August 2

Sir David Jason heads to the USA for new series

David Jason: My Life On Screen – David Jason

Sir David Jason is heading off on a trip along the west coast of America by road, rail and air exploring both the rich heritage of iconic American transport and glimpsing the high-tech future on offer for a new TV series.

Train buff, one-time mechanic and pilot Sir David Jason will embark on an epic month-long journey in this special travel documentary series. It will take him north to south, from Seattle to Los Angeles, travelling on the iconic Amtrak Coast Starlight train.

It’s the biggest and best train he’s ever been on, hugging the majestic west coast of the USA in all its 28-stop, 1,300-mile glory; truly the realisation of his lifelong ambition.

David said: “All my life I’ve been obsessed with planes, trains and automobiles. And, of course, I’m well known for my association with the odd motor (including a certain three-wheeler). The west coast of America has seen – and is still witnessing – some of the greatest innovations in transport history – I can’t wait to find out for myself how they do things over there. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be entertaining, and I get the feeling I’m going to learn a great deal about this part of the world on my journey too.”

This all-American travel experience captures numerous pit stops and excursions along the way as David disembarks for a series of encounters discovering the unique, pioneering history of the West Coast. A huge fan of all things mechanical, David also time travels between experiencing astonishing feats of engineering of the past to cutting edge technology of the near-future – everything from riding 100-year-old cable cars and Harley Davidson motorbikes, to flying on a legendary DC3 vintage airliner, driving the latest American Super Truck and investigating the prospect of sub-orbital space flight.

Executive Producer Mike Blair said: “This is a route that not only takes in some of the must-do ‘bucket list’ all-American travel experiences, but also reveals just how this part of the world has led the way in innovation. Everything there is bigger, better, faster… we’re so looking forward to going with David on this journey of a lifetime.”

David Jason: Planes, Trains & Automobiles will air on Gold in 2019.

Photo: UKTV
May 9

A tribute to Only Fools and Horses producer Gareth Gwenlan

I was very sad to learn of the death today of Gareth Gwenlan, one of Britain’s most experienced and successful television comedy directors and producers.

Gareth had an extraordinary comedy pedigree. He worked on so many of the top shows of the past four decades like Butterflies, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and To The Manor Born and later, as the BBC’s Head of Comedy, commissioned some our most popular sitcoms including One Foot In The Grave, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, Blackadder, Birds of a Feather and Bread.

He took over as producer of Only Fools and Horses in 1988 and developed a strong partnership and friendship with writer John Sullivan, and went on to produce John’s other BBC work including Heartburn Hotel, The Green Green Grass and Rock & Chips and Roger, Roger.

Brecon-born Gareth loved comedy and once said that he’d “been paid all my life to indulge in my hobby”. He was 79 when he died (although I know most people thought he was about a decade younger) and had been working until very recently. He produced a remake of Yes Prime Minister in 2013 and recently worked on the popular Welsh comedy High Hopes. He received an OBE in 2013 for services to broadcasting.

Taking over as producer of Only Fools and Horses in 1988 from Ray Butt, Gareth (along with new director Tony Dow) worked with John Sullivan on the longer episodes and onwards to the triumphal ratings success that was the Christmas 1996 trilogy which saw record viewing figures of 24.3 million.

However, even before this Gareth had already played a secret key role in the show in a number of ways: In 1981 he’d supported John Sullivan when he was trying to persuade senior BBC executive that the new show should be called Only Fools and Horses (rather than the working title Readies). They’d not heard the expression only fools and horses work before but Gareth, then a producer in the comedy department had and gave John vital support.

And in early 1985, following the death of Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad the previous December, Gareth, by then Head of Comedy, rubber-stamped the casting of then unknown actor Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert. (In fact at Buster’s audition, Gareth read the part of Rodney, to Ray Butt’s Del while Buster read Grandad’s lines as the character of Albert had yet to be created).

Gareth was good company, astute and a great diplomat. He was enormously helpful to me when I was researching and writing my books The Only Fools and Horses Story and Only Fools and Horses: The Official Inside Story and he told great stories.

Among my favourite was an incident during the filming of Miami Twice: The American Dream in 1991, which required Gareth organisational skills and a good deal of diplomacy to overcome as the production team came up against the all-powerful Teamsters union which came close to derailing the filming.

“I was literally summoned to go down and see the head of the Teamsters’ Union in Miami and, I swear to God, had it not been so serious, I would have thought I was in a bad American B movie,” he recalled.

“I was shown into this very sombre, dark wood panelled office with heavy leather furniture where I found this great fat, balding guy sitting at his desk. He had a real James Cagney-at-his-worst accent and he said: “So what are you doing in my town?” I explained how much money we were spending in the city and that we were employing some sixty local technicians and he said: ‘Yeah, but you ain’t employing any of my members?’ I said that we weren’t because we had owner-driver vehicles and we were told that was fine.

“He said: ‘Well I’m here’s to tell you that it ain’t fine. I want twelve of my drivers on that set tomorrow, otherwise I shut you down.’ I know it sounds like something out of a film but it’s absolutely true.”

In the end Gareth used his diplomatic skills to avoid a union blockade – even though it meant employing three Teamsters drivers that the production didn’t need or even use.

Before becoming a television producer Gareth trained as a teacher and an actor – and he did actually appear in an episode of Only Fools and have some lines. It was the 1993 Christmas special Fatal Extraction and he found himself literally right in the thick of the action in the brilliant riot scene as a policeman on horseback.

Gareth played the cop who broke up the riot temporarily to let Del, Raquel and Damien through in Del’s ‘tasteful’ Capri Ghia, by announcing over the megaphone: “Hold it, hold it, hold it – it’s Del Boy.”

“We couldn’t find an actor who could ride so I did it,” he told me. It meant he had a very clear view of the fake battles going on between drama students, hired to play the rioters, and extras playing the police. “The students were bloody marvellous. They were being real but within the bounds of being safe and no one was even bruised,” he recalled.

Gareth Gwenlan was a truly great producer, whose skills and professionalism helped to give the rest of us some classic comedies to enjoy. My thought are with his family and friends.

 

November 6

Revealed: He who wrote, He Who Dares

del_boyHe Who Dares, the much anticipated autobiography of Peckham legend and businessman Del Boy Trotter, has been getting rave reviews and is already a Sunday Times best-seller.

Published by Ebury last month, lots of people have been asking who actually wrote it. Well, I can today reveal that Jim Sullivan, son of Only Fools and Horses creator John Sullivan, penned it.

The 302-page book is based on Jim’s Dad’s Only Fools and Horses scripts but Jim has also added material from John’s notes which means the book is sprinkled with original and authentic material that has never been seen before.

Jim, who has previously written episodes of Only Fools spin-off The Green Green Grass and also last year’s Sport Relief sketch which saw the Trotters rub shoulders with David Beckham, says: “We wanted the book to be as authentic as it could possibly be.

“My main concern was getting the tone of Del right.  Del would write as he speaks, which isn’t always pretty (or coherent), but it has its own rhyme and reason. And, whether it’s achieved or not, I wanted the readers to hear Del as though he’s there in the room chatting to them.

“The trickiest part, besides trying to cover and include such a large amount of material, was filling in the missing decade of the 70’s and getting up to speed on what the Trotters’ have been up to since we last saw them, but it has been a lot of fun and has given me a deeper appreciation of the depth and richness of this world my Dad created.

“I also managed to work in some of my Dad’s notes, a couple of examples being the truth about Triggers’ parentage and ‘Trotter-Trim’.”

You can order the book here: