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Richard Briers: A Good Life Well-Loved

Richard Briers (Mar 2009)

It was with profound sadness that I learned of the death of Richard Briers recently.

Born in Raynes Park, Surrey in 1934, he was the second cousin of actor Terry Thomas (with the famed gap in his front teeth). Richard’s mother was a music / drama teacher and pianist.

Leaving school at 16 with no qualifications, Richard first took a job as a clerk, and briefly dabbled in electrical engineering; before being called up for National Service at age 18.

It was during his National Service at RAF Northwood (Herefordshire) that he met actor Brian Murphy (who later starred in the sitcom George and Mildred). Brian introduced Richard to the Dramatic Society at the Borough Polytechnic Institute.

On leaving the RAF he studied at RADA alongside such screen icons as Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole< and graduated with a silver medal.

Richard’s acting career spanned over 52 years:

He had several roles in the 1960s and early 1970s in film and TV. I remember him quite well in the 1967 movie Fathom (starring Raquel Welch as a parachutist who is recruited as a spy), where he played Flight Lt. Timothy Webb (one of the British agents who helped talk Welch into spying for them).

However, it wasn’t until his role as Tom Good in The Good Life (which ran from 1975 to 1978) alongside, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington, that he became very well-known in the UK.

Since then he had many roles in Television. Probably one of the most well-known being that of Martin Bryce (lead role) in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89). However, much of his time was spent on the stage. He met Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-Upon-Avon (who was starring in Henry V) and was offered the role of Malvolio in the Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night. After joining the company, several other Shakespearean roles followed over the next few years.

Richard Briers had a very distinctive voice and did quite a lot of radio and voice work. His voice was especially suited for children’s TV, I remember very well the animated cartoon Roobard and Custard (1974) for which he did the narration.

Richard was good friends with Paul Eddington, whom he knew slightly before they both appeared in The Good Life. When Paul was diagnosed with skin cancer, Richard took on all his publicity interviews (they were both appearing in David Storey’s play ‘Home’ at the time – 1994), so that Eddington would have time for his medical treatments. Richard later spoke at Paul’s memorial. Richard and his wife Ann (whom he met and then married within 6 months) were also close to Eddington’s wife, Patricia; a friendship that continued after Paul’s death.

Patricia spoke of Richard (whom she calls ‘Dickie’) in an interview with Sue Fox of the Independent in 1996:

“From the first time we met, I felt Dickie was a friend I’d known for ever. It was strange – that feeling of thinking we had known each other always. Since Paul died, Dickie rings me every 10 days and says “Hello, darling,” in that wonderfully silly way he has. It never fails to cheer me up.”

She goes on to say:

“It’s just over a year since Paul died, but even though he’s extremely busy, Dickie has literally looked after me. He’s a person who inspires friendships in people, and I love him”

Read full article in the Independent.

Richard supported several charities. He was Honorary Vice President of Parkinson’s UK (his cousin Terry Thomas died from the disease), he helped launch a Sense campaign called “Fill in the Gaps” in 2006 (to help older deafblind people receive needed support); and was also a patron of the TOFS (Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula Support) charity, which supports children and the families of children born unable to swallow.

He was, by all accounts, quite comfortable with his fame, and enjoyed chatting to people who approached him because of it.

Briers was appointed OBE in 1989, and CBE in 2003.

He died at home in London on 17th February 2013 of emphysema (readily admitting that after smoking approx half a million cigarettes in his lifetime, it was “the ciggies that got me”).

Among the tributes were mentions from:

Kenneth Branagh:
“He was a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man. He was greatly loved and he will be deeply missed.”

“one of Britain’s best-loved actors.”

Penelope Keith:
“He was always courteous, always generous and always self-deprecating.”
“All the nice things that you hear about Dickie are absolutely true.”
“He was a true gentleman, he was generous, he was always amusing – and humble. If he could see us now he’d say, ‘Oh stop it dear, stop it – don’t go on so’.”

Christopher Farrar (his agent):
“Richard was a wonderful man, a consummate professional and an absolute joy to work alongside.”

Adrian Lester (appeared with Richard in “As You Like It” and “Love’s Labours Lost”) said he was a:
“gentle and supremely gifted man with a natural talent for comedy.”

Peter Egan (Ever Decreasing Circles co-star):
“Our friendship was based on laughter, we laughed all the time and got on so well together.”
… “I will miss him, as will his many friends.”

Alastair McKenzie (Monarch of the Glen star – Briers played his son):
“He taught me a great deal and spread joy to everyone wherever he went.”
“He will be dearly missed and so very fondly remembered. He was a very special man and I loved being with him.”

Stephen Fry (played Brier’s son in the film Peter’s Friends):
“He was the most adorable and funny man imaginable.”

I will add my own “He was a wonderful actor and I enjoyed watching his performances … but probably most importantly from what I have read about him … he seemed like a jolly, nice chap”.

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