Main cast of Rising Damp
(L-R) Frances de la Tour, Leonard Rossiter, Richard Beckinsale and Don Warrington.
|Created by||Eric Chappell|
Frances de la Tour
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||28 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original run||2 September 1974– 9 May 1978|
Rising Damp is a British sitcom produced by Yorkshire Television for ITV. ITV originally broadcast the programme from 1974 through 1978. It was adapted for television by Eric Chappell from his well-received 1971 stage play The Banana Box (retained as the working title early in the series.) The series was the highest-ranking ITV sitcom on the 100 Best Sitcoms poll run in 2004 by the BBC.
Rising Damp starred Leonard Rossiter, Frances de la Tour, Richard Beckinsale and Don Warrington. Rossiter played Rupert Rigsby (originally Rooksby in the stage play): the miserly, seedy, and ludicrously self-regarding landlord of a run-down Victorian town house who rents out his shabby bedsits to a variety of tenants. Beckinsale played Alan Guy Moore, a long-haired, naive, good-natured and amiable medical student who occupies the top room. Frances de la Tour was Miss Ruth Jones: a fey, whimsical spinster and college administrator who rents another room, with whom Rigsby is in love and to whom he proposes in the last episode.
In the pilot episode, a new tenant arrives. Philip Smith (Don Warrington) is a planning student who claims to be the son of an African Chief. As a black man, he brings out the ill-informed fears and knee-jerk suspicions of Rigsby. However, the landlord quickly accepts his new tenant and henceforth regards him with a wary respect... wary because of Philip's intelligence and smooth manners, and especially because Miss Jones finds herself attracted to the handsome sophisticate. Of these four principal actors, only Beckinsale was a new recruit - the others had all played their roles in the original stage play.
In the first series, there was another tenant Spooner, a professional wrestler, played by Derek Newark. Rigsby gets on his bad side when he and Alan 'borrow' his clothes in the episode 'A Night Out'. Spooner made only two appearances but is mentioned in other episodes in Series 1. Other tenants occasionally move into the house but never became permanent residents, often appearing only in a single episode. Peter Bowles and Peter Jeffrey were among the actors portraying these tenants. The series is in the British comedy tradition of having failure as a key underlying theme, each of the characters leading a life of quiet desperation.
Frances de la Tour temporarily left the series in 1975, after appearing in four episodes of the second series, because of theatre commitments. She was 'replaced' by Gabrielle (Gay) Rose for three episodes as new tenant Brenda (she also appeared in la Tour's last episode of 1975 "Moonlight and Roses"), whilst Henry McGee also stood in for one episode as new tenant and conman Seymour. Frances de la Tour returned for the final two series.
Richard Beckinsale did not appear in the fourth series due to West End theatre commitments. Eric Chappell wrote some lines into the intended first episode 'Fire and Brimstone' to explain Alan's absence (he had passed his exams to become a doctor) but these were cut when it was decided to broadcast the second episode 'Hello Young Lovers' as the first episode instead.
Eric Chappell defended Rigsby by saying he 'was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers. But he accepted Philip and his only concern afterwards was that he didn't get a legover Miss Jones.'
Emphasis on personal failure
The programme depicts closely the failing lives of three of the four main characters. Rigsby is a divorcee who has since become a seedy, ignorant man who is suspicious of anyone different from himself. Miss Jones is an unhappy spinster who is shown to be desperate for male attention (even willing, in effect, to pay for it). Alan is socially inept and remains a virgin throughout much of the series, despite appearing to be in his mid 20s. Philip, by contrast, is a relatively learned and emotionally intelligent man, who responds to Rigsby's racist ignorance with a kind of ironic complicity, as expressed through lies reminiscing about his African life full of magic, violence and sexual promiscuity, often resulting in Rigsby making a fool of himself through his gullible willingness to believe these stories.
Rupert Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) is the landlord of the house: an interfering, dour, tight fisted character with markedly right wing views, many of which he appears to have adopted without any evident process of moral examination or personal debate (for example, in the film adaptation he states he believes hanging should be reinstated but this time "in public"). He is suspicious of anything beyond his intensely parochial and personalised sphere of interest and most particularly of Philip, who is suave, intelligent, well-spoken - and black. Rigsby is an old fashioned colonial type with somewhat prejudiced views. He is suspicious of Philip because of his enigmatic and adroit character and the fact that he is genuinely sophisticated, educated and charismatic (all that Rigsby aspires to be but isn't). Rigsby is an ardent British patriot, believing himself to be an illegitimate member of the British royal family. He also makes exaggerated and romanticised references to his military service during World War II (e.g. frequently referring to 'a bit of trouble with the old shrapnel'). He speaks sometimes of engaging in combat at the Battle of Anzio in Italy. Rigsby is also a tremendous snob, and obsessively pre-occupied with being perceived as middle class which - although he is the proprietor of a boarding house - is perhaps a stretch too far. He often affects an 'old school tie' attitude - likely to be another of his fanciful fronts as there is no mention of any public school connections (and one must assume that if he had any, he would mention them frequently instead of peremptorily). Seedy and furtive, Rigsby has markedly poor interpersonal skills and his professed romantic interest in Miss Jones is merely opportunistically sexual: he spends most of the series trying to prove to her otherwise, invariably to no avail.
As he pries and spies upon his tenants, Rigsby is often seen carrying Vienna, his big, fluffy, white-and-black tomcat, about the house. Rigsby's amiable pet (and confidant) is so named because - as Rigsby tells it - when he goes to put him out on a cold dark night, if there is another set of eyes out there, then it's Good Night, Vienna.
Ruth Jones (Frances de la Tour) is an educated college administrator and lifelong spinster. She is a romantic, but usually only gets male attention from Rigsby which, although sometimes enjoying it, she mostly finds an annoyance. Like Rigsby, Miss Jones has pretensions, believing herself to be better than the life she leads and to be reasonably sophisticated. The comedy uses pathos to touch upon the sad, failing life of Miss Jones; in one episode she gives money to a man she has romantic interest in, knowing full well he is conning her, but craving male attention to a point where she is willing to effectively pay him for it. Miss Jones openly fancies Philip, frequently cooking for him, much to the annoyance of Rigsby. However, unfortunately for her, this is not reciprocated. She does find solace in Philip's superior intellect and the two appear to be friends. Besides being a sexual interest of Rigsby, Miss Jones is also a social interest to him, being as she is genuinely middle class (seemingly upper middle class). Rigsby sees her as a sophisticate and any courtship with Miss Jones would be a social as well as sexual conquest.
Alan Guy Moore (Richard Beckinsale) is a likeable young medical student. Rigsby treats him with mistrust, mainly because of Alan's permissive, left wing views. Alan has little luck with girlfriends, but is content with his life. Alan hails from a middle class family and appreciates music and arts. Although Alan is academically successful, socially he is somewhat inept, appearing to have few friends outside of the lodging house. Alan occasionally confides his problems with Rigsby, who is always unsympathetic. On one occasion however, Alan is defended by Rigsby, when an incandescent father of one of his girlfriends suspects the two of them have been having sex, Rigsby sends the man out of the house with a 'flea in his ear', defending Alan, apparently because Rigsby was offended the man assumed Rigsby to be Alan's father. Alan is immature and Rigsby does become somewhat of a strange father figure for him.
Philip Smith (Don Warrington) is a second generation African immigrant from Croydon, although for most of the series he claims to be the son of an African tribal King. Phillip's lies about his 'primitive' background seem most obviously an ironic response to Rigsby's racist remarks, and sometimes result in moments when Rigsby's gullibility and desperation lead to his belief in some aspect of Phillip's lore: for example, the 'love wood' which fails to excite Miss Jones (in the 'Charisma' episode, first broadcast 1974). Philip is an intelligent, educated man (more so than the moderately educated Alan and Miss Jones), he is sophisticated and suave; this makes Rigsby suspicious of him, particularly as Miss Jones openly fancies him. Philip does not reciprocate Miss Jones' romantic interest.
Brenda (Gabrielle Rose) is a close friend of Alan's, who takes up residence in the boarding-house when Miss Jones is going away to get married to the eccentric Desmond. She is implied to have been staying at Rigsby's for a while, because in the Series 3 episode 'All Together Again', it is Christmas, and she has been staying since July. She has an O-level in divinity. She is a nude artiste, and poses for the local art club.
The exact setting is never made clear. The M62 motorway, which runs from Liverpool to Hull, is nearby. This suggests the location is no further south than Warrington and no further north than Leeds. However, it is perhaps not important because the action very rarely moves outside of the house. All that is specified is that it is in a town or city in the north of England that is home to a redbrick university, following a few references to the fact: the River Humber is mentioned in one episode as is the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, and Alan says he commutes via Yorkshire Traction, a former bus company which operated in South and West Yorkshire, particularly around Barnsley, and when Rigsby purchases a car in the episode ‘Clunk Click’, the registration plate (XCX 885J) shows that the car was registered in Huddersfield. In the episode 'A Body Like Mine', Rigsby tells Alan and Phillip he smashed his television when Leeds United, who he refers to as 'we', were beaten by Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup Final. Incidental characters tend to have northern English accents. The show was recorded in Leeds and the setting is generally accepted as being in Yorkshire. The 1980 film version of the series, however, was set in an inner-city district of London.
A feature film version was made in 1979, reusing several storylines from the television series. As Richard Beckinsale had died the year before, Christopher Strauli was cast as a new character, art student John. The character of Alan is briefly referenced, as having left. The film's theme song features lyrics by Eric Chappell and was released as a 7" single. The B-side features comedy dialogue between Rigsby and Miss Jones.
Philip is revealed not to be a chief's son from Africa, but from Croydon, adopting his false persona to start a new life and gain respect. When Rigsby finds out, he tells Philip that he believes he must have some royal ancestry and he does not tell the rest of the characters about his deception. This plotline is from the original stageplay The Banana Box.
Repeats, DVD and scripts
As of 2010[update] the series is still repeated on UK digital channel ITV3 The complete series has been released on Region 2 DVD and Acorn Media is releasing it on region 1 DVD in North America as well (see below). The series was repeated on Channel 4 between 1998 and 2004 until ITV3 was launched.
On screen episode titles have been added to the DVD versions of series 1 & 2, the episode titles on series 3 & 4 are however original.
The complete scripts for the series have been published as Rising Damp: The Complete Scripts by Eric Chappell; edited by Richard Webber. London: Granada Media, 2002. This collection does not include the feature film version. In his introduction, Eric Chappell writes: “When I decided to publish the scripts of Rising Damp my first thought was, did I have them all? What followed was a desperate search in the loft amongst piles of mildewed papers until I found them.… The scripts were written in feverish haste by someone who didn’t really know what he was doing, and who was finding things out as he went along. I didn’t admit this at the time, even to myself. I took the view that sitcom writers fell into two categories: the quick and the dead, and I didn’t intend to be one of the latter!”
Labour MP Tom Pendry won a libel action against the programme when it portrayed a Labour Party candidate (played by Michael Ward) with his surname in an unflattering light. Pendry's name is edited out of the broadcast version when it is repeated. The episode in question Stand Up and Be Counted was the final episode of the first series, and was first broadcast on 27 December 1974. Today's copies of the episode are taken from an NTSC copy returned from Canada, after the original PAL videotape was deliberately wiped by Yorkshire Television because of the offence caused. It was never intended to be broadcast in the UK again. However, the candidate's name has been edited out of broadcast and DVD versions, his name on a document digitally painted out, and the closing credits remade with his character listed as "Labour Candidate".
The character of Rigsby was originally called Rooksby (however the name was altered prior to recording the pilot episode). This was changed following the threat of legal action against Yorkshire Television from a bed and breakfast owner from Scarborough with the same name.
Meaning of the title
Rising damp is a condition caused by ground moisture rising up a masonry wall by capillary action. It often occurs where there is no damp-proof course (DPC) or where the DPC has been damaged or bridged. Older houses, such as depicted in the show, were built without damp-proof courses or with a barrier material that is liable to failure.
In the temperate/wet British climate, water infiltration into a house can be a problem, particularly in houses without a cellar or crawl space beneath them. The result of water penetrating the inner wall is visible as a darker patch on the plaster lining of the inner wall, usually starting at floor level on the ground floor and rising up from there, hence the term. In extreme cases, salt leached out of the wall forms crystals on the surface of the plaster as the water evaporates. The appearance of rising damp everywhere in a house is a symptom of neglect, age, decrepitude etc.
|DVD Title||Country of Release||Region||Date of Release||DVD company||Catalog Number||Notes|
All DVD releases are single disc, unless otherwise indicated.
|Rising Damp - The Complete First Series||United Kingdom||2||7 May 2001||Granada Media|
|The Very Best of Rising Damp||United Kingdom||2||16 September 2002||Cinema Club||Compilation Release|
|Rising Damp - The Movie||Australia||17 February 2003||Umbrella|
|Rising Damp - The Works||United Kingdom||2||14 June 2004||Cinema Club||4-disc set of series 1-4; Missing Christmas episode.|
|Rising Damp - The Movie||United Kingdom||2||15 November 2004||ITV DVD|
|Rising Damp - The Complete TV Series PLUS the Movie||United Kingdom||2||21 November 2005||ITV DVD||37115 20253||5-disc set of the complete series (including Christmas episode) plus the movie|
|Rising Damp - Series 1||United States||1||10 January 2006||Acorn Media|
|Rising Damp - Series 2||United States||1||6 June 2006||Acorn Media|
|Rising Damp - Series 3||United States||1||16 January 2007||Acorn Media|
|Rising Damp - Series 4||United States||1||17 July 2007||Acorn Media|
|Rising Damp - The Movie||United States||1||15 January 2008||Acorn Media|
|Rising Damp - The Complete Series||United Kingdom||2||1 September 2008||ITV DVD||5-disc set of all four series including Christmas episode plus 1980 Film version|
^ This includes the film version, since Carlton had acquired the rights to the film, and through the mergers of the various ITV companies Granada Television subsequently acquired the rights to both the Carlton and Yorkshire Television archives.
- Rising Damp at BBC Online
- Rising Damp at the Internet Movie Database
- Rising Damp at TV.com
- Rising Damp at the British Comedy Guide
- Rising Damp at the BFI's Screenonline
- Rising Damp at British TV Comedy Guide
- The Rising Damp Discussion Forums
- Encyclopedia of Television