Rising Damp writer Eric Chappell dies at 88

·2-min read

Eric Chappell, the writer of some of ITV’s most popular sitcoms, including Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh and Duty Free, has died at the age of 88.

His death was revealed by the actor Reece Dinsdale, who starred alongside the late John Thaw in Chappell’s sitcom Home to Roost. Dinsdale wrote on Twitter: “Thank you for everything you did for me, Sir … your scripts were a complete joy to play. Great times!”

Chappell was a prolific writer for theatre and television but his crowning achievement was Rising Damp, described as ITV’s finest ever sitcom by Mark Lewisohn, the author of the Radio Times Guide to comedy.

It ran between 1974 and 1978 and had a magnificent central cast of four: Leonard Rossiter as the miserly, manic landlord Rigsby, Frances de la Tour as the dreamy romantic Miss Jones, Don Warrington as the suave Philip, who claims to be the son of an African chief, and Richard Beckinsale as the naive and good-natured medical student Alan.

Rising Damp regularly attracted audiences of 18 million. Its many fans include the Guardian’s film editor, Catherine Shoard, who wrote in 2009: “At its best, it bears comparison with Beckett and Pinter.”

Chappell told the Guardian last year that he had been concerned that Rigsby’s prejudicial attitude towards Philip might be misinterpreted as something to be celebrated or mimicked, as had happened with Johnny Speight’s Alf Garnett.

The quality of the writing meant that was not the case. Chappell said he hoped he “had written an intelligent comedy about race relations”.

Jed Mercurio, the writer of Line of Duty, described Chappell as “one of the all-time greats. His brilliant comedies entertained millions, week in week out, for decades.”

Chappell was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in September 1933, and worked as an auditor for the East Midlands Electricity Board for 22 years. After several of his novels were rejected by publishers he decided to write plays, recognising that dialogue was his great skill.

In his first play, The Banana Box, which became Rising Damp, Wilfred Brambell – then famous for Steptoe and Son – played the Rigsby character on stage.

Chappell’s other sitcom credits included The Bounder, which starred Peter Bowles, who died five weeks ago. It was written with Bowles in mind after the success of Only When I Laugh, which starred Bowles, James Bolam and Christopher Strauli as seemingly permanent, hypochondriac hospital patients and Richard Wilson as their longsuffering consultant.

Tim Reid, who co-created and co-wrote the BBC show Car Share, described Chappell as one of the greatest sitcom writers. “Worthy of a place amongst the greats for creating Rupert Rigsby alone,” he said. “But Only When I Laugh, often under-rated in my view, is not a bad follow up to Rising Damp. Hats off, sir.”

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