Beginning life as a stage play called The Banana Box, Eric Chappell, a former Electricity Board employee, adapted his stage play about people living in a shabby tenement, changed the name of the landlord from Rooksby to Rigsby, and created one of television's all-time immortal characters as well as a series that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of British situation comedies.
Rupert Rigsby was in many ways a cross between Albert Steptoe (in fact Wilfrid
Brambell played the original Rooksby on stage) and Alf Garnett in as much as he was a truly sleazy
and obnoxious character who had very few redeeming features. He was snide, racist, miserly and
sexually frustrated and yet, as portrayed by the incomparable Leonard Rossiter he became somehow
lovable. It was Rossiter's comedy debut and he took over the lead from Brambell after the play
finished it's first run in Leicester and went on tour. Rigsby's manner was perfectly offset by two
male boarders, Alan (Paul Jones -former lead singer with sixties pop group Manfred Mann), and
Philip (Don Warrington) who both aided and hindered his attempts to woo the middle-aged spinster
Miss Jones (Francis de la Tour).
The play finally ended up in London (at the Apollo Theatre) where it was seen by Yorkshire Television executives who ordered a one-off pilot. Replacing Jones in the role of the sexually naive university student, Alan, was Richard Beckinsale who had previously starred alongside Paula Wilcox in the comedy The Lovers, and was at this time appearing alongside Ronnie Barker in another classic Britcom; Porridge.
Three months after the pilot was aired the first series hit the screens to instant acclaim and Rossiter, a former insurance salesman, quickly rose to fame with his often imitated 'My-y-y-y God!' and his trademark sleeveless cardigan. He too appeared in a BBC comedy, which ran concurrently with Rising Damp, another fondly remembered series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. In spite of his best efforts Rigsby never did achieve marital bliss with Miss Jones and was left with his only form of permanent companionship, a mangy cat called Vienna. 28 episodes were made in total although Richard Beckinsale did not appear in all of them, having left before the final series. Tragically, a short time after leaving, Beckinsale died of a heart attack. He was only 31. In 1980 a full- length feature film was made with the role of Alan played by Christopher Strauli, who also starred in the comedy series Only When I Laugh and the period drama Raffles.
The format for Rising Damp was sold to the USA where it was completely re-written by Peter Stone as 27 Joy Street. Jack Weston played the lead in the pilot which failed to impress CBS to such an extent that it never even made it to the screen.
Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (5 May 2001) for Television Heaven.