Monday, 28 March 2016

On The Box: Rising Damp Forever (ITV3)

My memories of Eric Chappell's Rising Damp are certainly as a must-see sitcom from the 70s. Leonard Rossiter's interfering landlord Rigsby constantly interrupting the lives of shared room students Alan (Richard Beckinsale) and Philip (Don Warrington) while constantly seeking the attentions of his other regular tenant Miss Jones (Frances De La Tour).

As unlikely as the scenario of an interfering landlord (who never knocks, just enters) may seem, the claustrophobic, greens, greys and brown slightly depressing air of Rising Damp was perfectly suited to situation comedy. 28 episodes were made between 1974 and 1978 and besides a nod to the series via a half hour documentary a decade ago, ITV have barely acknowledged the shows brilliance until this last weekend, when ITV3 celebrated the series via a two part documentary Rising Damp Forever.

I certainly came away much more enlightened about Rising Damp's back story, finding the two part documentary historical, hysterical, nostalgic and definitive. In recent years I have struggled watching similar style documentaries because of too many talking heads who maybe weren't involved with the creative process of the subject. thankfully Rising Damp Forever was worthy to the spirit of Rising Damp and its stars.

From Eric Chappell's original stage play The Banana Box via TV series success to eventual film version, all aspects of the series were covered. Don Warrington who played Philip was on hand for some important nostalgic reminiscences of the stage version and TV series while there were other interesting contributions from writer Eric Chappell, Manfred Mann's Paul Jones (the original starring name of the stage show) and Only When I Laugh's Christopher Strauli (who later appeared in the film).

Its often difficult to pull together a documentary on a classic sitcom, particularly with several of the stars no longer on hand to take part, both Rossiter and Beckinsale, sadly no longer with us and De La Tour still distancing herself from the series. Thankfully along with Don Warrington and Eric Chappell, there were plenty of co-stars  and directors on hand to recall Rossiter's work and professionalism. Actress Helen Fraser particular speaking highly of Rossiter while Richard Beckinsale's daughters Sam and Kate were also on hand to discuss their fathers work, similarly everyone was united on singing Francis De La Tour's praises.

The real star of Rising Damp Forever was the series itself, featuring much in the way of clips and important reminisences, while Rossiter, Beckinsale, Warrington and De La Tour's  biographies made interesting if not crucial side plots. The real authentication was the acknowledgement of the Yorkshire Television studio's where the series was filmed and Warrington and Chappell's return there to meet others who had worked on the series.  Neatly woven together with Martin Clunes commentary Rising Damp Forever was the perfect comedy nostalgia treat - a crowning glory for production company Shiver who produced the documentary for ITV3.

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