The following interview was conducted by my good friend Zak. The interview was used to launch my magazine “Oh…Miss Jones!”, back in 1995.
Eric Chappell is now 60 years old and lives in Grantham, Lincolnshire, with his wife and two grown up children.
He is currently working on a play called ‘It Can Damage Your Health’, starring Michael Elphick. The play is along similar lines as Eric‘s early-80‘s TV hospital sit-com ‘Only When I Laugh’.
Other successes for Yorkshire Television include… The Bounder, Duty Free, Home To Roost, Singles, Haggard and Fiddlers Three
This interview was given from his ofﬁce in Grantham on Friday October 6 1995. It was just over 21 years to the month that ‘Rising Damp’ was ﬁrst broadcast.
Eric: “It seems like only yesterday. Rising Damp has become a classic, and for a lot of people it is part and parcel of their lives. When I wrote it, I thought it was just another show but now it has become part of our national heritage.”
Where did the idea of Rising Damp originate from?
“The idea originally came to me while I was working as an auditor for the electricity board. I was carrying out an audit in Leamington Spa and I picked up a copy of the local newspaper and a read a story about a black guy who had stayed for 12 months as a guest in a hotel by posing as a prince. I thought this would be a great idea for a show.”
So where did the lecherous, landlord Rigsby derive?
“Rigsby’s character was originally only intended as a syphon for some of the gags. There was a guy I used to work with at the electricity board. He was a very nice man but he was full of all I kinds of prejudice. Rigsby was based quite a bit on that man, but when I created Rigsby I decided to make him a lot sleazier – I just kept adding bits on.”
Did you receive any maltreatment for the prejudice thoughts of Rigsby?
“We never got any stick for Rigsby’s racist comments, not even when the show was re-run recently. I think this was basically because, although Philip was the butt of Rigsby’s prejudiced remarks, he always had the upper hand. Philip always came out on top and he always had the last laugh. Don Warrington was happy to play the part because he realised that no-one was being patronised. He said if the jokes had patronised him, he wouldn’t have accepted the part.”
Were you present on the set of all the shows?
“I was present during the making of every show. I had to write a lot more lines for Len (Rossiter) because he talked so fast! Most of the sit-coms I wrote were 28 pages long but some of the Rising Damp episodes were up to 31 pages! I used to say to Len that I was worried about there being too many lines and he would say: “Don’t worry, well get it in.”
Was Leonard Rossiter particularly inﬂuential to the outcome of Rigsby’s mannerisms?
“There is no doubt that Len made the part of Rigsby. Everything was scripted — there was no ad-libbing – but all the stuttering was Len’s own work. I think it was just his manner but maybe sometimes he was ﬁshing for words. See it was incredibly difficult for all the actors because they had to learn their lines in a week. But it was especially hard for Len because he had so many lines.”
Was the duration between the line learning and rehearsals very drawn out?
“They normally started learning lines on Sunday and by Wednesday we would start rehearsing. On Friday we would go to Leeds and ﬁlm on Friday night and Saturday.”
Leonard Rossiter, was he as cynical off screen?
“Len was a professional and an extremely nice man but he wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. He was always nice to me. He actually saved my bacon once. During the second series I became very snowed under with all the work because I was writing The Squirrels (another sit-com) at the time and was ﬁnding it hard to cope. I had to throw my pen down and say I couldn’t write another series but Len told the show’s bosses that he wanted to do it with me. They would have got someone else to write the show but Len said if I left, he didn’t want to do it any more so they begged me to come back. He deﬁnitely saved my bacon!”
Why were some of the ‘mistakes’ such as Alan slipping and hitting his head on the garage door not edited out?
“I remember that incident very well. I thought it would be taken out and even Richard (Beckinsale) was surprised. He came up to me afterwards and said: ‘The directors not going to leave that in is he?’ and I said: ‘I think so – I don’t believe it.’ But of course, it worked really well because it was a funny moment.”
The cat, Vienna, what was he like?
“I think Vienna the cat used to be drugged to the eye-balls! It used to arrive with the ‘cat-lady’and would hardly move throughout the entire ﬁlming! Len was a cat—lover but he hated that cat because it smelt of ﬁsh!”
Did Vienna really smell of fish?
Was RISING DAMP staged in a particular suburb?
“Rising Damp was based wherever it was staged. When it was a stage play in Leicester, it was based in Leicester. When we ﬁlmed in Leeds it was based in ‘ a northern town ‘. The geography was unimportant, and that’s why the house never had an address.”
Was RISING DAMP one of the first things you wrote?
“It was one of the first things I wrote and was originally intended as a stage play. I wasn’t used to writing when I did Rising Damp so I just used to take any ideas that came to me and used them.”
Why did you stop after the fourth season?
“I stopped writing Rising Damp in the end because neither Len or myself wanted to be involved in long-running shows. He wanted to do other things and so did I. I have never written more than four seasons of anything.”