A few months ago I decided I wanted to start writing about my heroes. It was an idea borne from seeing the way tributes pour out when a celebrity dies, and I wanted to write some things about the people I love before they are lost. Long before hopefully. My previous post was about Eddie Izzard and can be found here.
Today, I bring you David Jason.
I think my love for David Jason is increased dramatically by the fact that he shares a large physical resemblance with my own Dad. They both sort of look like loveable garden gnomes turned into the best kind of people. I think it's quite hard not to have some kind of increased affection for a stranger if they look (even just to you) like someone you really love.
I suppose Only Fools And Horses is my earliest contact with David Jason. It was the first TV show I ever cried at. The first in a line that was to grow overwhelmingly until it took in adverts, most films whatever the genre, and moving scenes I imagined while driving. Before that, I had never understood how people could cry at things on a screen... I was pretty young and I didn't understand the empathetic connection. Then I watched the episode where Granddad dies and Rodney is devastated and doesn't understand how Del Boy doesn't appear to care. I remember sitting down in between the gap in our two sofas (where I sat so I could suck my thumb without my parents seeing and asking me to stop) bawling silently at how awful it was for them.
I think the writing of Only Fools was exceptional, oh to have a script like that appear in my lap for me to attempt, and all credit there goes to John Sullivan. What a phenomenal talent for reality and people. However, that show could have easily been nothing in the hands of the wrong actors (exception being Cassandra who I never took to).
I hear a lot of people who describe The Royle Family as having been ground breaking for them because it was such an accurate portrayal of the life they knew. I never got the Royle Family, but in Only Fools I think I saw what they meant. Not that my family, in a sprawling house in rural Somerset, resembled the Trotters at all... but the way we interacted did. The constant banter, the insults and the complete inability to maintain a line of emotion for longer than strictly necessary.
The BFG was also a big hit with me... how clever, I thought, that the funny little man from Only Fools has got into a film?! Until recently (when I read his autobiography) I didn't really have any concept of the chronological order of his work, I can only write from the perspective of how and when I experienced them. I was amazed that someone from, what I thought was, a small English show could be in a film (I think I thought all films were probably American at that point).
Whizz Pop Whizz Bang was the most brilliant thing I'd ever seen and the disgusting nature of snozzcumbers cemented my long held belief that courgettes were ungodly and I was right to refuse to eat them however Mum served them to me.
In my teens I found Frost quite difficult because, it felt to me, David Jason had aged far too quickly. Why was his hair white? Why was he grumpy and old? I suppose I must have wanted him to have been playing Del Boy in a different show and I had to grow up a lot before I could appreciate Frost for what it was and what he was doing.
Wherever David Jason turns up I am delighted - I adore him in the Colour of Magic. He is a comfort - something from the deepest depths of my childhood that will never fail to make me feel at home. His face is the face of Saturday nights at home on the sofa.
I can't remember where in my David Jason timeline I discovered Open All Hours. I presume it was around the time my older sister was at college because I know she got quite heavily into Porridge at that time and so we side stepped (via a long obsession with M*A*S*H) into Open All Hours as we discovered the behemoth of comedy talent that is Ronnie Barker. However he is a subject for another blog post.
Open All Hours was so adult and charming that I didn't understand it properly for a few years. How could you fancy Nurse Emmanuel? She didn't look like the people in television that were hankered after. Why didn't Granville just get a better job and therefore a better life? These were all questions that I was too naive to answer, but I loved the slapstick that surrounded Granville and I liked that my friend of Only Fools seemed to have gone back in time and I thought it must mean I had longer with him.
I read his autobiography this year and it was a good read... I suppose it's easy to write your own life how you like but I was pleased that he wrote to me as I expected him to be. The book has a sense of earnestness... it seemed to take him such a long time to get anywhere as an actor, and seemed to be an surprising path to him as well, my impression through the book was that he was continually delighted to be working and equal parts baffled at his success and delighted that his hard work was paying off.
I had no idea about the huge back catalogue of theatre work he had done, it being totally before my time, and I think his story is a brilliant endorsement of the non X-Factor approach. Nothing drives me more nuts than people on these God awful talent shows talking about "their one chance" I think it's a poisonous concept to plant in the minds of the viewers that there could be one chance and no option of just 10, 20, 30, 40 years of hard work to get you somewhere. I want to shake those people and say, "You know David Jason? Didn't really get anywhere until his 40s. One chance my foot."
Thanks David Jason... I get the feeling from reading your book that you did it all because you liked doing it, but just so you know I enjoyed it too as you went along. If you wouldn't mind carrying on, that'd be cushty.