Clive Dunn’s inadvertent role in the history of Only Fools and Horses
Very sad to hear of the death of Clive Dunn. I grew up watching Dad’s Army and Grandad and seeing his face and hearing him say one of Corporal Jones’ catchphrases like ‘Don’t Panic’, ‘They don’t like it up ’em’ and ‘Give ’em the old cold steel’ never fails to make me smile.
What’s perhaps less well-known about Clive is his impact on the casting of Only Fools and Horses. Here’s an extract from my book Only Fools and Horses: The Official Inside Story which explains all…
“Back in the autumn of 1967 television producer David Croft and his writing partner Jimmy Perry were looking for cast for a new comedy series they were making for the BBC. The show, called Dad’s Army, was all about the exploits of a group of old men who were members of a south coast town’s wartime Home Guard platoon. They had already cast most of the major parts for the show but there was one more part that needed filling – that of bumbling, elderly butcher Lance Corporal Jack Jones – and it was offered to character actor Clive Dunn. But he was busy at the time in The Spike Milligan Show and had to turn it down. Croft thought of David Jason, a young character actor who, although only still in his late twenties was well skilled at playing old men. Croft thought highly of Jason and had used him a couple of times before in a BBC sitcom he produced called Hugh and I, which starred Hugh Lloyd and Terry Scott as two friends who lived together in south London.
David Jason was called in to read for the part and two hours later his agent rang to tell him that he’d got the job. Three hours after that she rang back to say she had very bad news and that he hadn’t got it at all. In the meantime Clive Dunn had discovered that no more Spike Milligan shows were being made at that time and he decided to accept the part in Dad’s Army after all. Understandably David was hugely disappointed to lose a part that would have brought him his first big break into mainstream television and Dad’s Army became a major success and ran for nine years. These days he’s rather glad that it happened that way.
For life would have been very different for him if he had starred in Dad’s Army. He would have been busy filming that series when the part of dopey corner-shop assistant Granville in Roy Clarke’s Open All Hours came up. That would have meant that he would have never worked with Ray Butt on that show – or been cast in It’s Only Me – Whoever I Am where he showed off his ability with accents by mimicking Ray’s strong London accent.
Then he would have never even been considered for the part of Del Trotter – the role that has made him famous and let him demonstrate the brilliant acting skills that have since led to countless straight roles. “After I lost the part in Dad’s Army and it started to become really successful there were times when I’d watch it and see Corporal Jones and I’d say: ‘I was offered that bloody part!’” he recalled.”
David first told me about missing out on the Corporal Jones part during an interview in the bar of Bristol hotel in 1990 – and he reflected on how Clive’s decision – and fate – had had a enormous impact on his future… even though obviously he didn’t know it at the time….
Obviously you can read more about this in my Official Only Fools history…
(c) Steve Clark 2012 All rights reserved