The following interviews were issued in a Press Pack release by YTV, shortly after the release of Rising Damp.
Approximately SEPTEMBER – NOVEMBER 1975.
Grantham-born and still living there – although he moved for a period to Hinckley – ERIC CHAPPELL wrote “The Banana Box” (from which ‘Rising Damp’ stems) as his first play.
It was originally presented at Hampstead Theatre Club for a Sunday night performance in November, 1970, and was subsequently staged at The Phoenix, Leicester, The Theatre Royal, Newcastle and Oxford Playhouse, prior to its West End run at the Apollo in the summer of 1974.
Since then he has had a number of his plays televised, including “The Spanish Dancers” (HTV) and “We’re Strangers Here” (ATV). He also wrote the successful ATV situation comedy series about office workers, “The Squirrels”, starring Bernard Hepton and Ken Jones. He has a number of plays presented on radio.
Eric, who gave up his job as an auditor with the Electricity Board in May last year to become a full-time writer, has won this year’s PYE Colour Television Award for the Most Promising New Television Writer.
A modest man, Eric commented that when he embarked on his playwriting career: “Nothing eventful has happened to me much since school. In fact, when I got married the local paper recorded, to my undying shame, ‘Local Footballer Weds’. This was a significant judgement since I hadn’t kicked a ball for ten years!”
Perhaps, in the light of recent events – not to mention accolades, the local paper will now be able to accord Eric with a somewhat grander claim to distinction.
Are the days of Rigsby – the lowdown landlord in Yorkshire Television’s highly popular situation comedy series, ‘Rising Damp’, numbered?
For after two series Rigsby’s creator, award winning Liverpool-born actor LEONARD ROSSITER may decide to “kill him off”.
Leonard, who has “always avoided taking on long series like the plague”, says firmly that two important considerations would have to be met before he would entertain a third series of Rising Damp, much as he had enjoyed playing the role.
“I was in ‘Z-Cars’ back in the early 1960s, and they asked me to become a regular in the series”, he recalled. “But I turned it down because I felt then, as I still do, that to go on playing the same role year in and year out could become very boring. I am one of those people who derive much delight in doing different things. It’s like someone who is in an office all the time: I’m sure many office workers yearn to get out and do something different now and again. But having said that,” he went on, “it can be argued that if you are doing good work why not go on doing it whilst it remains good? So, before doing more episodes of Rising Damp, I would have to be satisfied that, one, the writer feels quite happy to go on writing, confident that he can maintain the standard, and, two, that I would continue to work with some, if not all, the same people. I wouldn’t want to start again with an entirely different team.”
He pointed out that the strength of Rising Damp lay, to a large extent, in its setting – the run-down boarding house. It was not one of those comedies which could spin off into other locations with any degree of success. Consequently, it made great demands on the writer, who had to exploit situations virtually within the precincts of the boarding house.
Whether Rigsby returns or not, however, Leonard has plenty of work in the pipeline to keep him busy for the time being.
Immediately after the series he goes into rehearsal for a provincial tour in an annual Michael Fabin production of ‘A Christmas Carol’, playing – can you guess? – Scrooge. (“No”, says Leonard, “this didn’t arise direct from my performances as Rigsby; Michael Fabian just happened to have me in mind to do it this year.”) Leonard, who has played Scrooge once before, in 1957 at Croydon Re, will visit Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool and Preston during the pre-Christmas tour. “Preston will be quite nostalgic because it is 21 years to the month since I made my first professional performance with Preston Rep, and I haven’t been back since”, he points out. “I won’t be at the old theatre, though – I gather there’s a new one there now.” In the New Year, Leonard is contemplating doing a lunchtime theatre season in London, probably with a rehash of an old Groucho Marx script. There is also the possibility of a film in April.
Over the years Leonard has led an extremely busy career in television, films and on the stage. His television work until recently was mostly straight drama; he had occasional comedy scripts offered but turned them all down because none amounted to anything much. Then came three worthwhile television comedy offers within a couple of weeks, among them Rising Damp.
Despite the sudden abundance of comedy, however, Leonard does not intend to concentrate too much on this sphere of television. As he has already stressed, he likes to “play the field”. “I do about three plays a year as a rule; I like to do films now and again – who doesn’t? – and I like to vary my television roles”, he declares.
The reason he decided to do Rising Damp, he added, was that he was in The Banana Box, the stage play on which the television series is based.
Before embarking on his stage career, Leonard originally intended to take a language degree. He abandoned that plan and worked for an insurance company for seven years before joining Preston Repertory Company. After six months at Preston, he moved on to Wolverhampton and Salisbury. In 1957-58, he was in Free As Air at the Savoy Theatre, followed by a tour of The Iceman Cometh.
A turning point in his career came in 1959, when he joined the Bristol Old Vic, where he stayed for two years. Then began a long period of television and film work; nearly a score of films include A Kind of Loving, Billy Liar, This Sporting Life, King Rat, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Otley, Deadlier than the Male, Oliver!, Luther and The Luck of Barry Lyndon.
Recent television includes HTV’s crime drama, Thick as Thieves, which won the Royal Television Society’s Pye Oscar for the best regional production, Loch Lomond (ATV), The Magistrate and The Baby’s Name Being Kitchener (BBC) and Johnny Speight’s If There Weren’t any Blacks you’d Have to Invent Them. Since the first Rising Damp series, he has also done a BBC Television play, After the Solo, written by John Challen, who wrote The Headmaster. In the play, which will be screened shortly, Leonard plays the father of a boy soprano who sings in a local school concert.
In 1963, Leonard played the original version of David Turner’s Semi Detached at the Music Box Theatre, New York. In recent years he has played regularly on the London stage. Credits include; The Strange Case of Martin Richter and Disabled at Hampstead Theatre Club, The Heretic (Duke of York’s Theatre), The Caretaker (Mermaid) and Arturo Ui (Saville), for which he received both the Variety Club of Great Britain and the Plays and Players Awards for best stage actor of 1970, and the Scottish Television Award for the best stage actor for his Edinburgh Festival performance in the same play.
After starring, as the landlord, in The Banana Box at the Apollo 18 months ago, he went into a John Antrobus play The Looneys at the Hampstead Theatre Club last autumn.
Leonard is married to actress Gillian Raine, and they have one daughter, Camilla.
When it comes to acting in future, RICHARD BECKINSALE, wants to be his age. For Richard, who has achieved much of his acting popularity through playing impressionable, naïve youths – viz, Geoffrey in Granada Television comedy series, The Lovers, and now, Alan, the amiable long-haired student in Rising Damp – recalls he has been playing 21-year olds for the past eight years.
In fact, Richard is 28 and he contends; “I’m getting a bit old for this type of role. I want to move on and play older parts.” Tall, dark and amiable in real life, Richard has had a remarkably successful career to date in television, films and on the stage. Nearly everything he has been in – including Rising Damp, The Lovers and the current BBC comedy, Porridge, with Ronnie Barker, has hit the popularity high spots.
He attributes this to a mixture of being choosy and good luck. “I have always been selective, especially where comedy series are concerned”, Richard points out. “I have been lucky in that I accepted three offers in television comedy within a relatively short space of time which have become hits. But I have also turned down several offers which I feel pretty sure would not have been hits.”
Richard hails proudly from Nottingham – “real D.H. Lawrence country”, he calls it. He says his grandfather was a miner who died of pneumonia poaching ducks, and his great-grandfather was married to a Burmese princess whom he met in India. Before starting his acting career he was one of 600 applicants for 30 places at RADA – Ri–hard worked as an upholsterer and a clerk in a pipes factory.
Even in his early career he played a full measure of young, romantic roles, including the most famous lover of them all – Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet at the Leeds playhouse in 1971. Another success, the following year, was as love-sick poet Angus McFee in Anglia Television’s play, madly in Love and as Hamlet in repertory, where he received some enlightening praise from an audience member…”I’m sure that ninety-nine per cent of the audience didn’t know what was going on. But there was one man right at the back of the theatre who happened to be a vicar and he wrote me a letter afterwards. He knew what was going on, and for me that was enough. He said he wished he could communicate his belief in Christ as strongly as I had communicated my emotions to him on the stage. That was probably the biggest thrill I ever had – it was the best reaction I could possibly wish for.” He remarks. Richard, whose television fame really came in the Granada series, The Lovers – subsequently made into a film – has worked with Leonard Rossiter (landlord Rigsby) before. A few years ago they were together in Johnny Speight’s If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have to Invent Them for London Weekend Television.
Richard Beckinsale’s stage, television, radio and film credits since 1970 include:
The Blind Beauty, BBC Radio
Tales of Piccadilly, London Weekend
Elephant Eggs in a Rhubarb Tree, Thames – six programmes
Justice, Yorkshire Television
Detective Waiting, Thames – Armchair Theatre
Give and Take, Abacus Productions
Consequences, London Weekend
Rentasleuth, Virgin Films
Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Thames
The Donati Conspiracy, BBC
Truscott’s Luck, Southern Television
Two and Two Make Sex, Ray Cooney Productions
Rising Damp, Yorkshire Television
The Lovers, Granada Television
Red Saturday, unfinished 1979
Since the first series of Rising Damp, Richard has undergone a busy period; he made a film, Three for All, appeared in a BBC play, The Floater, did an Upstairs Theatre at the Royal Court called Mrs Grabowsky’s Academy, and made the currently screened series of Porridge.
In January, Richard is due to appear at the Mermaid Theatre, London, in Funny Peculiar, a play by Mike Scott which will be directed by Liverpool director Alan Dosser.
He and actress Judy Loe, whom he met in repertory at Crewe, live in Twickenham and they have a two-year old daughter, Katie.
Richard in an interview, once said, “When I decided to become an actor, it wasn’t actually to make money or to make a living. I wanted to be an actor because I wanted to act. I’ve always had this desire to communicate a great kind of beauty to other people, like a vicar or priest does, to transport people to the world where I live. I just appreciate living on earth at an artistic level. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in living this way. “It’s like love, I suppose. There are no words for it, apart from love – to give people love, to teach people love. I think it is probably the main driving force in my life.”
Richard’s busy career leaves him little time for hobbies or other interests, although he does like dog racing. A successful punter, he has had some quite substantial wins – he frequents the Wimbledon track when he is in town.
“I won £60 the last time I was there”, he confided.
FRANCES DE LA TOUR
Active trade unionist FRANCES DE LA TOUR admits she hasn’t a lot in common with the genteel, romantic Ruth – one of Rigsby’s lodgers and the unwilling object of his affection – whom she plays in four episodes of the new series of Rising Damp.
“I may have had at one time, but I certainly haven’t now”, declares Frances, a keen member of Equity, the Theatrical Union. “I was brought up a little like her – she has middle class values and these were instilled into me when I was young – but there the similarity ends. The only thing I can say about the character is that I have been able to draw upon my own background experience in creating her.”
Active, as she puts it, in “the defence of democratic rights in the Union”, Frances is invariably made a ‘dep’ (deputy – the chosen representative of the artists to negotiate with management) when she is working at a theatre for any length of time. And despite her instant success as Ruth in the first series of Rising Damp, Frances still prefers to work in the theatre, where the roots of her career lie.
“I have enjoyed doing Rising Damp, as it has opened up a new dimension to me.”, she says. “I like television work in some respects, but I don’t care for it in general. Conditions for work are very hard, especially in situation comedy when you have to do an episode a week, and there is a very different atmosphere to the theatre.
“Even straight drama on television – she has appeared in plays for BBC television – has a different atmosphere to situation comedy. For one thing, you have longer to rehearse the single play as a rule – usually two or three weeks.
“Rising Damp has been a challenge”, she added. “But even in television situation comedy one can draw profitably from one’s theatre experience. Television people tend to be unsure about what you can do in their medium if, as I have, you have worked chiefly in the theatre for most of your career.
“All kinds of television offers have come my way since the first Rising Damp series, but stage offers still tend to come from my past work in the theatre.”
Frances, in fact, leaves Rising Damp after the fourth episode because of theatre commitments.
The part of Ruth was originally created by Frances in the Apollo Theatre production of The Banana Box, on which the Yorkshire Television production is based.
London-born, Frances trained at the Drama Centre, London, and went on to act with the Royal Shakespeare Company at their Stratford studio, with Michael Saint-Dennis. She also appeared as the schools superintendent’s wife in “The Government Inspector” at the Aldwych in 1966 before returning to Stratford to play Alice in “Henry V”. In 1967, also at Stratford, she played Audrey in “As You Like It” and the widow in “The Taming of the Shrew” – parts she continued at the Aldwych, on a regional tour, and in Los Angeles. Other leading roles have been Miss Hoyden in Trevor Nunn’s production of Vanbrugh’s “The Relapse” at the Aldwych, Doris in “Dutch Uncle”, opposite Warren Mitchell (directed by Peter Hall, also at the Aldwych), Helena in Peter Brooks “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Stratford, New York and London, and Belinda in Terry Hands production of “The Man of Mode”, again at the Aldwych. Three years ago she played in “High Time” at Hampstead Theatre Club, and more recently at the same venue she won the Plays and Players Award for the best supporting actress – as well as much personal acclaim – for her performance as Violet in Tennessee Williams’ “Small Craft Warnings”. She repeated the role subsequently at the Comedy Theatre. This year she played Rosalind in a six months season at Oxford Playhouse.
Frances also appeared in a number of films, including “The Buttercup Chain”, “Country Dance”, “Every Home Should Have One”, and “Our Miss Fred”. Other television includes “Crime of Passion”, “History”, a BBC “Play for Today”, and an appearance in “The Marty Feldman Show”.
She is married to actor Tom Kempinski, and they have a two-year-old daughter, Tamasin.
In reality, Trinidad-born DON WARRINGTON has one or two similar characteristics to Philip, the enigmatic, suave African chieftains’s son-cum-student whom he plays in ‘Rising Damp’.
For Don, single and living in Hampstead, is naturally quiet spoken and inclined to be reserved. But the similarity ends there. “I certainly enjoy playing Philip, but I haven’t a lot in common with the character”, he contends. Philip is really a parody on the popular impression of the tribal warrior who comes straight into civilisation from the jungle – albeit appearing rather | more civilised than many of those around him. The parody is naturally emphasised by Rigsby’s prejudices.
Don has lived in England since he was eight years old, in fact. He lived in Newcastle and later trained in the | Drama Centre for three years. He left the centre in 1972 and for three months was in the European production of “Hair”. His credits include: “The Banana Box”, “Sweet Talk”, “A Taste of Honey”, “Dutch Man”, Joe Orton’s “Erpingham Camp”, “Measure for Measure” (all stage plays) and several episodes of Granada Television’s “Crown Court”. Since making the first series of ‘Rising Damp’, Don has appeared in an episode of Thames Television’s “Six Days of Justice”, entitled “The Good Samaritan’, and an ATV play, “Carbon Copy”. He has also made a play for BBC 2, “Club Havana”, which has not yet been screened, and has further television commitments in the pipeline. Says Don: “I suppose my preference lies with straight drama, although I enjoy situation comedy. In fact, I like to try everything going that is worthwhile”.
GAY ROSE (Brenda)
First appears in Episode 4 “Moonlight & Roses’, 2nd Series; Episode 6 “The Last of the Big Spenders’, 2nd Series; Episode 7 “Things That Go Bump in the Night” and The Christmas Special 1975 “For The Man Who has Everything’.
Pretty, petite, dark-haired GAY ROSE, who joins the regular cast of Yorkshire Television’s popular situation comedy series, ‘Rising Damp’ this week – she plays Brenda, a photographic model and a potential flat-dweller at Rigsby’s seedy boarding-house – hails from Canada. But the fact that she is playing her new role with a cockney accent offers her no problems, “I can master most accents without any difficulty – with two exceptions, ” she says. “I find Scottish difficult and Scouse almost impossible”. Aged 23, single and now living in Kentish Town, London, Gay was born in British Columbia. She came to England to live about six years ago, although she was over here for two or three years when she was about six. Her parents are English. Her father, in fact, used to be an actor and her grandfather, Arthur Rose, was a successful playwright. He wrote “Me and My Girl”.
Gay, who has two sisters (one elder and one younger), went to University in Canada for two years – but did not last the full course. She quit because she wanted to become an actress. Before coming to England, Gay had done only amateur acting but once over here she joined the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. During her three years with the school she returned to Canada for a short spell during which she did some professional acting. From the theatre school she went into the Bristol Old Vic Company, playing Maria in “Twelfth Night”, Ruby Birtle in “When We Are Married”, and Bianca in “Othello”. “Maids and tarts seem to be my specialities”, she comments. Up to now Gay has done very little television. Her one appearance on the small screen was in a play for HTV – “Items”, in which she had no lines to say, apart from a “shh….” and a giggle! – but she has made a television film, “Machine Gunner”, which has not yet been screened.
Gay has also appeared twice with Birmingham Rep, the most recent occasion in “Oh Fair Jerusalem”, and she has been in one West End production. In a few weeks’ time she will be touring in “The Merchant of Venice”.
Her ambitions, career-wise, are modest: “I would like to be a good and successful actress, although not necessarily a star just in a position where I can turn down the occasional role if I feel like it”.
Her hobbies are swimming and ski-ing – “When I can afford it”.