David Jason was Almost Killed at Ronnie Barker’s House
You wouldn’t necessarily associate comedy legend Sir David Jason with wild antics or drunken accidents that nearly cost him his life.
Well, let me tell you, he was this close…
David Jason and Ronnie Barker were close friends and colleagues. Jason, very much an understudy and sidekick to Ronnie Barker before he found his own star-studded path in British television, idolised the late comic actor not only for the quality of the man behind the characters but also for the enormity of his gifts as a writer and performer.
When all is said and done, Ronnie Barker is probably one of the best all-round performers in the history of British entertainment, comedy or drama, and Sir David would be the first to tell you that.
“The real treat…” Sir David said whilst writing for the Daily Mail, “…was working with Ronnie Barker, the man I called the Guvnor. It was a jokey nickname at first, but it grew to express exactly what I felt about him.
“It wasn’t just about the depth of his comic gift, or [sic] the abilities he had as a writer and performer. It was the way he conducted himself, the kind of man he was. I’ve always tried to emulate him a bit and to feel him on my shoulder.”
Ronnie Barker rose to stardom through The Frost Report, famously taking part in one of the greatest and most cerebral sketches of all time, the famous Class Sketch, with soon-to-be comedy partner Ronnie Corbett and Python megastar John Cleese.
As he gained more traction from the industry and more adulation from the public, he was afforded the opportunity to write and star the TV sketch show Hark and Barker in 1970. It was here when Sir David first met Ronnie Barker when he joined the cast.
They bonded on set. Barker appreciated the burgeoning talent of Jason and on his next project, the comedy play The Odd Job for LWT, Barker invited Jason on board.
Their bond and respect for one another reached its apex when Barker asked Jason to star alongside him on his seminal sitcom, Open All Hours.
Needless to say, the show was a hit. Ronnie Barker as Arkwright and David Jason as Granville were huge hits too. They were the talk of the British comedy scene and where success went, indulgence soon followed.
That is where Sir David Jason’s dice with death comes in. You might think I’m being slightly hyperbolic when I say that but believe me, Sir David and Ronnie took it very seriously.
“Ronnie’s house there was a place where I always felt extremely welcome, but it was also where I once nearly met a premature death.” He said in an interview, published by the Daily Mail.
One night, whilst staying as a guest at Barker home for the weekend with his then-girlfriend Myfanwy, the foursome made up of David and his girlfriend and Ronnie and his wife, Joy, plied themselves with quite a healthy dose of wine. Eventually, they were all quite drunk.
After things had wound down and David had gone to bed, he found himself unable to sleep, so he thought he might step outside to clear the cobwebs and get some fresh air. It was pitch black outside, but the Only Fools and Horses star’s knowledge of Ronnie’s home, even when soused, was enough to know that a door in the outside wall of the bedroom led onto a flat roof.
About to step outside casually for some much-needed fresh air, he had a sudden thought – there might be little stones or rocks on the flat roof, which obviously would play merry hell with his bare feet. Instead, he opted to stand in the doorway and soak in the air from there, instead of venturing outside. After that, he went back to bed, more rested.
In the morning, when the haze was clear and light shone on the room, Jason looked to the door way to find not a flat roof, but a 30ft sheer drop to a disused wheel mill below.
See what I mean? Just think of how easily we could have lost a national treasure, and been deprived of so many laughs through the years.
“When I told Ronnie about my night-time adventures…” he said, “…the blood drained from his face and within a few days of our departure a nice secure balcony was put across the offending door.”
Though all’s well that ends well, it could have been much different. Just think, another couple of wines and Sir David Jason might have been robbed of clarity of mind to spare his feet from the gravel and rocks. It doesn’t bare thinking about what might have happened next.