Hard to imagine anyone else in the role now becoming, as it has, one of the defining roles of his long career but David Jason was not first choice to play Del Boy in iconic BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses – in fact he wasn’t even second choice!
If series creator John Sullivan had got his way Enn Reitel would have stepped into Del Boy’s knocked off shoes. With Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney and Lennard Pearce as Granddad already on board Reitel was considered a good fit and could easily have been taken for Rodney’s elder brother. When Reitel turned the role down Jim Broadbent was next favourite but already had other filming commitments (in the end he was able to make the occasional pivotal appearance as dodgy copper DCI Roy “The Slag” Slater.)
Next in line was Roger Lloyd Pack but he was clearly more suited to the role of Trigger. It was only a chance viewing of a repeat of Open All Hours that even led Sullivan to consider Jason for the role – and even then he had his doubts. At that point Jason’s roles had been more of the under confident, underdog kind. Luckily producer Ray Butt persuaded Sullivan to take a chance and Jason immediately made the character his own – turning him into one of TV’s best loved characters into the bargain.
Jason is said to have based his playing of Del Boy on a builder, Derek Hockley, that he worked with back in his pre-acting days when he was an electrician.