construct our comedy with a base of reality. Del Boy was exactly that for me – he was someone who I’d seen back in the day and was very easy to replicate - everyone knows that sort of wheeler-dealer type.”
Whilst being easy to replicate, there is no doubting David Jason’s ability to seize and guide a role. Comic acting is often about timing, but in serious dramas such as A Touch of Frost the performer has visited a much darker element to his profession – the lonely, frustrated and often angry Detective Inspector whose old-school methods are as dated as they are dangerous.
“Playing Frost was an important role for me – it was the opportunity to do something really different, and I enjoyed that. I guess you might have said it was a gamble because I was known as a comedic actor, but there was always that other side that I wanted to explore, and Frost definitely allowed that.
“But listen, I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I’ve had great scripts, great characters, and great opportunities. Sometimes it’s just about getting on with people in the right way – Ronnie Barker and I got on famously – and that opens other doors you don’t expect to open.”
And reprising Open All Hours with a Christmas Special this year is something that’s really special to David.
“I’m so glad it’s happened, and I really think we’ve done it justice. Going back to the original shop in Doncaster was a lovely touch, and the streets are exactly as they were.
“Naturally, it’s a shame that Ronnie isn’t there – I’ve taken over the shop in the new version – but I do believe it’s a fitting tribute to that fantastic sitcom, and to the man himself.”
Sir David Jason’s autobiography, My Life, published by Century, is out now.