Star of Only Fools and Horses, Open All Hours and A Touch of Frost, Sir David Jason is one of the greatest actors British television has ever produced. And even at 73, the Wendover resident proves he still has something to offer.
David Jason may be nestled nicely into the twilight of his career, but he hasn’t put his feet up just yet. Not only does he continue to work - Open All Hours, the defining backstreet sitcom that really put him on centre stage alongside Ronnie Barker, who began his career in Aylesbury, returns this Christmas - but the actor is a recognisable and enduring face who thrives amongst his local community.
Sir David John White OBE, to give him his correct name, was instrumental in setting up the Chilterns MS Centre, which does amazing things to help sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis.
“I think it’s only right that if you have a recognisable face you use that to help others,” he begins. “It’s using something for positive effect and if we can’t do that then we’re really not leading a very virtuous existence, because the rest of what actors and musicians and sportsmen do is pretty good, you know. We should ‘give a bit back’.
“As far as the Chilterns MS Centre is concerned, well 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 the ring. And the result has been fantastic - it is a great centre that will hopefully help out a lot.”
As one of the country’s best loved stars, across comedy and drama, Jason’s new autobiography My Life has been much anticipated. After all, generations of viewers have grown up watching the actor in his various guises, from that theatre to the small screen.
“The autobiography tells the story, which is what everybody wanted. It has got stories I wanted told in my language, if you like. Nothing is too serious. There are one or two moments, obviously, like Myfanwy [his partner of 18 years who died in 1995] being diagnosed with cancer. I had to go through all that, but then everyone’s life has ups and downs – I’m no different.
“Of course, nobody wants that stuff to happen... nobody wants their nearest and dearest or a good friend to die, but it happens. But it’s in there and, along with all the other stuff, it’s made me who I am.
“But what I didn’t realise when I put pen to paper, was that Christ, my career stands up to scrutiny... which I never thought about until I started to do this book. I never thought about how many successful shows I have been in, right from the theatre into television. That’s not a boast, it’s more a relief!”
So what does Sir David put his long-term success down to?
“Luck, I suppose,” he says with a smidgeon too much humility. “A lot of it is down to being in the right place at the right time. Also the love of the business, but mainly I was lucky. I met Ronnie Barker, I got on with Ronnie Barker and I was able to show off my skills with him helping me along, and that relationship kicked off other things because people would watch something and say ‘who is that bloke with Ronnie Barker? He might be right for some part or other.’ It opened doors.”
Sir David retains a great fondness for his early comedy sidekick, who has a statue erected in his honour opposite the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.
“He is so loved and admired that he deserves a permanent place so people can go and say thanks, and it was great it is in Aylesbury”.
And Sir David is hoping people enjoy the show’s comeback in December as much as he will. “We are really looking forward to making it. We go to Doncaster to the original shop, so that’s extra special,” he smiles. “And really, you can say that it hasn’t changed at all. It’s just more of the same. So if people want to watch it and enjoy it for what it is, then great. Of course, the only thing that is missing is Ronnie B, so I am going to play Ronnie’s part, and am taking over the shop. So now, I really am an Arkwright... and I’m looking forward to it!”
Sir David Jason’s autobiography, My Life, is out now.