Tuesday, 7 April 2009

246: Gay Actors 9: Rising Damp

Rising Damp
19th April 1977
“Stage Struck”, written by Eric Chappell

Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby
Peter Bowles as Hilary.
Frances De La Tour as Miss Jones
Richard Beckinsale as Alan

Screenshots from

Risgby’s “seduction scene” with Hilary

Rigsby is the bigoted landlord, in love with Miss Jones, one of his tenants. In this episode, the latest tenant, Hilary, is a “resting actor” in the middle of producing a play. Before Hilary appears in the episode, Rigsby has made his distaste evident: “Well, for one reason he calls me 'ducky'. If he calls me 'ducky' once more, I'll have him.” Rigsby is horrified that Hilary’s play is raunchy, and also scandalised and jealous that Miss Jones is going to be in a romantic scene with Alan, another of the tenants. Rigsby schemes to appear in the scene with Miss Jones himself. Rigsby tells Alan, 'It's Hilary. He's one of them' and that Hilary fancies Alan, especially because of his long hair.

R: Hilary is NOT as other men
A:(sudden realisation” – You mean he’s queer?!
R: (gets up agitated) Keep your voice down! Didn’t it occur to you?
A: No. But i don’t think it’s really important
R: Of course it’s important! In my day it meant prison
A: We’re in more enlightened times. Parliament’s made it legal
R: Mmmmnnnn. I’m not surprised with that lot. It’s a miracle they didn’t make it compulsory

After Rigsby has left Alan shocked, Hilary enters. Alan puts on a deep voice, lies about going to play rugby and other 'butch' things as well as going to have his hair cut, in an effort to discourage him.
Rigsby disappoints Miss Jones by telling her not to waste her time trying to chat Hilary up as 'nature has played a cruel trick on that man'. As he does a limp-wristed impersonation, Hilary enters, unnoticed for a few seconds, then Rigsby makes for the door in embarrassment.

Later, Hilary accepts Rigsby's apology for the impersonation, and tells his landlord that the little bit of acting he saw impressed him, and offers Rigsby the lead role after all (as a practical joke). Hilary is acting slightly more simpering, coy and breathy, compliments Rigsby on his “strong sensitive hands”. Hillary has Rigsby sit by him on the sofa.. Hilary puts his arm around Rigsby, as he tells him “You might be just the man for me” to Rigsby’s discomfort. As Rigsby tries to lean away, Hilary leasn in towards him. Rigsby reads out the male role’s lines to Hilary playing the passionate female interest, even putting his other hand on his leg then resting his head on Rigsby’s shoulder. When the scene calls for a kiss, Rigsby leaps up in panic, declines to play any further then exits, leaving Hilary in hysterics. Later on Hilary and Miss Jones act the scene, and Rigsby realise he’s been fooled.

This all plays off Rigsby’s prejudices and sexual desperation. It isn’t every man Rigsby could accuse of being gay, but with an actor, that makes it a bit more believable. Particularly since Hilary partakes of the various la-di-da camp theatrical mannerisms. This provokes Rigsby to his litany of casual homophobic statements, airing most coarse common assumptions. Of course Rigsby would trot out all those old chestnuts, including the old "long hair" means you're effeminacy misunderstandings from almost a decade ago. That's how clueless he is. He’s such an awful character, but played with incomparable frenzy by Leonard Rossiter. Then there’s Alan’s misguided attempt to put Hilary off the scent, since a homosexual could only ever be attracted to effeminacy Having picked up on Rigsby’s ploy, its only fair for Hilary to use it against him. Hilary then plays up to him, acting out what Rigsby thinks a homosexual would be, somewhere between suave and effeminately playful, then making a move on him to wind him up.

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