Start !- The Story Behind Del Boy of Only Fools and Horses

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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Inspiration, like love, can arrive in your life when you least expect it. This certainly happened to David Jason when he and his work partner, both electricians, went looking for a job.

‘We were desperate for work; went all around London, the West End, and the East End, to knock on all the builders’ doors, to see if they could give us some work. We knocked at one door in the East End; it was called William Hockley and Son Builders.’, recites David Jason to BBC Breakfast in late 2013, promoting his autobiography David Jason: My Life.

David Jason (2nd February 1940), born David White, was a part-time actor and full-time electrician in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During his period, he was about to meet a man, who more than twenty years later would give him the inspiration for one of the greatest comic characters ever to grace British television, Derek Trotter, AKA Del Boy.

‘We were shown into this office, and they said come and meet Derek Hockley. This guy came out to meet us. I will never ever forget him because he was dressed absolutely immaculately. I mean, everything about him was perfect, except you could cut his accent with a knife. Never saw an Eastender or a Londoner that would talk like that. There were Londoners; they were costermongers in rough clothes and flat hats. Yet here was Derek looking like a Lord and talking like a costermonger’, elicits David Jason.

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Speaking to the Daily Mail Oct 2013, Jan Wilson, one of Derek Hockley’s two daughters, has proud and fond memories of her flamboyant father. A lad from Newham, East London. Known around the ‘manor’ for his business savvy and stylish dress sense, ‘He worked very hard, and he did quite a lot of wheeling and dealing. He wasn’t doing anything bad. He would always come up with something, an antique, some sort of bargain. He had this camel-haired coat, which he would walk onto the building site with. With gold, he loved gold: The necklace; the rings.’ Yes, just like Del Boy.

David Jason and Derek Hockley’s communication certainly lasted more than two minutes, as David Jason worked a few times for Hockley. David was not only inspired by Hockley’s attire and ambition but also his sayings, ‘What costs you nothing can't be dear' and 'Don't ask where it came from.' So Del Boyish! David would often write to Hockley and visited his East London Muse when he was seriously ill in hospital. In addition, Jan and her husband, Richard, both residents of Spain, used to run a bar called Del Boy’s, in honour of her father and the character, in Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca, ‘lovely jubbly’, as Del Boy would say.

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Yet the character of Derek Trotter could have been so different. Initially, the creator, John Sullivan, wanted Enn Reitel to play Peckham’s man about town. Furthermore, as it has been well documented, the producer, Ray Butt, convinced John Sullivan to audition David Jason, after seeing him as Granville, the long-suffering nephew of the shop owner, Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) in BBC’s Open All Hours. David Jason has stated, he even considered the role of Grandad, as he had successfully played an elderly inmate, Blanco, in Porridge, again with Ronnie Barker.

It wasn’t just the casting that nearly changed the course of Del Boy. John Sullivan’s original vision of Derek Trotter was the polar opposite of the much-loved character we know today. David Jason recalls, ‘John Sullivan asked me how I saw the character, as he saw the character with a flat cap, a potbelly, rough trousers, you know scruffy. I said, I don’t see him like that, and John said, how do you see him? I met this character many years ago, and he’s stuck in my mind. Why can’t he be immaculately dressed but still a cockney, a Londoner? John Sullivan said if that makes you happy and you feel comfortable with that, let’s go with it. So I then constructed the character around Derek.’

Furthermore, it seems that John Sullivan gave the other actors in Only Fools and Horses a carte blanche in creating their characters. As this was certainly the case with John Challis, when he created Del Boy’s nemesis Boycie, ‘There was a man called Gordon, can’t remember his surname. I knew him from around and down the pub. He would act superior to everyone else, be condescending, rude, arrogant, and laugh at other people’s misfortunes. Not a pleasant fellow, no, I never told him that Boycie was based on him, because I never saw him again once things started taking off’, recalls John Challis to ZANI in June 2021.

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Therefore, it would be safe to assume that many Only Fools and Horses’ cast probably followed suit. Roger Lloyd Pack may have based Trigger on someone he knew or had met; Sue Holderness had possibly come across a few Marlene Boyce’s in her life, and so on. Yet that is the norm with actors, in drawing inspiration from real people; Ben Kingsley based his character, Don Logan in Sexy Beast, on his grandmother; I bet Christmas Day was a barrel of laughs in the Kingsley household with his grandma. Charles Laughton based Dr. Moreau Island of Lost Souls on his dentist; wow, getting a filling must have been a terrifying experience for Laughton.

Derek Hockley’s impeccable dress sense wasn’t the only source of inspiration for Del Boy’s flashy attire. The other was Mod, working-class youths in smart clothes, wearing wartime coats (US Parkas) in the wind and sleet, riding Italian scooters, listening to American soul, rhythm & blues, and British Beat bands. Hockley himself would have been too old to have been a Mod, yet his ideology of being working class and dressing sharp, became, as we know, extremely popular to Britain’s youth.

In the early Fools and Horses series, a spruced-up Derek would reminisce with glee to Rodney about his former life as a Mod. David Jason would have been in his early twenties, whilst Del Boy, aged 35 in series one, would have been in his mid to late teens, as Mod was sweeping across the UK in the early 1960s. Later on in series six, episode three, ‘Yuppie Love,’ the viewer sees Del Boy, alone, seated on his sofa, with headphones on, listening to music in his flat in Nelson Mandela House, Peckham. Due to Del Boy waving his finger like a conductor of an orchestra, you could be mistaken to think that he is listening to classical music. Then Del Boy takes off the headphones, walks over to the record player, takes the vinyl off the turntable, and says the classic line, ‘ I don't care what they say, you can't whack The Who,’ as he puts their first album, My Generation into its sleeve.

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Del Boy is symbolic of The Who’s first manager, Peter Meaden’s iconic quote regarding Mod, ‘Clean living under difficult circumstances.’ For no matter the situation, the well-dressed Del Boy always looked for the positive solution, as well as having a laugh, maybe a bit of romance, on the journey. That was a massive appeal of Fools and Horses; we could relate to it and be inspired by the positivity and sometimes, naïve charm of Derek Trotter. John Challis confirmed this sentiment to ZANI last year, ‘Only Fools and Horses is about never giving up hope, Del Boy never gives up, always looking to get ahead, he won’t be beaten by circumstances, and people can relate to that. Del Boy will never surrender. He’s a hero to the common man’

I will drink to that. Life can be dull if you want it to be. But you never know, you might meet someone or encounter something that could change your life for the better; in fact, It will be a Start !

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Read 856 times Last modified on Thursday, 27 January 2022 11:14
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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