British Icon of the Week: 'Rising Damp' and 'Vicious' Actress Frances de la Tour

(Photo: Getty Images)
Highly regarded actress Frances de la Tour turns 78 Saturday (July 30), so we're giving her an early birthday present by making her our British Icon of the Week. Here are 10 things we appreciate about de la Tour and her impressive career.
1. She made her name in the classic 1970s sitcom Rising Damp.
De la Tour played Miss Jones, a high-spirited college administrator who is pursued (not very successfully) by her seedy and small-minded landlord Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter). Death in Paradise's Don Warrington and Richard Beckinsale also starred in the show, which mixed sharp social commentary with physical comedy and zingy one-liners. You can stream all 28 episodes on BritBox.

2. She also made us laugh in Vicious.
The ITV/PBS sitcom only ran for two seasons, but it was fun seeing Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi play a couple who love tearing strips off one another. De la Tour was also on top form as their best friend Violet, who's often the butt of the joke but always manages to elegantly shrug it off.

3. She was an original The History Boys cast member.
Written by Alan Bennett, this 2004 play about a group of Sheffield schoolboys preparing for their college admissions exams helped to launch the careers of James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey, Sacha Dhawan, and Samuel Barnett. De la Tour starred as their history teacher Mrs. Lintott in the London production, then won a Tony Award when the play transferred to Broadway a couple years later. She also reprised her role in the movie adaptation.

4. She took to Broadway like a duck to water.
And not just because she won a Tony. "I absolutely adored it in America," she told The Independent. "Because they didn't know who I was, they thought they'd discovered me. I was like an adopted child. Because New Yorkers are New Yorkers, they'd pick me up in the street and embrace me. Not just the gay community: there were straight guys as well, people so smitten with the show, the characters, and Richard [Griffiths] playing Hector."
5. She played another teacher in Big School.
To be precise, de la Tour played the unconventional headmistress (high school principal) Ms. Baron in this zany BBC sitcom created by David Walliams. Their co-stars included Doctor Who favorite Catherine Tate and Life on MarsPhilip Glenister, so it's well worth checking out. 

6. She's a revered theater actress.
In addition to her Tony, de la Tour has won three Olivier Awards for her stage work in London. The first came for her performance as a world-class violinist diagnosed with MS in 1980's Duet for One, a play written by de la Tour's then-husband Tom Kempinski.
7. She takes her craft seriously.
In a 2021 interview with the Radio Times, de la Tour shared an interesting theory about her enduring success. "Without theater, I wouldn't have been able to do the television," she said. "They often say if you want longevity in this business, be a theater actor. Because there is a point where producers look for what they call gravitas, which is an actor that has been at it a long time."
8. She was nearly in Love Actually.
Richard Curtis
' classic rom-com had so many different plotlines that, sadly, one featuring de la Tour and Anne Reid didn't make the final cut. Still, this deleted scene gives a glimpse of their touching relationship: it's short, but definitely poignant.

9. She's self-deprecating.
So many actors become closely associated with their signature role, but de la Tour isn't afraid to poke fun at this. She told The Independent: "I just know that, when I die, the papers will say, 'Rising Damp Woman Kicks the Bucket.'"
10. She's longtime friends with Maggie Smith.
You can check out an adorable photo of them together here. It was taken at the 1994 Evening Standard Theatre Awards, where Smith won the Best Actress award.
Do you have a favorite Frances de la Tour role?