Only Fools and Horses: Why David Jason almost left iconic Del Boy role early

BBC Breakfast: David Jason on Only Fools and Horses interview

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Airing in 1981, Only Fools and Horses changed British TV comedy history with record-breaking audiences and critical success. The show’s success meant that show creator John Sullivan transformed the originally filmed half-hour episodes into 50-minute episodes. David Jason’s iconic character Del Boy stole the nation’s hearts, but it has been revealed that showrunner Sullivan planned his exit from the show much earlier than anticipated.

In the episode “Who wants to Be a Millionaire”, Del Boy got the chance to make a new start and become a millionaire, which was what he always spoke about.

The opportunity in Australia was fronting Jumbo Mill’s used car business and was originally going to be David Jason’s final episode.

Del’s old business partner from the 1960s, Jumbo Mills, returned to the UK to strike and deal with Boycie (John Challis).

After making himself rich with Del’s last £200, Jumbo asked Del to become the new face of his business, meaning he would leave his family behind.

Del Boy made sure there was a place for Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield) and took the offer before telling his family.

However, his plan soon came to a stand-still when Albert told Del he wanted to spend his last days in Peckham and Rodney’s criminal record put a stop to his trip.

At first, Del still wanted to go despite having to leave his family behind but when he picked up the phone to accept, he declined, explaining blood is thicker than water.

The idea for the script was written for David Jason as an ending of Del Boy, leaving his brother Rodney and pal Mickey Pearce (Patrick Murray).

This episode was due to be the last episode of Only Fools and Horse, with a spin-off series planned with Rodney and Mickey taking over the company known as Hot-Rod.

Fans were surprised to find out about this alternate ending and used the community website to speak about their opinions.

One fan wrote: “Clearly the only reason Del decided to stay was for Rodney, on all other count going to Australia would have been the best decision for Del.

“But Rodney threw one hell of a tantrum when Del considered going to Australia without him, and this was when Del realised how important their partnership was for Rodney.”

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Another added: “I think Rodney’s reaction stems from the strong bond of their sibling relationship, they were always arguing, but they truly did care for one another.”

“The fact that Rodney was devastated at the prospect of he and Del being thousands of miles apart merely proves how strong their bond actually is,” another added.

The British sitcom ended in 1991, but in 2019, David Jason brought back his iconic character for a special event celebrating Only Fools and Horses.

Speaking to the Daily Star, David said: “I am looking forward to having the opportunity to meet so many Only Fools fans, it’s going to be cushty.”

David Jason did, however, step back into the cap and jacket for a fun online nudge for Gareth Southgate and our Euro 2021 boys. 

The comedy initially aired from 1981 to 1991 and then occasional Christmas episodes until 2003.

The BBC may have not fully embraced the show on its first run – giving more PR love to their more middle-class comedy hits, but the audiences did.

Other spin-offs followed, including Boycie and Marlene’s The Green Green Grass (2005 – 2009) and prequel drama Rock & Chips (2010 – 2011).

Only Fools and Horses is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
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