MY RISING DAMP STAGE SHOW: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.
Once I had completed the Oh…Miss Jones! magazine, I was always looking to another project, a book maybe or, due to the .com era, a website! And so, in 2001 I created the Official ‘Oh…Miss Jones!’ website which was backed by Granada Media and Eric Chappell. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun trying to transfer the magazine into a website, with an eye to recreating a look and feel of the 70s. I found some old wallpaper and had a few attempts of trying to create fake mould which sort of work. After a quick scan, it turned out ok. The site got picked up by Webuser magazine as they were running a Top 100 for TV shows. I was interviewed for the magazine and the piece was featured. It was fun but expensive and as other things took over in life my time was taken elsewhere and, like most tenants at Rigsby’s, I failed to pay the rent, and the site was taken down.
I then considered publishing a book on the series but the author Richard Webber had already secured a deal with Eric’s agent. As it turned out, I went onto to help Richard with his Rising Damp book, along with a few others including 50 years of Hancocks Half Hour. Around 2002 I had written to Eric Chappell to inform him of the status of my Rising Damp related projects and, in his reply, he mentioned he was just about to finish an updated script for a new stage show, Rising Damp!
Shortly before Leonard Rossiter passed away, Eric had already been in talks with Ray Cooney about a stage show version, but the script was never completed. You can read a little more about that on this site.
I told him I had done some work in the theatre and, if possible, upon completion, I would like to read it. A few months later he sent through a bound copy accompanied with a short handwritten note, if ‘I could do something with it’ then to go ahead. I could not believe it, here was a never before seen script for a Rising Damp stage show. Once I had calmed down, I was determined to give it my best shot, this was an amazing opportunity, and I had to do it! For the next 5yrs I worked on trying to produce the play, I contacted all the remaining cast to see if they could help in any way. I even tried to get support from all the celebrities I knew who liked the show, from Ricky Gervais, Chris Evans, Peter Kay, Ben Elton, Ray Cooney…the list it goes on and on, to Simon Cowell, yes, Simon Cowell. I went about casting the show, holding auditions in London, I saw a number of talented actors all ready and willing to be part of this new production. I spent time re-working and reimagining parts of the production, blocking the script in Winchester at the Tower Arts Centre.
I had collated my sound effects and designed some preliminary costumes for the cast (shown here). I wanted Rigsby to be in a similar vein to John Mills’ character ‘Ezra Fitton’, from the Boulting brothers’ classic The Family Way.
David Boyle, who went onto play Marty Feldman in the stage play ‘Jeepers Creepers’, directed by Terry Jones, was originally cast by me to play Rigsby. He had come down to my house for some script readings; he was really good. I had already assembled a full cast that would have done a mighty fine job and I thank them for their support. After a few months of indecision, I had a re-think on Rigsby. I felt bad for David, he’s a great actor and a lovely guy, and I sort of left him in the dark about the show, along with the other actors. Self-doubt began to get the better of me, and I was in no position (financially) to take the play to the next stage. I was deflated, and I didn’t know what the next step was.
As I continued to work on various projects in the industry, I continued to review the play and decided to take a new route on casting, maybe some big names would get it picked up, maybe a friend of a friend would open a door for me…
During this period I worked for a short spell in the music industry, promoting a number of different bands, one being the artist Vinny Peculiar, who just so happened to be working with two members of the pioneering 80s band, The Smiths. Vinny had an interest in British film and comedy like me so I decided to use Rigsby and Tony Hancock on his tour poster, Vinny and the band were delighted! Here’s the poster.
Anyway I could, Rising Damp would find a way into my work. I just wished I had used some imagery from the series to promote the Arctic Monkeys as well, I am sure they would have appreciated it. Pete Doherty did, he was very happy to give me an impression of Rigsby when I promoted him on tour, prompted by my t-shirt bearing a silhouette image of Rigsby.
I knew Rigsby was going to be the hardest to cast but, after working with a friend on a show at the BFI, I was fortunate enough to be sitting outside the venue with the actor Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, League of Gentlemen). After discussing recent work, I informed Mark of my exciting new project, and he said he had recently seen Ralph Fiennes playing Richard III and, during the performance, had remarked how similar his mannerisms were to Rigsby. He said, casually, that I should drop him a line, so I did.
I contacted his agent, who was interested, and sent through the script for Ralph to read but, unfortunately, they did not feel it was suitable. Other names, such as Lee Mack (who would also be brilliant!) were mentioned to me but I only had one actor in mind for the role, Paul Kaye whose superb character, Dennis Pennis, was the ballsy interviewer on the BBCs ‘The Sunday Show’. Paul always struck me as being a ‘wet lipped’ actor, like Leonard, with tenacity, speed of delivery all expertly balanced with a nervous energy and awkwardness. Paul was supportive and excited by the script and was happy to be associated with my production as I tried to get backing, and a producer.
With Paul’s name attached, I now felt more comfortable contacting some well-known actors, and reached out to Jessica Stevenson and Doon Mackichan to play the role of Ruth. At the start of my casting, I also saw Chiwetel Ejiofor’s photo in the Spotlight Directory and thought he would be perfect to play Philip – I had no idea at the time he would go on to be such a brilliant actor.
An email from the great playwright John Antrobus would provide me with another valuable lead, an introduction to the highly praised Director, Michael Kingsbury (Round the Horne Revisited, In Lambeth, Christmas). Michael liked the idea but had his reservations about the transfer of a sitcom to the stage, it was all about the timing and sometimes it could be a few years before the time is right. As we now know, a slew of sitcom adaptions did eventually hit the stage with some going on to have continued success in the West End but, as with most shows, it’s all about the timing.
After numerous meetings in London with producers and written declines from others, my production was slowing disappearing. I self-publicized in my local paper, lauding the fact that this was a first for the show, and a world premiere, and that if the show comes to light, the bright lights of the West End is where it will go. Thanks to Andy White at my local paper for his continual support of all the media projects I was involved in. However, the article bore no return and I continued to explore new avenues. After all, these things take time, a lot of time, and a lot of patience.
Before I finally boxed up all my research and a treasure trove of all things Rising Damp, I had a chance meeting with Derren Litten (Benidorm, The Catherine Tate Show). I had sat next to Derren during a performance of Pete & Dud Come Again at the Venue, Leicester Square, in 2006. We chatted about all things comedy and, thanks to Derren, he kept a slight flicker of the flame going for me. Derren was a huge fan of the series, he had the movie poster in his office, and he had worked with Paul Kaye on ‘Two Thousand Acres of Sky’ so he was thrilled that I had cast him as Rigsby. He loved the idea of the stage show and, as luck would have it, was meeting a major TV producer the following day and would pitch my idea to him! I can’t begin to express how much this meant to me, everything had fallen into place and, a few days later, I was sat in front of a major TV producer, pitching the show. Derren and I kept in contact for a while afterwards; I still regret not meeting him in Benidorm for the beginning of his new show. Thanks Derren, your generosity and support really helped me give everything one last roll of the dice.
However, it was not to be for the TV execs, and so there I had to leave it, it was a wonderful journey, trying to deliver the Rising Damp stage show, but the time had come to close up the box of research, and save it for another day.
About 10 years later in 2011 my good friend emailed me at work one day, ‘You’re not going to like this’ he wrote. He attached a link to the news that the Rising Damp stage play was about to be released. I sat at my desk and all I could think about was the opening scene of Tony Hancock’s 1963 film ‘The Punch and Judy Man’. As Hancock is getting ready for the day he listens to a religious segment on the radio, the tone, not subject matter, felt very poignant. The broadcast went from a religious reading to a chirpy DJ, whereupon Hancock turns the radio off and says, flippantly, ‘Well, good luck!”
I felt sick for about a week, he knew it would have that effect on me, he’d seen me engulfed in the Rising Damp tidal wave for years but there’s no one I would rather have heard the news from. It was only a matter of time before someone else did it.
Once the feeling of sickness and frustration had passed, I wished the show well from afar…very far, I had moved to Canada (No, I did not do a Hancock and emigrate to Baffin Island!).
And so, 28 years later, I am in my office in Canada reminiscing about this fun ride, a rollercoaster of ups and downs which still seems to keep going. With the 50th Anniversary Show coming up in 2 years, I might just have something else to say and post in this archive!
I knew then as I do now, my production would have been a hit! Who doesn’t want to see Paul Kaye as Rigsby! He would be incredible.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right unless I placed a shameless request for interested parties to contact me to revive…
Paul Kaye as Rigsby in…
Another outbreak of…Rising Damp
The Stage Play
Out of curiosity, who would you cast to play Rigsby, Alan, Phil and Ruth?
2 thoughts on “MY RISING DAMP STAGE SHOW: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.”
I think Paul Kaye is a great actor but more suited to characters with a ‘nasty’ edge. I always got the impression that deep down Rigsby had some redeeming features but that life kept dealing him a rubbish hand. I don’t know whether PK could come across as that.
Thanks Will. Any suggestions on which actor could play Rigsby, today?