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Rising Damp (1974-78)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Rising Damp (1974-78)
Yorkshire Television for ITV, 2/9/1974-9/5/1978
28 x 30 min episodes plus 1 special, colour
Directors includeRonnie Baxter
 Vernon Lawrence
ProducersRonnie Baxter
 Ian McNaughton
 Vernon Lawrence
 Len Lurcuck
WriterEric Chappell

Cast: Leonard Rossiter (Rigsby); Frances De La Tour (Ruth Jones); Richard Beckinsale (Alan Jones); Don Warrington (Philip Smith)

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Rigsby is the miserly and opinionated live-in landlord of a seedy lodging house in a nameless Northern town. His tenants include lovelorn spinster Miss Jones and two students, the gauche Alan, and Philip, son of an African chief.

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Rising Damp (1974-78) is considered by many the best sitcom that ITV has ever produced. Traditionally the BBC made the British classics, largely because a structure was in place to encourage script development, there were regular repeats to build audiences and commercial pressures were less intense. However Rising Damp is as good as the Corporation's best shows of the 1970s and reruns on Channel 4 have introduced the programme to new audiences.

The pleasure of Rising Damp is not so much in its plot or its jokes but in the interaction of the four main protagonists living in Rigsby's down-at-heel boarding house and the performances of the cast.

Miss Jones (Frances de la Tour), is one of British sitcom's greatest female characters. What could have been just a set of sexist spinster clich├ęs is instead both hilarious and touching. Miss Jones masks intense passions with a resolute veneer of respectable modesty and lives a life of bedsit drudgery with determined refinement.

Student Alan is a middle-class variation on Richard Beckinsale's other great role, Godber in Porridge (BBC, 1974-76), ever likeable and ever naive. His roommate Philip (Don Warrington), a would-be African prince slumming it while at college, is both interesting in himself and a great foil for Rigsby. Unusually for the period, a black character is put in a position of social and intellectual superiority; Philip effortlessly defuses Rigsby's pathetic racist barbs with a mere raised eyebrow or exasperated sigh.

But it is Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) who dominates Rising Damp. In his bigotry, wheedling, hopeless delusions of grandeur and endless excuses, he epitomises the worst aspects of Englishness. This is best illustrated by his characteristic pose: standing hand on hip in moth-eaten cardigan - having failed yet again to win the heart of Miss Jones, or make his fortune - still proclaiming his brilliance and pondering what, if it hadn't been for the war, he might have achieved.

Rising Damp retains its appeal nearly 30 years later because it encapsulates a certain kind of shabby, deluded, but doggedly cheerful Englishness, with characters trapped in a purgatory of their own making. It is funny because it affectionately tells us the truth about ourselves, especially how ridiculous we make ourselves if we are as selfish and mean-minded as Rigsby.

Phil Wickham

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Video Clips
1. Philip and his wives (1:03)
2. The Germans (0:59)
3. Rigsby on boxing (2:42)
4. The fight (2:47)
Beckinsale, Richard (1947-1979)
Chappell, Eric (1933-)
MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)
Rossiter, Leonard (1926-1984)
Race and the Sitcom