Oh…Miss Jones!


Here are a few interesting quotes from Don over the years regarding the role of Philip Smith.
“The four central characters are all pretending to be something that they are not. In Philip’s case, he claims to be an African prince. This appeals to his landlord, Rigsby, who is a small man, tortured by fail aspirations and class anxiety.”
“It was the most nerve-racking time of my life at the beginning. My first television job, I and I had very little experience of comedy.”
“What I remember is not the execution but the state I was in, the terror of doing it – of recording on a Friday night in front of a live studio audience, and the sense of responsibility to other actors.”
On Leonard, “He would be rigorous, but he was very gentle with me.”
“For an actor fresh from drama school, being a crucial member of a small sitcom cast is a golden opportunity to introduce yourself to the huge audiences that television attracts.”
“Philip is far too sophisticated and well-educated to be made to look foolish.”
“It’s not an easy role (Philip). The comedy situation is that of a black man being more English than the English themselves. But it’s like walking a tightrope. If I were to go over the top it would be a caricature and therefore not funny. Philip must always be very real, very acceptable, if he’s to be amusing.”
“It was the most nerve-wracking time of my life at the beginning. My first television job, and I had very little experience of comedy. We had just a week to rehearse and then produce each episode in front of a live audience. Rossiter was tremendously helpful to me. He is the comic master, so inventive. He can smell a laugh hidden away in quite an ordinary line. He used to take me aside and say, “Don’t try so hard. Don’t say it that way. Just try it like this”. He was always right.”
“I still get recognised as Philip Smith which is odd really because it’s as if he’s never gone away. It can be a little frustrating. It seems that whatever I do, people come up to me and say ‘you know, I really liked you in Rising Damp’. Clearly, it’s entered into people’s consciousness, which is great,
“Rising Damp was a very subtle comedy. There were racist jokes all right. Yet Philip was the one who had all the class. He was the exact opposite to Rigsby’s idea of what a black person should be. He was worldly, intelligent: Rigsby even came to him for advice. In this sense, Philip was, I think, an antidote to racism: he was an education to people.”
“I never thought of myself as a funny man. I shall always be proud to be connected with such a successful series, but I would also like to thought of as a straight actor”.
“He (Philip) may also be responsible for holding me back in my career, but who can tell? Without Rising Damp, I might not have had a career at all.”
“It was a fabulous break (Rising Damp). I was earning 150 pounds per episode – a fabulous sum at the time. Situation comedy is fast and high-pressured, and I had no experience of television. Leonard was incredibly supportive. I also really enjoyed working with Richard.”
“I was walking home – I lived in Hampstead then – when a guy driving past in a car shouted ‘Hey, your mate’s dead’. I had no idea what he was talking about. It was only when I got home and put on the television that I understood. His death was such a shock, because he appeared to be in such good health. He was terribly easy going; nothing was too much of him. I think he was the nicest person I have ever met.”
“Rising Damp has been kind to me, and the audience have loved it. I have been asked to do other comedy series but they haven’t been as good as Rising Damp, so I’ve turned them down.” 1978
Re. Repeats of the show, “I was a bit nervous when I knew it was going to be on and I worried whether it would hold up after all this time. But I really enjoyed it and thought what a good show it was. When we made it, we didn’t know it was going to work so well, but it just so happened that the chemistry was right. That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.”
“The show was a long time ago and it doesn’t exist in the same way for me as it does for other people. It’s ever-present on TV. It’s not ever-present in my life.”
“Frances de la Tour and I are the only ones left now and that is very sad. Richard, Leonard, Frances and I got on very well together and making the series was a great time in my life. We were a friendly bunch and used to have nights out together in Leeds, where Rising Damp was filmed.”
On Rigsby, “He’s a racist, there’s no question about it – but that’s not the real issue. What helped was the dispelling of a myth, and the myth was about black people. If you present something which is the opposite of that myth you begin to undermine it. I think that’s where Rising Damp helped. The difficulty for Rigsby lies in observing somebody who is exactly who he would like to be – apart from the fact that he is black – and that’s very confusing for him.”

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