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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

David Jason & Monty Python: Part 1

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I purchased the DVD for the TV series "Do Not Adjust Your Set" because it featured several of the actors who would go on to star in "Monty Python."  An added bonus was realizing that David Jason was in the show.  I've been a fan of his ever since watching "Open All Hours," the four seasons of which I saw on PBS over ten years ago.  I had subsequently seen him in the detective series "A Touch of Frost," but that was a dark and serious show, nothing like his character of Granville in "Open All Hours."  So it was fun to watch him hamming it up with Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle, in their late 1960s pre-Python sketch comedy series.  He seemed to interact so naturally with the others, that I just figured he must have been one of the young, rising stars of comedy on English TV.  But in life, things are often more complicated than they appear.

At a mall in Brighton, England, I found My Life, David Jason's autobiography.  In it, he reveals that he was born during World War II, and was too young to be evacuated from the suburbs of London.  Or perhaps I should say the poor housing districts, as his mother worked as a domestic servant, and his father as a fishmonger.  Neither parent seems to have worked hard to inspire David, and perhaps his teachers thought he showed little promise as well.  In either case, he left school at fifteen, and took a series of jobs, eventually learning the electrician's trade.

But before he left school, one person made an impact on his life.  He was the principle, who evidently needed someone to fill the lead role in a school play, and commandeered him for the job.  To his surprise, David Jason found he enjoyed acting, and others, including the leader of an amateur dramatics society, agreed that he had talent.  David wasn't sure about continuing to act beyond that first play, but when he realized that the number of girls in the amateur dramatics group far outnumbered the boys, he decided to give it a go.

The acting bug stuck with him, but his parents refused to subsidize him to attend an acting school, even when he was accepted, and others believed he showed promise.  This wasn't because they didn't love him, as David Jason points out.  It was just that their eldest son, who had served in World War II, had joined the acting profession after his army service, and they thought that one son who was perennially seeking a new job was enough.  Given his less-than-stirling academic career, they wanted something safe and secure for their younger son.  Let him learn a trade, they thought.  Something with security and a future.

So David Jason relied on his training as an electrician to get by while getting bit parts as an actor.  Usually these were roles that demanded a great deal of physical comedy.  As he developed a reputation for this, he was able to wean himself away from doing electrical work, until he acted full time.  One year he was able to buy his first car, a tiny English Mini, for personal use.  He got a job that summer at the Pier Theatre in Bournemouth.  And one night, a TV producer traveled down to see him perform.  He had heard of David Jason's panache for physical comedy, and after watching him that night, offered him a role in his new show "Do Not Adjust Your Set."  That series would take the nation by storm, and become the top-rated children's show in England.  

Unlike his pre-Python costars, David Jason didn't attend Oxford or Cambridge.  He didn't have any connections among the movers-and-shakers in the English TV industry of that time.  Instead, he earned his way onto "Do Not Adjust Your Set" through years of hard work and practice, practice, practice.  Still, he made it there, because he loved acting, and he persevered with what he loved doing.  

That's what matters.

Dragon Dave

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