Eric Chappel, (1933 – 2022 )
Writer Eric Chappell, the creator of sitcoms Rising Damp and Home to Roost, died on Thursday at the age of 88. The latter show’s star Reece Dinsdale revealed the news, expressing his gratitude for scripts that were “a complete joy to play”.
“Just heard that Eric Chappell, the writer of #HomeToRoost, #RisingDamp & many other shows died on Thursday,” Dinsdale tweeted. “Thank you for everything you did for me, Sir… your scripts were a complete joy to play. Great times! My love & deepest sympathies to his friends & family RIP Eric.”
Not many people could say their work was regularly seen by more than 17 million people, but Grantham-born writer Eric could.
Based above a solicitor’s office in Grove End Road,, Eric penned numerous stage plays and TV sitcoms, winning fame for 1970s and 80s classics such as Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh and Duty Free.
Eric was born in Commercial Road, his father a goods foreman on the railway.
He lived in Sidney Street for many years, and later Yarmouth Avenue, Tyson Close and Ropsley, before settling in Barrowby.
After leaving the Boys’ Central School and Grantham College, Eric became an internal auditor with East Midlands Electricity Board in Leicestershire and Warwickshire.
Although he was supposed to be studying for exams Eric was spending his time at home exploring his love of storytelling.
His first play – A Long Felt Want – was never produced, his second evolved into a critical and popular masterpiece and created Leonard Rossiter’s sneering landlord Rigsby, one of the most famous characters to grace the small screen. The play The Banana Box – which spawned Rising Damp – was first performed at Hampstead Theatre Club on November 29, 1970, and had its first public performance six months later in Leicester, starring Wilfrid ‘Steptoe’ Brambell as the landlord then called Rooksby.
For a while Eric led a secret life as an up-and-coming writer and only told his boss after spotting an a advert emblazoned on the side of a Leicester bus promoting The Banana Box – A new play by Eric Chappell.
He took up full-time writing in 1973, the year The Banana Box appeared in London’s West End with Rossiter and Frances de la Tour in the cast.
Rising Damp was commissioned by Yorkshire TV and piloted in 1974.It ran for four series and topped the ratings, and won Eric the BAFTA Award for best Situation Comedy in 1978, but ended on a sad note following the death of young co-star Richard Beckinsale.
It was not, however, Eric’s first television credit, as the comedy drama The Spanish Dancers, starring Henry McGee, was broadcast by HTV Wales only in 1971. And another sitcom, The Squirrels, was broadcast two months before Rising Damp. His success was not just a flash-in-the-pan as he had other TV hits with hospital comedy Only When I Laugh, starring James Bolam and Richard Wilson, Home to Roost, with John Thaw, The Bounder, with Peter Bowles, Haggard and Fiddlers
Eric also worked with Syston writer Jean Warr on sitcoms Singles and ratings-topper Duty Free – adapted from the stage play We’re Strangers Here and starred Keith Barron and Joanna Van Gyseghem.
Eric returned to writing for the theatre, with plays such as Up and Running, Something’s Burning, Haunted, Theft and Natural Causes.
Despite his huge TV successes Eric preferred writing for the stage, saying: “When I did shows on TV to 15 million people I got one phone call, but when you do a show in a theatre you get a real buzz from the audience’s reaction.”