My Comedy Hero: Andrew Lawrence on Leonard Rossiter
Famous for portraying both Rigsby and Reginald Perrin, Rossiter paid great attention to detail
For a long time I’ve had a real admiration for Leonard Rossiter. He was responsible, of course, for bringing to life two fascinating, hilarious and enduring sitcom characters, first in Rigsby and then Reginald Perrin in what were two of the very best situation comedies from the 1970s or any era: Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
I think what resonates with me is his ability so often as a performer to take an utterly unpleasant character and make them somehow charming; so much comedy lies in that contradiction. Rigsby is probably the role that suited his abilities best: the sneering seediness, the sinister physical awkwardness, the maniacal, gabbling, vigorous pace with which he churns up the dialogue.
Watching his performances as both Rigsby and Reginald Perrin, anyone who’s ever done any kind of comedy acting or stand-up can see the extraordinary attention to detail in Rossiter’s delivery. He was reputed for his extreme work ethic and perfectionism, and that shines through in these TV roles. Going from amateur dramatics, to repertory theatre, to eventual TV and film acclaim, it’s an inspiration to learn of someone getting to the top through merit and graft in what can be such a nepotistic profession.
Rossiter’s unrelenting perfectionism led some to complain that he could be an intimidating figure, difficult to work with. But if anything, his unwillingness to settle for second best is testament to the extraordinarily high quality of the work that is his legacy and remains, 40 years later, very, very funny.
Andrew Lawrence, The Stand, Edinburgh, Sun 26 Jan; The Stand, Glasgow, Mon 27 Jan.