Monday, 12 March 2012

Rising Damp - first run audience figures

A quick look at the ratings for Eric Chappell's sublime ensemble comedy Rising Damp, originally shown on ITV between 1974 and 1978.

Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) and Miss Jones (Frances de la Tour).  Sitcom poetry.
The series started life as 'The Banana Box', a stage play which Yorkshire Television head of light entertainment John Duncan saw and commissioned as a pilot when it flopped in the West End in 1973.

"[I]n a big Shaftesbury Avenue house like the Apollo it seems painfully thin, as if a television Comedy Playhouse had been stretched on the rack to go the requisite two hour distance."
Michael Billington, The Guardian (26 June 1973)

Newspaper ad for 'The Banana Box's pre-West End run at the Hampstead Theatre.  Leonard Rossiter played not Rigsby, but Rooksby in the stage play.
A series was developed before the pilot had been shown but, like Only Fools and Horses...., it was not an immediate success.

Remember that until August 1977, Audits of Great Britain, whose JICTAR system recorded weekly ratings, measured audiences in terms of millions of homes rather than viewers.  The BFI suggests multiplying by 2.2 to arrive at a figure approximating viewers.

Chart positions are probably as good a method of comparison as any.

Pilot (2nd September 1974)
Monday at 8pm, opposite on BBC1 European Athletics Championships.

'The New Tenant' - 6.15m (11th for the week)

"[O]ne of those exercises in which the parts added up to even more than the whole ... If Rossiter in particular can keep this up, and is given the scripts, we should have a gentle treat to look forward to."
Peter Fiddick, The Guardian (3 September 1974)

This was the first in a series of six pilots intiated by incoming YTV Head of Comedy Duncan Wood.  One other series resulted - Oh No - It's Selwyn Froggitt! with Bill Maynard.

Series 1 (13th December 1974-17th January 1975)
Fridays at 8.30pm, opposite Ken Dodd's World of Laughter (episodes 1-2 and 4), 1961 feature film El Cid (ep 3) and sitcom Second Time Around starring Michael Craig (eps 5 and 6)

1. 'Black Magic' - not in Top 20
2. 'A Night Out' - not in Top 20
3. 'Charisma' - not in Top 20
4. 'All Our Yesterdays' - 6.50 (15th)
5. 'The Prowler' - 7.10 (15th=)
6. 'Stand Up and Be Counted' - 6.95m (17th=)

"There are so many factors that make it a paragon of funnies.  Firmly based in a human situation, garlanded with topical pokes and timeless ones, it is fully exploited by a marvellous cast."
Tom Holt, The Stage and Television Today (23 January 1975)

Labour MP Tom Pendry sued Yorkshire Television over series 1 finale "Stand Up And Be Counted", which originally featured a Labour candidate with the same surname.  All references to the character's name are removed in the extant version.

Series 2 (7th November - 19th December 1975)
Fridays at 7.30pm, opposite US imports The Invisible Man, starring David McCallum (episodes 1-4) and repeats of The Wonderful World of Disney (eps 5-7)

1. 'The Permissive Society' - not in Top 20
2. 'Food Glorious Food' - not in Top 20
3. 'A Body Like Mine' - not in Top 20
4. 'Moonlight and Roses' - not in Top 20
5. 'A Perfect Gentleman' - 7.05m (15th)
6. 'The Last of the Big Spenders' - 7.30m (13th=)
7. 'Things That Go Bump in the Night' - 7.25m (16th)

The Invisible Man seems to have been stronger competition than The Wonderful World of Disney, though he never appeared in the Top 20.

"...Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby, the passionately inquisitive landlord, forever hovering on the fringe of his tenants' lives like an avaricious crow..."
Sylvia Clayton, The Daily Telegraph (8 November 1975)

Philip (Don Warrington) and Rigsby fight in 'A Body Like Mine'.
To the victor - a date with Miss Jones!

Christmas Special (26th December 1975)
Boxing Day at 7.45pm, opposite 1970 film The Railway Children

'For The Man Who Has Everything' - not in Top 20

Stage commitments prevented Frances de la Tour appearing in the latter half of Series 2.  Gay Rose stepped in as new tenant Brenda.

Series 3 (12th April - 24th May 1977)
Tuesdays at 8.30pm, opposite the penultimate series of long-running police drama Z Cars.  With a midweek slot, suddenly everything clicked.

1. 'That's My Boy' - 7.85m (5th)
2. 'Stage Struck' - 8.40m (5th)
3. 'Clunk Click' - 8.45m (5th)
4. 'The Good Samaritans' - 8.25m (3rd)
5. 'Fawcett's Python' - 8.40m (3rd)
6. 'The Cocktail Hour' - 8.05m (2nd)
7. 'Suddenly at Home' - 8.20m (1st)

"[N]ot since the association of Tony Hancock with Galton and Simpson has such a comic-tragic figure emerged.  Rigsby is a delightful fool and the characters spread around him by producer Ronnie Baxter add so well and unobtrusively to the humour."
James Thomas, Daily Express (13 April 1977)

Peter Bowles guest starred as resting actor Hilary in 'Stage Struck', which won Series 3 the BAFTA for Situation Comedy of 1977

Series 4 (4th April - 9th May 1978)
Tuesdays at 8.00pm, opposite new BBC Scotland drama serial The Standard starring Colette O'Neil and Patrick Malahide.  No Richard Beckinsale in this last run - he was busy with West End musical comedy "I Love My Wife" and Porridge sequel Going Straight.

1. 'Hello Young Lovers' - 18.20m (2nd)
2. 'Fire and Brimstone' - 18.55m (1st)
3. 'Great Expectations' - 18.25m (1st)
4. Pink Carnations' - 17.80m (1st)
5. 'Under The Influence' - 16.90m (2nd)
6. 'Come On In, The Water's Lovely' - 15.10m (6th)

"The series has been a personal triumph for Leonard Rossiter.  He plays it so frantically that at times 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 hairsbreadth."
Peter Knight, The Daily Telegraph (11 May 1978)

Just the three regulars in Series 4, but it moves so fast no one would notice.
So Rising Damp came to an end after four series, its reputation forever intact.  Eric Chappell moved on to hospital comedy Only When I Laugh starring James Bolam, which proved almost as popular.

The Movie (UK release: 14 February 1980)

UK quad poster for the modestly budgeted film version, directed by Joe McGrath.  Christopher Strauli played art student John, standing in for Richard Beckinsale, who passed away on 19th March 1979.
"It feels like three telly segments gummed back to back and confirms that the most dreaded words associated with a TV series today are 'The Movie'."
Alexander Walker, Evening Standard (14 February 1980)

The inevitable feature film version premiered on ITV on Thursday 3rd March 1983, 7.45-9.30pm. Shown opposite Top of the Pops, The Kenny Everett Television Show, the first episode of documentary series The Paras and the Nine O'Clock News, 12.20m tuned in (12th for the week).


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