Putting words into David Jason’s mouth

A Del of a Life
David Jason  (Century)

Picture if you will three men sitting around a small round table reading aloud from A4 sheets of script. Their words are being picked up by a centrally placed microphone. The men are David Jason, Bill Wallis and Nigel Rees. They are recording a radio programme called Week Ending, a satirical sketch show for BBC Radio 4. It is 1975.

Bill Wallis, who had a deep baritone voice that sounded like vocal mahogany, was a character actor who went on to appear on television and in films. His distinctive voice meant he found plenty of work recording audiobooks too. He died in 2013.

Nigel Rees is a writer and broadcaster who presented serious news programmes on the BBC – including Radio 4’s Today programme – and ITV as well appearing in comedy shows on radio such as The Burkiss Way. But today he may be best known as the presenter of Radio 4’s Quote…Unquote, a gentle panel game about quotations. (Hence the show’s title.) Rees devised the programme, which has been broadcast regularly since January 1976.

David Jason needs no introduction…so I won’t give him one. Okay, I will then in case you’re reading this blog after having spent the past 45 years in some sort of lockdown with no access to media of any kind. Sir David John White, to give him his title and real name, is better known as David Jason…and Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter, Pa Larkin, Granville, Skullion, Inspector Jack Frost, Danger Mouse and many other great characters who have graced our television screens. (There, that’s an introduction.)

I have followed David Jason’s career from the early 1970s. I think I can say without fear of being contradicted that he hasn’t followed mine. To be fair, there is no reason why he should have.

He won’t remember, but I do, that I was one of many writers whose words were written on those A4 pages of script he was reading in the 1970s in that small BBC studio.

Week Ending was recorded every Friday morning for broadcast that same evening usually at about 11.15 (Some times later and some times earlier as the billing above shows.) It was a training ground for many of the great comedy writers on the second half of the 20th century (and even a few from the 21st).

Names such as David Renwick, Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin, David Baddiel, Colin Bostock-Smith, Al Murray and Paddy Murray* (no relation to Al) are just some of the few who also wrote for the show. Their names may not be ones known in every household but programmes such as One Foot In The Grave, Have I Got News For You, Drop The Dead Donkey, and I’m Alan Partridge must surely be.

As one of those who was a Week Ending contributor, I would occasionally attend the weekly recordings. I would squeeze into the small production booth beside the producer John Lloyd. There was no studio audience. The show was made in what I think was a basement studio just across the road from Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London.

When recording was completed, we would listen back to it. The cast would join us and that is how I met David Jason and when I started to follow his career. (That was when he could have started to follow mine, but he didn’t. Can’t think why. There were only hundreds of us budding writers that put words into his mouth.)

Jason recently published his third volume of memoirs, A Del Of A Life, which I have just finished reading. And enjoying. I know he hasn’t followed my career as I am not mentioned in this book. Nor am I in his previous two volumes, My Life (2013) and Only Fools and Stories (2017).

Jason’s memories of Week Ending are to be found his first volume My Life. The latest book A Del of a Life, is packed full of anecdotes about his early days as an actor (and as an electrician) – read the book to find out what’s that’s all about) and then various incidents through his life right up to today. Well, not actually today but up to about two months ago. (The book had to be edited and printed, you know.)

Despite my absence from these three volumes, I have no hesitation in recommending them to you, dear reader, if you haven’t read them before. (If you do consider buying any of these three books, why not click on the links below. That way I get credit for the sale, thank you very much.)

A small pedantic footnote. On page 179 of A Del Of A Life, writing about his fear that Only Fools and Horses might not get off the ground as ITV had just launched Minder, which some might have considered as covering the same ground, Jason says the ITV programme starred Dennis Waterman and John Thaw. It was George Cole who co-starred with Waterman in Minder. Thaw was in The Sweeney with Waterman. (I’ve already confessed to being a pedant.)

* Another note. You can follow the aforementioned Paddy Murray‘s blog by clicking on his name here.

Book of the day

Boris Johnson – The Gambler
Tom Bower  (W H Allen)

Boris Johnson has led a colourful life and one would expect this biography to be a colourful read. It is.

But as with the proverbial parson’s egg, it is and it isn’t. Tom Bower is an accomplished biographer with subjects such as Tony Blair, Richard Branson, Conrad (and Lady) Black and Robert Maxwell among his subjects. This book covers a lot of ground that with which we are already familiar. His philandering is well known. So too is his fickle relationship with the truth. Even his days at Eton and Oxford with his membership of the Bullingham Club have been covered in the media before.

Where Bower comes up with fresh material is at the start (and the time before) of Johnson’s life. His childhood and the insecure family life. The other place where Bower scores is the in the present day. The author goes into great detail of the current Covid-19 crisis and before that Brexit.

Johnson has a need to be liked and (in some cases) loved. Hence the need for Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s hacket man. If there is bad news to be had or a bit of stick to be put about Cummings is you man. Or Johnson’s man actually. Cummings knows who to blame for the Covid Cock-up.

Bower goes into great detail about the government turned down numerous offers of help to set up an effective testing system and a supply of PPE for the medical professions. The ineptitude of the civil servants and others charged with handling the Covid-19 crisis should be left at the door of the Prime Minister as the man in charge. But Bower pulls his punches and spreads the blame elsewhere.

And it is that pulling of punches that makes this a weak biography and one that is too soft on its subject. But Tom Bower is married to Veronica Wadley (aka Baroness Fleet) who has known Johnson for more than 30 years. She served as a senior advisor to the Mayor of London when that post was occupied by Johnson. It was Johnson who ennobled her in the 2020 Political Honours List. This may be why this book is too comfortable with its subject.

There must be a more rigorous biography to be had about the life of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.