Stage version of TV classic Rising Damp on way to Wirral

Wirral Globe: The cast of Rising Damp stage show The cast of Rising Damp stage show

THE stage version of classic TV comedy Rising Damp comes to Wirral later this year.

Written by Eric Chappell, the comic tales of life in a pokey guest house will be staged at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton from July 14-16.

It follows the fortunes of landlord Rigsby - played by Leonard Rossiter in the 1970s series - as he puts up with tenants Alan and Philip and tries, in vain, to woo fellow resident Miss Jones.

Lincolnshire-born Eric took up full-time writing in 1973 after his first stage play, The Banana Box, was produced at the Apollo Theatre, London.

Its lead character Rooksby was played in the first production by Wilfred Bramble, who became better known to millions as Albert Steptoe in BBC comedy Steptoe & Son. Rooksby was later played by Liverpool-born Rossiter. 

The play inspired Rising Damp, which was made by Yorkshire Television and also starred Richard Beckinsale, Don Warrington and Frances de la Tour.

It ran for four series, a total of 28 episodes, between 1974 and 1978 and earned a BAFTA for best situation comedy. A film version won the Evening Standard Film award for best comedy.

Rossiter, who died in 1984, also played the lead in BBC comedy The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin and had a cameo role in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Eric told the Globe today: "When I wrote The Banana Box, I never thought it would go on to inspire a television classic.

"However, as soon as Leonard came on board I knew I had something that was going to work."

The 81-year-old was working as an auditor with the electricity board in 1969 when the seeds of what would become a television smash-hit were sown.

He recalled that one day he had finished a job in Leamington Spa and had stopped for something to eat.

It was while tucking into a sandwich that he read a newspaper article about a man who stayed at a guest house, playing an African Prince.

He managed to fool the landlord and was treated with a great deal of fuss and respect.

The tale was the inspiration behind the character of Philip Smith, who was played by Don Warrington, who has directed the stage tour.

On the show's appeal, Eric said: "It was very much a comedy of its time. Rigsby was based on a lot of people I worked with in the auditor's office.

“They were a lot of old 'sweats' who had been abroad and come back with varying opinions on people from those countries.

“I was recently approached to write a more modern version, but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do and turned it down.”

Eric's other television successes include The Squirrels, The Bounder, Home to Roost, Only When I Laugh, Duty Free, Singles, Fiddlers Three and Haggard.

He has written over 200 television comedy scripts and more than 20 stage plays which are performed worldwide. He is unquestionably one of the top writers of comedy in Britain today.

He said: "I’ve written a lot of comedies, which are always screened on ITV 3. In fact, there’s probably one on as I speak.

"I suppose that, for me, is a legacy, because they’re always being shown, which means new audiences can watch them.

"My success as a screenwriter also meant I could give up being an auditor."

Tickets for the show are from the Floral Pavilion on 666 0000.

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