The Very Best Of Rising Damp


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The better sitcoms have a small cast and a simple concept. Rising Damp fits the criteria to a tee - dingy boarding house, bigoted landlord (Leonard Rossiter), a couple of students - one black (Don Warrington), one long-haired (Richard Beckinsale) - upstairs in the attic and a lanky spinster (Frances De La Tour) on the second floor. Other guests have single episode cameo roles, while occasional girlfriends appear briefly to be embarrassed, or insulted.

Written by Eric Chappell in the Seventies, this was a perfect vehicle for Rossiter, before he discovered the inimitable Reggie Perrin. The character of Rupert Rigsby is a throwback to an earlier era. His ignorance, disguised by misplaced self-importance, mirrors Tony Hancock's bedsit fantasist, except Rigsby owns the property, which enables him to interfere in other people's lives, a privilege denied Hancock, who rabbited on from the insecurity of rented accomodation.

He is not a monster; he doesn't have the ambition. His futile pursuit of Miss Jones (De La Tour) is a running joke, considering the inapropriateness of the liaison and the impossibility of its consummation. What's funny about him is that he has no idea what a sad, seedy, sexist sideliner he seems. The students tolerate and tease him. The guests take advantage and Miss Jones allows herself the indulgence of romantic reveries that don't involve him. He exists in a world of his own, in which he is right about everything and women find him irresistable.

The Very Best Of contains five episodes, made between 1974 and 1978, and is more of a sampler than a definitive list. What's interesting is the political incorrectness of Rigsby's views on blacks, gays and the class system. He reflects reactionary attitudes of the period, commonly held, that Africans live in trees, queers are unnatural and anyone with a posh accent is related to the Queen.

Failed seduction techniques, the activities of a petty thief, misletoe jokes, involvement in a luvvie's theatrical venture and Miss J's wedding are the themes tackled here. Rossiter is supreme throughout, providing an inspiration to aspiring comic actors. He died in 1984, relatively young, and will be remembered for his classic sitcom characterisations, such as the one in Rising Damp, which remains uniquely Rigsby, unmistakably Rossiter and a laughter landmark for those who wasted their youth in front of the box.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2003
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The Very Best Of Rising Damp packshot
Leonard Rossiter plays Rigsby, landlord of a dingy boarding house, in classic 70s TV sitcom
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Director: Ronnie Baxter, Vernon Lawrence

Writer: Eric Chappell

Starring: Leonard Rossiter, Richard Beckinsale, Frances De La Tour, Don Warrington

Year: 1974

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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