Oh…Miss Jones!

“OH…MISS JONES!” The Magazine: Birmingham, Here I Come

Firstly, a big thank you to anyone reading this who coughed up their hard earned cash to buy a copy of my magazine back in the 90s. I hope you still have it, or have found another use for it, like to stop a table wobbling, or for swatting flies (as per Miss Jones in the episode Stage Struck)!
One person of note who did keep it, other than my mum, was the wonderfully talented Judy Buxton (Caroline Armitage), she brought it to the producer of the Rising Damp Forever documentary that I worked on, and said “This is all you’ll need!” well, not exactly that, but she left it with the producer and he sent it back to her after the show.
The magazine also served to assist Richard Webber’s excellent ‘Rising Damp: A Celebration book’, released in 2001.
If you’re interested, the following documents how and why the magazine came about.
And so, my story starts back in 1994, the 20th Anniversary of Rising Damp. I had taken a coach journey from Southampton to Birmingham, where I was staying with my best friend. I remember the time well, both comedy aficionados, we were drawn to characters that had a manic, embittered or solitary side to them, namely Basil Fawlty, Del Boy and Tony Hancock. The latter having a very influential effect on me from the mid 1980s, as you will come to observe in the following text. Most of our everyday dialogue was laden with quotes and observational comedy that only other fans would recognize. We could be rendered hysterical with the simplest of lines from the most innocuous of scenes. A character that came into our viewing habits every now and again through infrequent repeats on television was Rigsby. When we did watch Rising Damp, we only wanted more but with the lack of video releases, we were starved, and relied on repeats.
As a child of the 70s I can only recall the soundtrack to the show and the opening film frames showing an orange wooden door surrounded by bricks. There was something about the simplicity of the title track that set the tone of the show, something I would later appreciate more. I have no recollection of the manic Rigsby, his student lodgers Alan and Philip, Miss Jones, or even his cat Vienna.
In between re-runs of the series from the late 70s, Rising Damp finally became available to own on video courtesy of Castle Vision who released a series of videos, each containing 2 – 3 episodes, from 1990 – 1993.
Awaiting the start of a Morrissey Tour in 1995, in Birmingham, we began watching a number of episodes of Rising Damp, book ended by Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses. The more we watched, I decided there and then, in my friend’s flat, that I would produce the definitive companion to Rising Damp, I will write a one-off Souvenir Issue to commemorate the series! That was it.
I had previously contributed to a few comedy fanzine / magazines so I knew what I enjoyed reading in these ‘underground’ publications and so I wanted to produce a piece of work that didn’t rely too heavily on text but contained more clippings, photos, press material etc. I wanted to produce something that you could dip into without having to read cover-to-cover.
I initially began my research on the series in late 1994 to mark the 20th Anniversary of the series, curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to find out what was available. It was soon apparent that very little information was available; don’t forget the internet was not as resourceful as it is today, so microfiche and reference books at my local library in Southampton became good friends. Every day I went in to plough the archives, in search of new and interesting information but invariably the same information always seems to turn up again and again.
I was fortunate to receive some original material from Yorkshire TV, fellow comedy fans and collectors and, after contacting the writer, Eric Chappell, was sent contact information for Rising Damp’s ‘other fan’. Yes, there was another one, David C Taylor! He’s thanked on this website but he’s certainly due another thanks here. So, in earnest, I wrote to him and explained who I was and what I was doing. It turned out that the other fan was as consumed by the sitcom as I was and we pleasantly exchanged information. Information was so hard to come, even from the television company, extracting even the tiniest piece of information such as the name of a walk-on actor in one of the episodes was hard work.
Slowly I was beginning to build quite a wealth of information on the show, agents were sending me the character actors’ profiles, some actors and production crew I couldn’t trace, though not for the want of trying. But ever so slowly I was getting to a point where I would be able to release something that would be definitive and lovingly prepared by a fan.
Eric Chappell was immensely helpful and as I returned to Southampton, my good friend in Birmingham took it upon himself to interview Eric for my magazine. It was coming together; I contacted all the actors with questionnaires and received some great answers and fond memories of working on the show.
I wasn’t entirely sure how all this information would finally be collated but thankfully my parents had bought a new PC, it was the size of a small village compared to today’s wafer thin machines, so that was a great start. Printing and finishing would be for a later date but it was time to lay all the information down into a legible document. I had no idea how to scan images into a document so everything was photocopied and pasted up by hand, just like I did for my first job as a graphic artist in packaging design.
I used to visit a local photocopier shop in my hometown, initially to copy various items to send to comedy fans. They were very friendly and helpful, always quizzical on what I was up to, they were used to people bringing in batch runs of ‘Conference’ material, or everyday workplace documentation so to suddenly see original comedy posters, lobby cards, playbills etc. was something of a talking point. I would use them for the epic-printing marathon of the magazine that would soon follow.
As with this website, it’s always hard to know when to stop, is the information all there, does it tally with all further entries I made for the same episode, has anything been duplicated, spelling errors etc. After a while you become blind to things and what seems obvious is overlooked. I know because upon completion and printing of the magazine, glaring errors appeared, from me, someone who attested that this magazine would be definitive and devoid of errors. Over 20yrs later and it still hurts. Upon reflection, the magazine was written in a style that took for granted that the readership was as passionate and, for want of a better term, obsessed with the show as I was. Quotes from the shows were thrown in and not clarified, mainly because I assumed the reader knew the scene from multiple watches and could carry the scene on, verbatim, as I would. I now know this was not the case and to the regular comedy reader eyebrows were raised as to the odd quote thrown in with, what appeared to be, little care. But it was quite the opposite of course, but only appreciated if you were watching the shows non-stop as I was. You’ll probably find that on this website as well, I can’t help myself.
Needless to say, Rising Damp had begun to take over my life in the 90s. I was going to a lot of music concerts, Britpop was in full swing, and I was watching a staple diet of Rising Damp, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses, Carry On, 50s/60s British comedy, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach films and Withnail and I. I knew Rising Damp had completely taken over my life when I began dreaming that I was living in Rigsby’s boarding house. There is no prescription to cure one of this problem. In fact, it was amazing, I was actually in the show but I could never remember anything of the dialogue or even the situation. I would awake and wonder if it was normal, was I normal, is this reaction normal? Dr!? After all, I had never dreamt of being alongside Kenneth Williams in Carry On Camping – though always wished I would have been alongside Tony Hancock complaining at the lack of female interest and ranting about the local council.
Once the magazine had been completed, I laid out every page on the floor, glued together back to front on a sheet of A3, attached all my images, cuttings and pictures, tied them all up and set off for the printers on my bike. I had warned them I would be coming and to make sure their toner levels were high, we would be close to overheating their copiers by the end of the day. I don’t recall the girl’s name I worked with, the men were all salesman with faded white shirts and shiny shoes, always bothered by me coming in especially as I wasn’t coming in with a purchase order or lease agreement for one of their newest copier machines. I was though, paying about 6p per copy, which would, by the end of the day, run into 10s of pounds! But it wasn’t the monetary value; it was the value of the information being copied. ‘If only they knew what all this content meant, you can’t find this information anywhere on this show…and I HAVE IT!” I frequently thought as I had left the shop on numerous occasions.
Ably assisted by the young lady in the store, we began what was to become a grueling few minutes of debating where to set the toner level, for photo quality reproductions on quality grade white paper or box standard B&W. Once agreed, I hit 100 copies and hit START with the precision of Eric Bristow. Soon the floor began to look like an ice flow cracking, sheets of A3 paper were laid out across the carpet, all angled to break the page flow. Customers were trying to choose their path to the counter, as if they were in The Adventure Game’s Vortex.
Once collated, stapled twice in the spine, folded and placed under a heavy weight. I proudly picked up my first completed copy and inside my head I heard the soft words from Alec Guinness’ character ‘Holland’, from Ealing’s 1951 crime caper ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, as he presents Pendlebury with their first golden Eiffel Tower, ‘Our first born’.
I had done it, my first publication, it felt great.
I placed my first advertisement in the Kenneth Williams and Sid James Appreciation Society’s fanzine ‘Stop Messin’ About!’ by Carl St John, ‘Cor!’ a British Comedy Magazine (by the talented comedy historian, Robert Ross), and another in a Morrissey fanzine ‘A Chance to Shine’ by Bruce Duff – the advert is featured to the right. I waited patiently for my first order. I received some very welcome notices from the writer (Eric Chappell) and cast of the show, Eric even requested four more for him to distribute. Fans also found my telephone number and I started to receive phone calls, one was from a chap who simply said ‘Hello, is that Ian. I can do a great impersonation of Rigsby.’ He launched into a very bad impression, which ended, naturally, with the classic line “Oh, Miss Jones!” there was an awkward pause at the end where neither of us knew what to say, he then hung up. Others just wanted to chat and I was always happy to share stories.
I sent the magazine to fans all around the world and years later my parents would still receive letters, with a cheque enclosed, requesting a copy of the magazine!
I would go on to create the Official Rising Damp website, become Granada Media’s Rising Damp expert to promote their videos/DVDs, planned a new book on the series, and began producing a new Rising Damp stage play that Eric Chappell had sent me…you can read how that went HERE it was quite the experience!
Happy days.

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