Celebrated Lincolnshire playwright Eric Chappell dies aged 88

Celebrated Lincolnshire playwright Eric Chappell, whose numerous plays were adapted for film and TV, has died aged 88.

Eric Chappell.
Eric Chappell.

In what was possibly his final interview, Mr Chappell, who lived in Barrowby, told Lincolnshire World’s Rachel Armitage what drove his desire to write.

“I was working for the electricity board in Hinckley and I wrote some truly awful novels,” he recalls, “Then one day, I was in my mid 30s and decided to write a play and it became The Banana Box.”

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This turned out to be the first of Eric’s 200 TV comedy scripts and 25 plays Eric, with The Banana Box debuting at the Leicester Phoenix theatre and going on to star in the London West End.The Banana Box ended up inspiring Bafta award-winning TV comedy Rising Damp, starring Leonard Rossite and Frances De La Tour, which also won the Evening Standard Film award for Best Comedy.

“Leonard was quite insistent on being creative with his performance and he worked me very hard,” Eric remembers, “But he was brilliant to work with.”

Other famous Eric Chappell plays include Home to Roost – which starred John Thaw – Duty Free and Only When I Laugh, with James Bowlam, Peter Bowles and Richard Wilson.

St Peter’s Hill Players in Grantham are performing one of his plays – Wife After Death, which starred legendary actor Tom Conti in 2013 – on May 5, 6 and 7 (tickets are available here).

The play takes place at the funeral of comedian and national treasure Dave Thursby, and we meet his friends and former colleagues who have come to pay their respects.

Then Dave’s ex-wife Kay arrives and many other secrets come tumbling out, leaving all the characters to wonder if they ever knew the real Dave at all.

Eric said his inspiration for Wife After Death came after attending a number of funerals and noticing how different people are when someone they know dies:

He said: “It’s the old adage of ‘you don’t speak ill of the dead’ and you’re supposed to only say the best things about them - like when we hear all about Dave’s charity works rather than him being a really awful person!”

Eric said he wanted to give all four female cast members good parts to play, with all four having their own key parts to play and secrets to tell.

“I want everyone who is in my plays to do what feels right to them with my plays,” Eric added, “As long as they remember it’s a black comedy they can do what they want and interpret the characters how they like.”

A spokesman for St Peter’s Hill Players said: “It was with great sadness, we, as a drama society, of which Eric Chappell was patron, heard of his death.

"Eric and his family would come to see and support our shows whenever we 'trod the boards'

He would give the cast his feedback after the show which was greatly appreciated.

"We had hoped to perform our current production, Wife After Death, a gem from Eric's pen, two years ago, however, we were forced to postpone until this year.

"Eric had already booked his ticket, so we will be aware of his absence during this run. RIP Eric, you will be sadly missed by many.”