ERIC CHAPPELL ON THE CAST (Likely undertaken in the 1980s)
Len was the driving force behind Rising Damp. He was a powerful and very physical actor. I may have written the words but he provided the punctuation. His whole body would form a question mark – the twist of his head an exclamation – his eyes blazed italics — and the open mouthed stare was a line of dots going into infinity.
Len also had an astonishing verbal dexterity. This seems to be a Liverpool tradition from Tommy Handley through to Ken Dodd. It allowed him to deliver long speeches with speed and clarity, very important in a situation comedy where time was of the essence.
I never found Len particularly impressed or affected by his sudden fame, which was refreshing. He still enjoyed a pint, still retained that earthy, irreverent sense of humour. He never sought the company of cabinet ministers or appeared on high profile chat shows. He was his own man – take him or leave him. I can still hear him saying: ‘It’s funny, Eric – let’s leave it in.‘
Richard’s laid back manner and his minimalist style of acting, which would have made him a great film actor had he lived, was not only complimentary to Len’s frenetic performance, it was essential. He was able to absorb all Len’s energy and then disperse it with great naturalism. It would have been fatal if they’d both conducted their scenes at the same high pitch. Richard was one of those actors who appeared to be doing very little whilst a great deal was going on under the surface.
He was also, although not the oldest, the most experienced sit-com actor of the quartet, having already appeared in The Lovers and Porridge. This allowed him to be something of a calming influence on the show – a calming influence that was often needed.
I know the role of Alan was not Richard’s favourite. He told me he was tired of playing innocent young men. As he pointed out, he was in his early thirties, married, with children but he was still playing frustrated virgins. He felt he was ready for more mature roles. Having seen him in these parts I knew he was right. But he was a victim of his youthful looks. I always said: ‘Never mind, Richard, enjoy it while you can – there’s plenty of time.’ Unfortunately there wasn’t.
FRANCES DE LA TOUR
The Banana Box in which Frances appeared was my first play and Miss Jones was my first female creation. At that time, I wasn’t even sure I could write a female character – a fear which haunts most male writers. The character was a little sketchy and there were gaps. Frances filled these gaps with a wonderful display of gauche innocence coupled with an underlying sexual repression. When people complimented me on this fully rounded character I was never sure how much was me and how much was Frances. I do know that as I wrote more scenes between Frances and Len they became easier and they were always immaculately performed. They may have been politically opposed, they may never have kissed, but together they were magic.
Don came to the play, and the series, straight from drama school. Imagine that. How intimidating that must have been. To be plunged into the hurly-burly of sit-com with three enormously talented and experienced actors. Confronted with this, Don showed grit and determination and a great deal of savvy.
He didn’t try to compete for laughs, he performed with sardonic coolness – sometimes aloof – sometimes with icy reserve – but always regal – when all the time he must have been quaking in his boots.
I always felt Don and I were in the same position. We were both beginners. We had to learn quickly or we were lost.
WITH PERMISSION. COPYRIGHT ERIC CHAPPELL.