Vienna, Rigsby’s constant companion through thick and thin, good and bad…mainly bad. Vienna’s always there for a welcome hug, or an unfortunate boot, depending on Rigsby’s love life or, how irritable his tenants have made him.
Eric Chappell’s decision to introduce a cat to the setting came about because of the loneliness of the central characters and, for some, having a pet is a way of reducing the loneliness, having someone to talk to, to share the day with. As Eric notes, ‘A lot of lonely people have cats, and it gave someone for Rigsby to talk to whenever he was on his own, which is what I needed.’
Vienna and Leonard never really got on, even though Leonard was fond of cats. As Eric notes, ‘I think Vienna the cat used to be drugged to the eyeballs! It used to arrive with the cat-lady and would hardly move throughout the entire filming. Len was a cat-love but he hated that cat because it smelt of fish! The cat was no actor I’m afraid’.
When in his hands, the cat used to go rigid and fart a lot, Leonard would say, ‘This cat’s done it again’. This may also have something to do with the fact that Leonard would hold Vienna very firmly in some cases, just to try and stop it running away so call it nerves or being scared, the cat was one to do its own thing, regardless of being on ITV’s number 1 sitcom!
As stage manager Terry Knowles mentions to Richard Webber in his Celebration book, ‘Whenever we were using Vienna in the studio the handler had to keep hold of her all the time; I remember on a couple of occasions she got loose and scooted under the audience rostra and wouldn’t come out.’
Jean Lister, the owner of the real Vienna (Patsy) would also note that Patsy would occasionally take off from the set and hide under the raised audience. To combat this, Jean would bizarrely coat the cat’s feet with butter! In order to try and comfort the cat, her very own blanket can be seen in the fourth series on Rigsby’s sofa, used to try and calm the cat down.
Producer Vernon Lawrence could also testify to this in Series 4, with Vienna uncooperative to the script and the cat typically doing whatever they please, even if it means hiding under the audience and causing a notable break as members of the production team chased and coerced the cat out. However, Vernon does admit that Vienna was a great character and did add another dimension to the script, even if he did shudder every time the cat’s name appeared in the script.
Was Vienna a boy or a girl?
Over the many seasons, Rigsby referred to Vienna as a he and a she, so Eric didn’t really specify the gender of the cat, it seems that thanks to Leonard, Vienna changed sex during the sitcom.
Thanks to Leonard, the cat changed its sex during the run of the sitcom. ‘Over the years Len would refer to it as a female, other times as a tom cat, so I’m not too sure what sex it was.’
Jump up, the Real-life Vienna
Vienna #1 – A mainly white, with patches of black, female cat called Katie, made her debut in the pilot episode.
Owned by: Peggy Sample. Peggy used to work in a veterinary surgery, a one point owning up to eighteen cats.
Vienna #2 – A mainly black female cat Called Patsy, made her debut in series 4, in Great Expectations.
Owned by: Jean Lister. A friend of Peggy’s who worked at an animal welfare charity, she owned up to nine cats. Patsy was given her big break when Peggy couldn’t continue the job with Katie the cat.
Sources at YTV also noted that the cat used for Series 1 – 3 was called Bertram…maybe Peggy picked up the wrong cat by mistake and Katie was left behind. Would anyone have noticed?
Did Rigsby have any other pets?
In the episode, The Last of the Big Spenders’ Rigsby mentions Vienna is chasing the dog around the back garden, although we never hear or see a dog in the series.
When Brenda believes Rigsby wants to take her out for a slap-up meal, he suggests they eat in because Vienna’s under the weather. He’s later forced to change his mind, and when Brenda enquires about the cat’s health, Rigsby explains he’s made a ‘Marvelous recovery, he’s chasing the dog all around the garden’ Likely not a real claim, just a ruse to throw Brenda, being new to the house.
A different version of this is found in the original script.
BRENDA: What about the cat?
RIGSBY: Oh, he’s made a wonderful recovery. (flicks cat with his foot) Look how lively he’s getting.