Harry "Buster" Merryfield was an English actor who garnered fame for portraying Uncle Albert in the BBC comedy ‘Only Fools and Horses’. A native of London, Merryfield grew up in a working-class family. Since he was quite young, he had maintained a strict fitness regimen and always took pride in his physical abilities. In the 1930s, he was a child boxing star and during his tenure in the British Army, was a Southern Command army champion. Prior to becoming a professional actor, Merryfield was a devoted amateur actor and director. After spending years performing in various plays, he finally turned professional at the age of 57. He continued to act in British theatre and made his television debut in an episode of the romantic drama series ‘Hannah’ in 1980. In January 1985, he became a member of the cast of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ after the death of Lennard Pearce, who portrayed the elderly granddad. Merryfield passed away in 1999 and his death was incorporated into the story of the show.
Prior to becoming a full-time actor, Buster Merryfield was employed at the Westminster Bank (which later became the National Westminster Bank). He worked there as Senior Area Bank Manager for nearly 40 years, only leaving for a few years to serve in the British military. Unlike his fictitious counterpart, Merryfield was enlisted in the British Army during the World War II, predominantly serving as a PT and jungle warfare instructor. During the war, he was assigned the duty of an entertainments officer and helped organise shows for fellow military personnel. In March 1946, he was taken out of active service.
He subsequently returned to civilian life and resumed his job at the bank. In the ensuing years, he worked his way to become a bank manager at Natwest’s Thames Ditton branch in Surrey. Following his retirement, he convinced a repertory company to hire him. He subsequently acted in the Connaught theatre’s productions of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ and ‘Equus’. Merryfield also directed a few plays, including John Osborne's ‘The Entertainer’, Ruth Dixon’s ‘The World-My Canvas’, and Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’, for the since-disbanded amateur theatre group The Characters. The aforementioned productions earned him the Best Play accolade at the Woking Drama Festival in 1966, 1968, and 1969, respectively. For ‘The Entertainer’ and ‘The World-My Canvas’, he also received the Best Actor accolades in the respective years.
In 1980, Merryfield had his screen debut in a season one episode of ‘Hannah’, portraying the character Uncle Jim. He also played Professor Challis in ‘The Citadel’ (1983), Bishop in ‘Strangers and Brothers’ (1984), and Sir Miles Honeyman in ‘Shroud for a Nightingale’ (1984).
Following Lennard Pearce’s death in December 1984, Merryfield was cast as Albert Gladstone Trotter, also known as Uncle Albert, the former seafaring brother of Pearce’s character, Granddad. Despite being an amateur actor, Merryfield landed the role because he, according to the showrunners, fit the description of a typical old sailor, especially for his flowing white beard. In 1999, Merryfield’s real-life death was written into the show.
He was involved with various charities, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In 1996, he published his autobiography, ‘During the War and Other Encounters’.
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Family & Personal Life
Buster Merryfield was born on November 27, 1920, in Battersea, London, England, to Lily (née Stone) and Harry Merryfield. His father worked a packer while his mother worked as a part-time waitress. His had a sister, named Irene, who passed away at the age of eight. He was originally called “Buster” by his grandfather because Merryfield’s weight was nine pounds at his birth. He chose to use “Buster” throughout his life, painstakingly hiding his Christian name, Harry. It was not revealed until his death.
Since he was very young, Merryfield worked hard to maintain his fitness. He had a daily routine of press-ups and swimming sessions and was a teetotaller as well as a non-smoker all his life, despite portraying the pipe-smoking and rum-drinking Uncle Albert. In 1936, he became the British schoolboy boxing champion, and after joining the army, won the Southern Command army championship in 1945. Besides boxing, Merryfield was also interested in football. He played the sport as an amateur and was an ardent supporter of the Millwall, often going to watch games at The Den.
Merryfield married Iris M. Mountford in June 1942. Together, they had a daughter named Karen, born in December 1947. Iris was ten years older than Merryfield.
Merryfield passed away on June 23, 1999, in the Poole General Hospital. He was suffering from a brain tumour. He was 78 years old at the time. His wife died three years later, on November 5, 2002, and they have been interred together in Verwood, Dorset.