Leonard Rossiter.com
Three official web sites in one
His Life & Career - Reginald Perrin - Rising Damp

Rigsby Online: The Authorised Rising Damp web site

Reviews & Remembrances

Press Reviews - The Cast and Crew Remember - Celebrities Remember - Leonard's Role Remembered

Press Reviews
The Banana Box:
"His eyes darting about like fireflies, his hands playing frantic games in his pockets when they are not scratching his bottom, his conversational stance angled as if everyone he talks to hs halitosis, his mouth falling slack in alternating spasms of surprise and contempt - Mr. Rossiter hilariously personifies the pinched little souls who make up the Soho mackintoshed brigades." - Milton Shulman, Evening Standard.

"Mr. Chappell ... obviously possesses a strong creative comic talent." - Hinckley Times.

"For all the flimsiness of the plot, it seems to me that The Banana Box is more intelligent than any comedy I've seen this year, and funnier than most." - B.A. Young, Financial Times.

"Mr. Chappell has a gift for phrasing a paragraph, but the stylistic device, by the end of the second act, seems over-used. This is a strangely empty evening only rarely bashed into life by some flashing piece of outrageous behaviour by the indomitable Mr. Rossiter." - Michael Coveney, Plays & Players.

"Utilising his entire, very considerable repertoire of grimacings, shufflings and nervous twitches, Leonard Rossiter creates a memorable character." - P.H., Stage & Television Today.

"The play has faults; but I warmly recommend it. It is funny, and well acted, and it is about now." - B.A. Young, Financial Times.

"There are plenty of funny lines and the director has whipped a pretty froth on top of the trifle. The weakness of the play is that its to-ing and fro-ing gives only a superficial view of growing up." - John Barber, Daily Express.

"Every once in a while there comes a play which sets you back on your feet with quite a wallop. This is one of those incredible pieces of playwriting that keeps you laughing from beginning to end... it's not often that you find me rocking backwards in a theatre seat, sore from laughing and quite ready to face the next throw-away line - but it happened last night." - Phil Penfold, Newcastle Evening Chronicle.

"...The one consolation is Leonard Rossiter's typical manic performance as Rooksby. All the Rossiter mannerisms are there: the angled stance... the corkscrew head movements, the stiff-legged gait, the compulsive buttock-scratching as if ants were lodged in the pants." - Michael Billington, The Guardian.

"Nothing of any real consequence happens... but the dialogue and acting ensure its success as an amusing set of variations on a hackneyed theme." - D.F.B., The Stage & Television Today.

"The relationships are exclusive to the play, but I'm sure the characters could readily be recognised in many bedsitter colonies." - D.D., Leicester Mercury.

"Mr. Eric Chappell has a nice line in throwaway, casual comic dialogue and although The Banana Box has little distinctive to say, it is nevertheless an amiable way of spending a few hours." - Milton Shulman, Evening Standard.

"Chappell's humour has flashes of brightness and real originality... It should be emphasised that for a first stage play it is a noteworthy effort." - Mike Fearn, Leicester Chronicle.

"It is bound to become Leonard Rossiter's play. He seems to know every frayed nerve-end, tic, grimace and warped passion welled up in the breast of the downtrodden social outcast... his performance as Rooksby the landlord is a comic triumph." - Don Chapman, Oxford Mail.

"It is certainly a fresh piece of writing and has a sense of style and wit not found in every potential playwright." - David Isaacs, Coventry Evening Telegraph.

Rising Damp:
"ITV's finest ever sitcom. Rossiter's performance, and Eric Chappell's excellent scripts, made Rising Damp an extra special creation, and the superb support from three other fine actors... elevated it to the highest level. Frances de la Tour was wonderful as the lovelorn spinster Ruth Jones; Richard Beckinsale shone as the sexually inexperienced and generally immature medical student Alan; and Don Warrington was just right as the sage black student Philip, who never denied rumours that he was the son of a tribal chief, was the focus of Ruth's flirtatious suggestions and bore the brunt of Rigsby's regular racial taunts." - Mark Lewisohn, author RadioTimes Guide To TV Comedy.

"Leonard Rossiter's bragging conceited Rigsby is a precisely conceived role superbly executed." - Stewart Lane, Morning Star.

"There are so many factors that make it a paragon of funnies.." - Peter Fiddick, The Guardian.

"Well, there was certainly a seeping wetness about the programme last night. But what else can one say about this situation comedy now squeezed out into a series?" - Leonard Buckley, The Times.

"Leonard Rossiter is worth a quarter-mile start to any comedy show." - Shaun Usher, Daily Mail.

"Magic from the word go..." - Chris Watson, Western Daily Press.

"Oh precious stuff!" - William Marshall, Daily Mirror.

"The sort of professional performances that just make you purr." - Peter Fiddick, The Guardian.

"Leonard Rossiter's Mr. Rigsby... established himself at once as a memorable personality." - Sylvia Clayton, Daily Telegraph.

"It is marked as a winner straight away." - Gerard Dempsey, Daily Express.

"The series has been a personal triumph for the versatile and hard-working Leonard Rossiter. He plays it so frantically at times that it seems he'll spoil everything by going right over the top. But he knows just what he is doing and always stops short by a hair's breadth." - James Thomas, Daily Express.

The Cast and Crew Remember
"Of course, the difficulty with comedy series, as I think most people realise, is that the first two are often quite good and then they begin to tail off afterwards. And I reckon that Eric was capable of writing at least six good scripts, so I did the first series without any qualms. The difficulty came afterwards in doing the second series, as to whether Eric could keep up the standard he had set himself, and I asked him before we did them if he would be able to write them, and he said "I didn't know I could write the first six!"." - Leonard Rossiter. 

"I recognised a lot of things Eric [Chappell] wrote, coming from the North - I come from Liverpool. Of being very jealous about the young people of today regarding sex and so on. That's very Rigsby, but I recognise it from when I grew up." - Leonard Rossiter, interview on Live From Two, 1980. 

"I knew that something was happening with the shows because on the Friday nights when we did the dress [rehearsals], we'd usually do it in front of about a dozen people. Then, strangely, as the series went on, people came out of the offices at Yorkshire [Television] and suddenly you've got about a hundred people watching dress rehearsals. So I realised then that Len and Richard and Frances and Don had got something that was working very very well." - Eric Chappell. 

"Len was always very concerned about the fact that comedy is about what happens between people. It's not about a close-up here or a close-up there - it's the relationship. And that's what 
we worked at - that if we found the relationship, then it would be funny." - Don Warrington. 

"Rigsby was obsessed by sex, he was a bigot, he was a racist, he was a snob. And yet, in the hands of Leonard, he managed 
to extract from this character a wonderful feeling of sympathy. So in fact, although Eric had created a character that you would set about to loathe, the audience - all of us - absolutely adored the character. And when he got into these terrible straits -  which he frequently did, by virtue of his own mismanagement - you always felt a deal of sympathy for him. And so he 
became a universally loved character." - Vernon Lawrence, director, Series Four. 

"I'd never done situation comedy before, and when I made my first entrance, the laughter was so enormous - it surprised me. 
It really did surprise me. In fact, it was so enormous they couldn't continue with the recording. The great thing about Leonard was that he always played to the other actors. There's  a tendency in situation comedy to play to the audience, but Leonard never did." - Peter Bowles, co-star, ep. 'Stage Struck'. 

"I think people remember Richard [Beckinsale] because he was an original. One still thinks 'Where are we going to get another Richard Beckinsale?' We've never seen anything like him, before or since." - Eric Chappell.

"...There was never a duff Rising Damp script, they were all classics. They were hysterically funny, exciting to do and they worked like clockwork." - Colin Pigott, set designer. 

"He [Rigsby] was a loner, and the thing he had in common with Philip was that he was a loner too. They were both outsiders for different reasons." - Eric Chappell. 

"People always accuse us in situation comedies of using 'canned laughter'. We had to suppress the laughter on Rising Damp to keep it within reasonable bounds!" - Eric Chappell. 

"In 1978 all the [television] companies were going through a lot of union problems, and Yorkshire Television was having a lot of trouble with the ETU. This was disruptive to a lot of shows that we were making, including Rising Damp. I had a phone call from the studios one day to say that the management were actually doing the lighting, and would that be acceptable to the cast? So I went out and asked the cast... Frances de la Tour, who had very positive political views, smiled weakly and said yes, for the sake of the show, she was happy. But she then said 'Don't ask Len, because we know what he'll say!'. Because Leonard was slightly Left of Attila The Hun, so they had very different views politically, but as far as work was concerned they both had enormous respect for each other. And when they were on screen, they were absolute magic." - Vernon Lawrence, director, Series Four. 

"Richard Beckinsale was marvellous; he wasn't just a foil for Leonard, he was a very good comic." "...The show was full of wonderful conflicts: Rigsby adoring Miss Jones, who in turn liked Philip, so Rigsby is jealous of Philip - all these situations were classic set-ups for situation comedy." - Ian MacNaugton, producer (pilot episode).

"I have only good memories of Rising Damp although they are, of course, old memories. As it was my first television I had nothing with which to compare the experience. It was a steep learning curve for me." - Don WArrington.

"I'd seen Richard in The Lovers and I knew he had this frank, open face - like a page waiting to be written on by life... so I knew he'd be right for the part." - Eric Chappell. 

"Whoever came into contact with him [Richard] was immediately put at ease, and that was vital in Rising Damp. And Len really loved Richard, he thought he was wonderful. Whatever mood Len was in, Richard would come in and his mood would change - which was great for everybody." - Don Warrington. 

"...With most of my films I get bored after seeing them several times, but I never tire of Rising Damp." - Roy Skeggs, producer, Rising Damp: The Movie. 

"Both Eric and I agreed that to try to squeeze any more out of the situation could be very silly - better to go out on top. The film version is an ideal way for Rigsby to make his last screen appearance." - Leonard Rossiter.

Celebrities Remember
"I went to see Leonard in a play called The Banana Box at The Hampstead Theatre. We had a wonderful evening, and when we went round to Leonard's house later, he said 'Well, what do you think?' And I said 'You've got a very successful TV series there...You've got the first four episodes.' And he said 'Don't be ridiculous. You don't know what you're talking about. Well, I suppose I'll have to go to dinner with an idiot' and off we went." - William Franklyn, actor & friend. 

"..Rising Damp continues to work its magic...not only because the jokes are so good and the acting flawless, but also because the quartet of characters are timeless, with their recognisably human desires, aspirations and failings striking a chord with every generation." - Charlie Catchpole, TV critic. 

"They were trapped. In that house, and in their awful lives." - Ian La Frenais, co-creator, Likely Lads. 

"A lot of relationships are about being trapped, and certainly Rising Damp was about that. The characters had nowhere else to go. They had their own play to play out within the confines of that house." - Norman Pace, comedian.

"Situation comedy is supposed to fluorish best in a trapped situation. And all those characters in that boarding house are, really, trapped." - Dick Clement, co-creator, Likely Lads. 

"The first series was not quite the success we had hoped but, in an unusual move for ITV, we persevered and at once commissioned a second series. This time, in a better slot in the schedule, the show took off." - Sir Paul Fox, former Director of programmes, Yorkshire Television. 

 "[On Rigsby] He's so transparent. You don't feel threatened by him, so you're behind him all the way. We enjoy watching people we don't approve of, such as old man Steptoe, or Alf Garnett." - Dick Clement. 

"Rigsby had a lot in common with Hancock, inasmuch as they are both loners, both potential snobs. They give themselves heirs and graces. They are surrounded by a dysfunctional 'family' of ne'-er-do-wells."
"Every scene was a classic. An unpretentious sort of show, studio-based, no film inserts, no gimmicks, just a rather dark, nondescript set, and four actors." - Richard Whitely, TV presenter.

Leonard's Role Remembered
The Banana Box:
"I knew he was a great actor, I'd seen certain performances, and when they said he'd play the part [of Rooksby], I thought 'Yes!', although I hadn't written it for Len. He came, looking rather suspiciously at this text, and we had the run-through. And people started to laugh - people who didn't normally laugh started to giggle around the table. I could see Len had begun to lighten up, and he went for it, even at the read-through. And suddenly the people were falling about, so we knew we'd got one good part in the play at least!" - Eric Chappell. 

Rising Damp:
"I remember seeing him in Steptoe & Son where he played an escaped prisoner... and to come onto that show and almost overpower Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett shows how strong he was... I thought 'Oh my gosh, he's such a powerful figure. I don't know about the comedy but he'd make a wonderful Rigsby. I knew we weren't the only people after him, and I knew he had a situation comedy in him... Thank God he wanted to do ours!" - Eric Chappell. 

"He was amazed at how successful Rising Damp was. He'd spent years doing these incredibly difficult parts, and then this part comes along which was as easy as falling off a log for him, and it makes him into a gigantic star." - Don Warrington. 

"Leonard was one of the great farce actors of all time. He was nervous, vulnerable, a slave-driver, no more punishable to others than he was to himself in his drive for perfection..." - Frances de la Tour. 

"Even in close-up Len acted with every fibre of his body. I once saw him play a scene with Richard Beckinsale where he was demonstrating how to enter a room in civilised society ['The Cocktail Hour', Series Three, Episode six]... He carried the scene off with hardly a word. I saw him do it a dozen times and there was no variation - each scene was an exact replica of the one before and so carefully choreographed I could have been watching Chaplin." - Eric Chappell. 

"He found the character through nuance and observation.. He wasn't a comedian. He didn't look for the gag or the punchline. He had to find the character's voice." - Ian La Frenais, co-creator, Likely Lads. 

"He was a wonderful teacher for me because it was my first job. He'd take me aside and say "If you do it like this, it's funny. If you do it the way you're doing it, it's not". And he was right on every occasion. You couldn't help but be dumbfounded by his technical virtuosity." - Don Warrington. 

"Len was a remarkable actor with a unique style. I remember his spring-footedness more than anything... His stylistic approach was very powerful and was something he was unaware of until later in his career, when he began exploiting it. He was a great actor." - Peter Bowles, co-star. 

"Leonard was so 'with it' he would show you the whole performance very early... He always knew exactly what he was going to do, which is a tribute to his professionalism." - Ronnie Baxter, prducer Series 1 - 3. 

"He was, without doubt, one of the most talented actors I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He was extraordinarily alert with a very quick brain... His energy and drive were quite remarkable." - Vernon Lawrence, producer, Series Four. 

"I have never known such energy and such pace. He could speak quicker than most people, and he could think about three different things at the same time... He'd be remembering his lines, watching the set and the actors, and watching where the cameras were. He was really in control." - Eric Chappell. 

"To work with Leonard was such a privelege because he was a genius. He knew what he wanted and for someone so exceptionally talented he was surprisingly restrained." - David Swift, co-star, episode The Good Samaritan. 

"Leonard was just excellent. He had a particular line of comedy which was unusual in this country - a highly satirical edge... He was an absolute perfectionist who worked and worked..." - Robert Gillespie, co-star, episode Last Of The Big Spenders.

"We laughed a lot on set, but comedy is a serious business and Leonard took it particularly seriously, and rightly so." - Frances de la Tour. 

"I should imagine some of the scripts were twice the size of normal scripts - and he just belts through it." - Stephen Fry. 

"He never suffered fools gladly. In fact if he thought someone didn't match up to his own exacting standards, he was very intolerant. It wasn't anything personal, he just had a great desire to make the best of any production he was on." - Vernon Lawrence, producer, Series Four. 

"To suddenly become the lead actor in two great series which were running at the same time - at the age of 50 - must have been quite bizarre for him. And I'm sure it must have changed his life too, inasmuch as that, from that point on, he became known more for his comedy than for his theatre work." - Mark Lewisohn. 

"Every time I saw him I thought 'This man is getting better and better'. I don't know why that is. It was just so clear - and getting simpler, too. I know people saw him as this kind of manic performer, but I thought he was coming to a second maturity." - Don Warrington. 

"...[T]he centrepiece was Leonard Rossiter's performance. I sit in awe of him. He was fantastic. I regard him as the best comedy actor this country has produced in the last thirty or forty years..." - Robin Parkinson, co-star, episode Moonlight and Roses. 

"Richard [Beckinsale] was very laid back, and he absorbed some of Len' frenetic energy, which was good for the show, because we couldn't have had two people like Len in the show." - Eric Chappell.

"He [Rigsby] should have been the most unloved character; instead he was adored by millions. And rightly so, for what came across in Leonard's brilliant, hilarious and memorable performance, was not the awfulness of the character, but always the vulnerability." - Robert Tanitch. 

"Leonard was a true perfectionist. He was wonderful to watch in rehearsals because he was so precise in everything; he had every little movement off to a tee - I admired him for that. It was a bit nerve-wrcking working with him, but I'm glad I had the opportunity." - Judy Buxton, co-star, episodes Clunk Click and The Cocktail Hour. 

"The effort that he put into those shows was phenomenal. At the end of it sometimes the man was absolutely exhausted. The passion that was there was frightening..." - Don Warrington. 

"Although the setting was absurd, it was rooted in a truth - of a lonely man looking for love - which gave it more than just comedy, there was a pathos there too." - Neil Pearson, actor. 

"It was Rigsby we were watching, not Len Rossiter, but if you knew him you'd go "Ah, that's a bit of Len creeping through", in the vocal nuances and sudden movements he'd make." - Barry Cryer. 

"Rossiter was unbeatable in his role. His highly-developed skill at physical comedy, the subtlety of his facial expression and his impeccable timing combined with his assiduous performance week in, week out..." - Richard Webber, author Rising Damp: A Celebration. 

"Rigsby and Leonard Rossiter was a marriage made in Heaven... He didn't need Rigsby to sustain him, but he gave Rigsby all he'd got. Sometimes, when I'm writing a show, and I'm talking to people, they'll say: "If only there was a Leonard Rossiter". " - Eric Chappell. 

Rising Damp: The Movie:
"When you were filming with Frances and Leonard, they would rehearse together OK, we'd shoot the scene, then when we were happy with it, they'd go their separate ways, almost like boxers, to their own corners. Because, personally, they had nothing in common..." - Joe McGrath, director.


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