Three decades on, Arkwright’s corner store is reopening for a one-off Christmas Special.
Susan Griffin talks shop with the classic comedy’s stars Sir David Jason and Lynda Baron, as they reunite for Still Open All Hours
Reunions always tends to make one feel wistful, especially when three decades have passed.
“We were young and foolish, now we’re old and daft,” says Lynda Baron on reviving Open All Hours for a one-off Christmas special.
“Speak for yourself,” retorts Sir David Jason, who’s sitting by her side, grinning.
It’s hard to believe that 28 years have passed since the pair last appeared in the sitcom, Jason as shy shop assistant Granville, Baron as Nurse Gladys Emmanuel.
“I’ve been locked into so many other things, Only Fools And Horses, The Darling Buds Of May, [A Touch Of] Frost,” says the now white-haired Jason, explaining that this is the first opportunity he’s had to return to the role.
The 73-year-old’s looking dapper in an immaculate blue suit, shirt and jumper, while Baron, now 74, looks glamorous in a white top beneath a black jacket, her hair voluminously coiffed.
“When the special was first announced, you would’ve thought someone had invented the wheel with all the fuss, so it was quite a responsibility,” the actress notes.
The idea stemmed from a lunch Jason had with the BBC’s head of comedy a couple of years back. “He said it’d be nice to find something for me to do to come back to the BBC, and during the conversation I happened to say that one of the things that mystified me was wondering whatever happened to Granville.”
Jason approached original script writer Roy Clarke. “He said, ‘Funny enough, for years I’ve wondered what happened to Granville.’ He was so excited by the prospect he put pen to paper straight away, and here we are.”
That said, the BBC did take a little convincing. “It’s a corporate system, so it wasn’t just a case of ‘do it’. It had to go through a process,” Jason says, explaining that research was conducted “to see if it was an animal of its time”.
“But classic comedy’s classic comedy, and the strong public reaction helped influence the decision,” he adds.
The one-off follows a day in the life of the grocer’s shop in south Yorkshire. Little has changed in three decades.
“It’s as if people have just carried on,” says Baron who, since the original series, has had roles in shows like EastEnders and Doctors.
Jason adds: “When Roy originally wrote it, he wrote in a very whimsical manner and that style hasn’t changed. It’s like we’ve never gone away, if you like.”
The street in the Doncaster suburbs, where they filmed the original series, has remained the same too.
“It was quite emotional to return to the old haunting ground,” says London-born Jason. “Lynda and I were so pleased the location hadn’t changed.
“A lot of people came out to see us filming, but they were all very well-behaved and nice, so it was very rewarding.”
Baron, who hails from Manchester, agrees: “Yes, they were thrilled to see us. People were going, ‘You haven’t changed.’ It was like, ‘Really?’” she adds, laughing.
It’s no secret that the special pays homage to one very important person now missing from the credits - Granville’s beloved but miserly Uncle Arkwright, played by the late comedy great Ronnie Barker.
“One felt quite a responsibility to try and ensure it was as entertaining as Ronnie made it,” admits Jason who, like the rest of the cast and crew, felt his presence.
“There was one photo [from the shoot] in particular, of me standing in the shop doorway. Everybody said when they first saw it they thought it was Ronnie. He was so identifiable and I wear the same sort of gear he wore, so for a minute it’s like he’s come back.”
Baron admits she found it “quite upsetting” when she first walked on set: “It was weird, a very strange feeling. Ronnie’s presence was so marvellous; that varnish, that history, is still there.”
Having inherited the shop from his uncle some years before, Granville now runs it with his son, Leroy, a cheerful, good-looking lad with many female admirers.
“We’re enjoying a similar relationship that Ronnie and I had,” says Jason of his partnership with young actor, James Baxter.
“And Leroy’s being treated exactly the same way I was treated by Uncle Arkwright. It’s pecking order. I’m at the top and he’s at the bottom, and that’s all there is to it.”
Granville brought Leroy up after he arrived on the doorstep as the surprise result of a one-night-stand in Blackpool 25 years ago. But just as there was a certain ambiguity over the exact hereditary link between the uncle and nephew, so there is between father and son.
“Yes, there is a question mark over where he’s come from, which irritates him,” says Jason, laughing. “But he’s been looked after by all the women in the neighbourhood who mother and care for him.”
In the episode, Granville tries to persuade Leroy to use the old delivery bike, with the same nostalgic and romanticised reasons Arkwright used to give him. “It’s a load of old rubbish really, it’s about cheapness!” says Jason, who was photographed cycling around on set. “That bike was a pain in the butt in more ways than one. The gears hadn’t been sorted out properly so it was quite difficult to ride.”
Laughing, Baron interjects: “You’d forgotten how many hills there are in Doncaster!”
Granville also attempts to get a date with old flame Mavis (Maggie Ollerenshaw).
“The show’s about ordinary people’s lives, it’s not filled with glitter,” says Baron.
“That’s a very good observation,” Jason agrees. “So much of what we see about relationships is either very glamorous and exciting, or it’s like EastEnders, full of anger and angst.
“Somewhere in the middle is all of us who experience the whole spectrum, some bits are funny and good, some are hard.”
Although they’re optimistic about the one-off, they realise it might not pull in the same audience figures as back in the day.
“No one ever will get those audiences again, because the world’s so different with all the channels and the internet,” says Jason.
“Of course, you don’t want to spoil the memory of something, but I’m not worried about it,” adds Baron. “Roy Clarke’s written it, and it’s still Open All Hours.”
Jason agrees: “We can’t guarantee how it’s going to be received but our commitment is to make people laugh - and we’re going to give it a bloody good shot!”
EXTRA TIME - STILL OPEN ALL HOURS
* The shop’s antiquated nuisance till - which has a mind of its own and snaps shut - makes a reappearance.
* Comedian Johnny Vegas makes a “very funny” appearance but Jason won’t reveal details.
* Lynda Baron still gets fan letters. She says: “Everyone likes nurses. Not only do they look nice but they look after you - but I’m an old bird now!”
* Like the original, the exterior scenes were shot at Lister Avenue in Doncaster. The interior scenes were recorded in Salford in front of a live studio audience.
* In real life, the shop is now a hairdressers. During the old days, Baron says one oblivious local continued to use the shop throughout shoots: “He’d come in every day to buy a box of matches, and the crew used to give him a box.”
* Still Open All Hours airs on BBC One on Boxing Day