Don Warrington fears I’ve killed off his career with an ill chosen phrase. Put it down to the heat of the moment Rising Damp style.
It comes down to this faux pas. “So, your career has come full circle then,” I muse on this magisterial actor’s rise from breakthrough role in 1970s sitcom Rising Damp to director of the show of the same name which starts its national theatre tour at the Grand Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.
“You make it sound like I’m dead,” he says. Some interviews are dead in the water long before you clutch at straws. This is one of them. Don is the sort of actor who looks to his next role usually. He’s now directing the team of the newlook Rising Damp on its national theatre run, starting here in Blackpool on Tuesday.
Don admits it was his breakthrough. It cast him opposite the late Leonard Rossiter (as boastful landlord Rigsby), Frances de la Tour (now in stereotypical gay sitcom Vicious ) as Rigsby’s unrequited love Miss Jones, and young heartthrob Richard Beckinsale.
Rising Damp is held to be ITV’s top comedy of all time. That even baffles some in the cast. Frances admits she knew it was good but it became popular years later “when people started calling it a classic. But it’s like we left it behind and it never died.”
Thirty five years since the last episode was filmed at Yorkshire TV Don’s directing the cast in the theatre tour by Classic Comedy Productions.
He admits: “It’s such a long time ago I have only a vague memory of it being pleasant and challenging. I just wanted to do it as well as I could.
“It was my first job – which was a fantastic break. It came and I did it and it set me on the road. The fact I’m remembered is immensely flattering but has more to do with other people’s reality than mine. As an actor one just looks to the next role. I don’t watch it if it’s on. I got through it but I was inexperienced and found it nerve racking. I wasn’t much good if you ask me.
“I don’t draw comparisons with the people playing the roles today. I am outside it now. It was simple, the producers asked if I would like to direct it and I thought why not. Fait accompli. I had nothing to do with the casting. As with anything it’s a bunch of actors given these jobs - and they get on with it.”
Don was born in Trinidad and trained at The Drama Centre, London. He’s picked his roles wisely. Film credits include The Glass Man, Gurinder Chadha’s film It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, The Lighthouse, The Seventh Scroll, and Hamlet. Theatre credits include Driving Miss Daisy (the theatre tour), A Statement of Regret and The Mysteries for the Royal National Theatre, Elmina’s Kitchen in the West End and The Merchant of Venice for Birmingham Rep.
TV work includes Death In Paradise, Lewis, Casualty, Law & Order, Diamond Geezer, Doctor Who (destined to be deleted by the Cybermen...) Manchild, All Star Comedy Show, Trial and Retribution, and more.
As a director, Don’s credits include Rum And Coca Cola for The West Yorkshire Playhouse and The Coloured Museum for Talawa Theatre Company at The V & A. Talawa is in residence for a month at Manchester’s Royal Exchange from late September with Arthur Miller’s All My Sons starring Don.
Don adds: “I’ve never wanted to be known for one thing. I have gone out there to do the work I like and take what comes if it works for me.”
He adds: “It’s hard for theatre today, grants are being cut left right and centre,many are struggling to survive.”
Don’s looking forward to seeing Blackpool – and The Grand – for the first time.
“I’ve no preconceived notions apart from the Lights. And I’d quite like to pay a visit to Gypsy Rose Lee to have my fortune told.” Then it’s back to paradise (so to speak) for another series of Death in Paradise with Ben Miller. Don plays the dour police chief.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s the right fit of a role so long as I’m able to give the character a lot of sides and temper it with humanity. And sunshine helps.”
n Rising Damp is at The Grand, Blackpool, May 14 to 18. For tickets – priced £17 – call the box office on (01253) 743342 or visit www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk