Manchester Online 14th March 2005
Virtually unrecognisable from his roles as much-loved Del Boy in Only Fools And Horses, and melancholy DI Jack Frost, the inimitable David Jason returns to the small screen as a rather unlikely master of disguise, in ITV1's new comedy-heist drama, Diamond Geezer.
"It's great to break away and play a more senior character - I used to play many different types of roles when I began my career and Diamond Geezer was a great chance to get back to what I enjoyed doing," David grins, looking remarkably tanned and relaxed after recently returning from a break in America with his wife Gill and their three-year-old daughter, Sophie Mae.
Three-times winner of Best Actor at the National Television Awards and one of Britain's most respected and talented actors, the 65-year-old declares that he is beginning to take things a bit easier since he became a father for the first time at the ripe old age of 61.
"Retirement is not a word I'm ready for yet - pacing myself is more like it!" he says, flashing his trademark grin.
"I'm insisting that I have more time with projects to spend time with the family," he adds happily.
Of course, the nationally-revered actor remains right on top of his game whatever he does, and will do for some time to come, if his enthusiasm for playing Des is anything to go by.
In fact, the `simpleton' prison inmate with a spring on his step and twinkle in his eye, who has cunningly hatched the perfect alibi for the perfect crime, seems to have hit a real chord with David.
"Being in prison and playing an old lag had a certain resonance of playing Blanco with Ronnie Barker in Porridge, especially the prison sequences because they were very, very similar.
"I mean, I suppose all prisons are the same - not that I've ever been inside one of course!" he jokes.
Much to Des' horror, he is joined by new inmate Phil, played by Stephen Wright, who quickly realises that Des has actually engineered his three-year stint in the slammer to provide himself with a water-tight alibi as cover for his ingenious diamond heist plans.
"It's a great storyline - I was sent the script as an outline and I just loved the idea of a great caper. For Des to deliberately get himself sent to prison and then pretend he was a wally-brain in order to get all the information he needed to pull off the crime was intriguing," David explains, clearly taken with the challenge that the role of Des presents.
In fact, David, who is set to star in new series of A Touch Of Frost later this year, says that filming the two-hour television movie, Diamond Geezer, was especially refreshing after playing the same major characters - such as Frost or Del Boy - for long swathes of his career.
"Although I enjoy playing Frost tremendously, after you've been that character for 10 years there is no real challenge - I've only got to put the coat and the hat on and off he goes.
"It becomes familiar, like an old friend, so when the part of Des came up I thought, `If you get it right it is going to be great'.
"But there's a major twist in the tale, which I won't give away, and I really don't think anyone will see it coming," he winks.
The fact that David enjoyed making Diamond Geezer so much is also down to the distinct lack of bloodshed or bad language throughout the show, despite the fact that it's set in a prison.
"It had very little violence or swearing, which I kind of carry a flag about - our job is to entertain not to teach people how to swear or beat people up," he says.
"We live in the modern world so you have to have some of it, and the story did show us some of the more slightly violent sequences - but they were quickly dealt with and it wasn't gratuitous.
"Put all of that together and it makes a very enjoyable family piece of entertainment where you can put your feet up and say, `What on earth's going to happen next?'," he laughs loudly, referring to the strong element of high jinks in the show.
David goes on to explain that because he has been working as a popular actor for so many years - he made his debut as the Del Boy over 20 years ago in 1981 - the British audience's perception of his work is one that is very family orientated.
"I've tried to strive for that and I really feel I'd let an audience down if I did something with a lot of violence and violent language.
"We concentrate a little too much on being too street-wise and not enough on entertainment - that doesn't mean to say all strong shows are bad but I think we're in danger of going a little too far down that road," he adds.
David also criticises television bosses for screening too many repeats of Only Fools And Horses, the BBC One show that rocketed him to fame, saying that it is an inevitable result of the British television industry becoming too safe and cheap.
"If I were in charge I'd not allow Only Fools And Horses to be repeated so often - I was very proud of the time I spent on the show but it's time to move on," he smiles.
He adds that, in his opinion, far less time and money should be spent on reality programming, such as Big Brother or I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
"But that's the element of cheap TV," he says. "We've got to be careful not to dumb down for the audience, they shouldn't be sitting at home on the sofa vegetating - we should paint on as large a canvas as we can."
And since David clearly sees family entertainment shows such as Diamond Geezer as the perfect splash of colour to fill that very canvas, he isn't ruling out starring in a sequel.
"I think it was the writer Caleb Ranson's intention certainly - he wrote the movie to end openly, so there's scope for another.
"You know, if Caleb would like to write a sequel where there's another diamond robbery in Monte Carlo, well, ...I'm up for it!" he quips.
But when asked about any future plans to tread the boards and make his theatrical debut any time soon he was slightly less enthused.
"The theatre is still being kept at arms length - it's very demanding.
"Maybe I'll play Scrooge or something when I'm the right age!" he grins widely.