David Jason originally wanted to leave the series in 1986, so it was intended that Del would go to Australia with Jumbo Mills. The producers intended to continue the series as "Hot Rod", with Nicholas Lyndhurst in the lead role and all the other main characters. However Jason then changed his mind, so Del decided not to go with Jumbo to Australia.
Jim Broadbent was John Sullivan's first choice as Del Boy, but he had just started a show in London's West End and so had to turn it down. Second Choice was Enn Reitel, who was working as a voice artist. David Jason was only third choice. Broadbent was later cast as DCI Roy "The Slag" Slater, following a request from John Sullivan to still appear somewhere in the story lines.
The cast rehearsed in a church hall in Hammersmith, but dress rehearsals were at the BBC TV Centre on Sunday afternoons. David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst always went to the canteen just before the recording in front of a studio audience. Jason always had sausage, chips and beans while Lyndhurst always had egg, chips and beans, like a ritual or a superstition, because they used to get so nervous, something they hated themselves for doing; sometimes they were joined by others.
Kenneth MacDonald loved the show and the people in it and could become quite emotional about his attachment to everyone. His character wasn't especially big, but he was utterly committed to it because he just thought it was one of the funniest shows ever and he wanted to be a part of it, like the rest of the cast.
On November, 24th 1986, the show was honored with a slot at the Royal Variety Performance, something that excited the whole crew; David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and John Sullivan thought about either re-doing a bit from an old script or from the current one, A Royal Flush, which was filming on the Dorset Coast, that year's Christmas special. Sullivan opted for something new, a four-minute sketch Jason described as really neat. Del Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert have a consignment of knock-off whiskey bottles, and mixed-up meeting at a nightclub with the stage of the Theatre Royal, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Jason, Lyndhurst and Buster Merryfield rehearsed it to within an inch of their lives. It was a scene they didn't want to screw up. The tight schedule forced them to drive up from Dorset on the day of the show. There were so many acts at the Royal Variety that the dressing rooms of the Theatre Royal couldn't house them. Watching the other acts from CCTV in their dressing-room, they were the only ones doing something original, something that made them very nervous. They needn't have worried; the show was a success. At the end of the sketch, Del sees the Queen Mother and mistakes her for they're employer. When she waved back, Jason almost dried because he was not expecting that. When they later met her, she said thank you; he was deeply touched, for five seconds when she said the exact same thing in the exact same tone to everyone else in the line. They then immediately went back to Dorset to finish A Royal Flush; they settled their adrenalin with bottles of whiskey and water, except for Merryfield who never drank. Because of the tight schedule, Jason didn't have the time to talk to his close friend, Bob Monkhouse, a guest at the Royal Variety Performance that night. Jason said it was a lovely interlude.
David Jason considered Grandad's character a silent presence. He and Nicholas Lyndhurst used to tease Lennard Pearce, saying he was a lazy sod and that they were basically a 20-minute warm-up act for his one killer gag. Pearce would just say, "I'm old - I'm allowed."
The series usually comprised studio scenes on videotape and filmed inserts, in common with much BBC television in the 1980s. Studio scenes for a half-hour episode were rehearsed for four days and recorded on a Sunday.
The BBC weren't sure initially about the casting of David Jason because he and Nicholas Lyndhurst looked nothing alike; John Sullivan disagreed. Del needed to be shorter to remove any sense of physical intimidation between the brothers, and to imply the suspected illegitimacy of the Trotters.
If David Jason sensed that the audience wasn't responding, he would do something stupid or dry on purpose, and then share it with them to relax the audience. Usually, that would be enough to get them going and then there was no stopping them.
David Jason described the second series as the one in which it broke through the glass chandelier (a reference to the famous chandelier episode at the end of Series 2). At the end of the second series, the show was averaging nine million viewers, whereas Last of the Summer Wine (1973) was getting 16 million. It was even lagging behind Terry and June (1979), even though that show's best days were behind it. And the last program in Only Fools' slot, Sorry! (1981) got ten million viewers. The BBC were not happy they had lost a million of the viewership and considered canceling Only Fools, which the cast thought was a very real possibility.
Once, David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst brought a bag full of bangers into rehearsals; they loaded the stacked chairs with them and the cubicle doors in the toilets. When production assistant Tony Dow unstacked the chairs, they went off, making him afraid to touch them. Jason and Lyndhurst thought it funny until a cleaning lady tried to mop the gents and nearly died of fright. They never pulled that prank again.
Buster Merryfield had no television experience before being cast as Uncle Albert, and as a result, he was very nervy in his early days on the show. He used to crash into the audience (deliver his lines without waiting for the laughter to die down) and had to re-record his scenes. Merryfield would than dry up and lose his words and it got to him. So David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst sat him down for a talk because he was worried he wouldn't last. If they ever made mistakes in the middle of a recording, they would blame someone and make it into a joke. If you can make the audience think you don't care, they relax and they feel like part of the joke. After that, he cracked his problem, relaxed into the show and the new partnership and became the lovable Uncle Albert.
Crew members would often find filming outside (often in Bristol, 130 miles from the Trotters' "home" in Peckham, south east London) a tough challenge due to the amount of people who would turn up just to watch and catch a glimpse of the actors.
David Jason collaborated with the costume designer at the start of every series, where they would step out to the shops to upgrade Del's wardrobe for the new adventures ahead. He described Del's fashion sense as "a bit bright. A bit Jack the lad." Jason even kept some of Del's shirts and sweaters; it would have felt wrong to throw them away.
David Jason described director Ray Butt's London accent as so East End, you could cut it with a knife. In fact, Jason landed the part of Del Boy by ironically making fun of Butt's Cockney accent with a pitch perfect imitation.
David Jason vetoed ideas that Del should have a perm, thick Elvis sideburns or gold sovereign rings on each finger (just two on each hand instead) because they were parodistic and not the right way to go. Instead of a perm, Del had tidy hair with a bit of grease.
In July, 1983 a technicians' strike at the BBC temporarily caused programs to be canceled, creating holes in the schedule. The BBC had to find repeats to fill the gap, and the show's second series was chosen as one of them. More than seven million tuned in, an impressive number for midsummer season, when TV audiences usually drop off. This saved the show from cancellation, to the great relief of the cast, because the show had been granted the chance to grow. John Sullivan was asked to write a third and fourth series.
When Buster Merryfield tried out for Uncle Albert, he turned up for the audition wearing a blazer, gray flannel trousers, a shirt and a neatly knotted tie. He read from an old script for the show confidently and very well. After the reading, he got the part, which led to many happy years, according to David Jason.
David Jason described Buster Merryfield as funny by instinct and he knew where the laugh was and how to get it. He had that amazing look about him - an eccentric face, the face of someone whom you immediately wanted to like.
'David Jason' (qv ) described the end of the show as "very emotional and difficult to compute. We all knew this wasn't the kind of experience that comes twice in your life. What a series. So many brilliant moments and lines; such clever writing. (John) Sullivan was a traditionalist, in a way: he made the characters do the work and they didn't need to resort to extremities of language or action. Yet there was such tremendous light and shade. Only Fools had a death, it had a miscarriage, it had a birth...the more John saw how we worked together, the more he felt he could push into areas where comedy didn't ever go. It was great, honest stuff and it touched people's lives. We had most of the nation behind us, really, when we properly got going".
David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst became close friends, and would mess about at every opportunity. They used to play pranks on the set, e.g. pretending to have fallen out to worry the crew, or nailing Lennard Pearce's shoes to the floor or turning his costume inside out. Although Pearce mostly saw the funny side of things, that day he refused to work until Ray Butt talked him around and Jason and Lyndhurst apologized. Jason claimed it was the only time Pearce lost perspective.
David Jason said John Sullivan's death "came too soon. His loss devastated us all. I could only meet his death with disbelief. You can't believe you're never going to see that person again, that they're just gone. It's the most difficult thing in the world."
At the end of the series, David Jason said "now the show really was over. While it's up and running, a program such as that is like this complete world that you exist in. But when it's done, the sets get packed up and removed, and the costumes go away, and the whole thing lives on only on a piece of tape. You can't actually go back there. So you have to consign it to the list of those things that were great and wonderful and fun...and utterly gone. I do miss it badly".
Once when David Jason went to Wimbledon, in the front row was Jack Nicholson. Jason assumed he would have got all the attention, but instead it was Jason. He suspected that because Nicholson was the bigger star was ironically the reason why he didn't get more attention, because they were more intimidated by him and kept they're distance, and found Jason more approachable because of playing characters like Del Boy or Pop Larkin from The Darling Buds of May (1991).
The location shoots and studio recordings stayed the same for the first ten years of the series. David Jason described what it was like during a location shoot in his autobiography, "We sat in the back of a cheap second-hand motor-home, with the sink and the stove stripped out, and in their stead, a battered sofa, a knackered chair and a rack for your clothes. The smell in the place was a heady mix of damp carpet, petrol fumes and the aroma of 10,000 previously smoked woodbine cigarettes. An underfunded housing project. The drivers of these motor-homes couldn't do anything because they were unionized and would have got into trouble if they did any work. Driving them was a job I could never have done. I would have been banging my head against the windscreen in frustration after about 40 minutes." It was in their motor-home that Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst struck up an instant rapport.
According to David Jason filming was always a nerve-wracking experience, because it was like presenting a new play every week to an audience, and there was so much that could have gone wrong. As well as retakes, cameras would have to be moved and sets altered, so time constraints were forever hanging over the crew. It took two hours to film an episode.
By the time of the third series, ratings were climbing and the critics were paying attention to the show finally. It was also the first time the show got a BAFTA nomination for Best Comedy Series, but it lost to Yes Minister (1980). Everyone went along to represent the show.
David Jason said doing Christmas Specials on the show was as if the cast had never stopped, and just fell straight back into the way of things. Playing Del Boy again after taking a break fitted him like a pair of "wonderful old carpet slippers".
Heroes and Villains and Modern Men were watched by 21.3 million viewers while Time on our Hands were watched by 24.3 million viewers, a record for a British sitcom. David Jason said it was "a staggering number. It made me dizzy to think about it. You simply couldn't get it into your head how popular this show had grown to be".
During the Gulf War, David Jason met someone in a pub who worked at RAF Command Headquarters. He told Jason they race 3-wheel vans against each other, paint them yellow with Trotters Independent Traders down the sides of them. Jason went down to have a look, but he didn't see a race. Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Buster Merryfield sent a Trotters van out to Kuwait. They slipped it into a Hercules plane among other stuff on a supply run and when it was unloaded the crew would find the van, filled up with chewing gum, toothpaste, cake and Danger Mouse (1981) and Count Duckula (1988) tapes from Brian Cosgrove with labels saying Debbie Does Dallas and Unzipperdedoodah and all sorts to amuse them. Jason didn't ask for any publicity because he didn't want anyone to think it was just for that, but a private joke between the RAF and the Trotters. The van was put in the hold and covered up with medical supplies and ammunition and flew to Kuwait, where it's discovery brought some light relief.
When John Sullivan wrote a second trilogy after the Trotters became millionaires, David Jason acknowledged that the critics felt they shouldn't have gone back, that the bow neatly tied in 1996 was now undone again. But the public wanted more, and so did the BBC, and since Sullivan was writing it, everyone felt obligated to return.
John Sullivan and Gareth Gwenlan approached David Jason in 2011 with Del Boy coming back at 65 and what had become of everyone. Jason was up for it, because anything was possible in Sullivan's hands. But two weeks later, Gwenlan phoned Jason saying Sullivan was in intensive care with viral pneumonia. He seemed on the mend, and got to leave hospital and go home at one point, but he had a relapse and went back to hospital and died not long after.
When David Jason was first learning to fly a helicopter, as part of his exam, he had to fly over a field and make a solo cross-country trip but wound up completely lost. When he landed in a farmer's field and asked for directions, the farmer was surprised not just to see a helicopter on his land, but to see Del Boy getting out of it. Not surprisingly, Jason failed the test.
While waiting to do some gliding, David Jason was spotted by somebody and that led to people with cameras and their kids and even their dogs posing beside the glider, while he was strapped in, embarrassed and frustrated with this unwanted attention. It put him off gliding. Nicholas Lyndhurst was also recognized but he just wore a baseball cap in public with the brim pulled down, and that worked for him. But when they were recognized, people would yell lines at them from the show, particularly at Lyndhurst.
Although fly-pitching was Del Boy's core business, it was rarely seen in the series, but David Jason always enjoyed doing them, including the patter, the banter and the rhythm. He learned about fly-pitching from watching illegal street traders when he was living in London and doing theatre work. It was good research, and all his fly-pitching scenes were ad-libbed.
The idea to extend the running times of episodes was the point where the show came into its own as a comedy-drama, according to David Jason. Now not just a sitcom, there was now more time for John Sullivan's great lines, but there was more space for things to unfold. Jason doubted that without the extra length, the romances between Del and Raquel and Rodney and Cassandra would never have developed, and he was glad to have Tessa Peake-Jones and Gwyneth Strong in the cast because they knew what they were doing and fit right in.
For the sixth series, production relocated to Bristol, but was never actually filmed in Peckham, just other bits of the capital. But they had to film away from London because it was tougher and more expensive to get licenses to film. It was also harder to film there without attracting a crowd wanting autographs or just asking questions right before they were about to film a scene. Shooting outdoor scenes were than moved to Bristol, but red buses were put in the background to imply London.
Many people consider the 1996 Christmas trilogy the show's true conclusion rather than the second trilogy five years later; it was the moment when the curtain came down on the show. David Jason said "everything about the narrative pointed to these being the last ever episodes of Only Fools. The Trotters now officially on their way to wealth".
David Jason claims no-one has ever offered him a flat in Peckham on the grounds of his expertise as Del Boy, nor has anyone offered him a corner shop in Doncaster, on the grounds of his expertise as Granville from Open All Hours (1976).
With the end of every series, nobody knew for sure if the show would be brought back for another series or Christmas special because commissioning happened later, leaving the cast, crew and audience hoping and praying for a positive outcome, as well as what John Sullivan would come up with next.
When David Jason was knighted in 2005, Nicholas Lyndhurst couldn't attend the after party for fifty people but John Sullivan did - Jason took the opportunity to announce his second wedding, to rapturous applause and table thumping.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the episode 'Yuppie love' where Del Boy falls through the bar. Trigger played by Roger Lloyd-Pack wasn't meant to be in the scene. He was near by filming another TV programme. On a break he popped around and asked John O'Sullivan did he need him. John wrote him in straight away and he was part of the scene. Many say his part contributed to the sketches popularity due to his reaction when Del Boy falls.