• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Richard Briers

Actor;

Born: January 14, 1934; Died: February 17, 2013.

RICHARD Briers, who has died aged 79, was one of Britain's best-loved comic actors. He was the star of The Good Life in the 1970s, Ever Decreasing Circles in the 1980s and Monarch of the Glen in the noughties, although he also tackled the full range of Shakespearean plays on stage.

Loading article content

He was a regular member of Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in the 1980s and 1990s and appeared in several of Branagh's films, including Much Ado About Nothing and Frankenstein.

If Briers had a speciality in his career, it was playing the character who lived in his own little world, largely oblivious to the needs of those around them, including long-suffering wives. In The Good Life, it was Felicity Kendal, in Ever Decreasing Circles Penelope Wilton and in Monarch of the Glen, Susan Hampshire.

This trait was given greater poignancy when Briers took on the role of King Lear in Renaissance Theatre's Edinburgh Festival production in 1990, playing a man whose world comes crashing down around him because of his pride and failure to see things as they really are. He was also heart-breaking as the ill-fated Bardolph in Branagh's acclaimed 1989 film of Henry V – despite a very silly false nose.

Richard David Briers was born in London. His father had various jobs, his mother taught drama and music and Terry Thomas was his second cousin. He gave Briers some advice on his ambitions to become an actor: don't.

After leaving school, Briers worked as a clerk and did national service in the RAF, before studying at Rada, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He then joined the Liverpool Playhouse repertory company which is where he met Ann Davies, an actress and stage manager; they married in 1957.

In the late 1950s he began to get small roles in film and television. He got his big break in 1961 when he and Prunella Scales were cast as a young couple in the domestic sitcom Marriage Lines. It ran for four series, at the end of which the TV couple moved to Nigeria, because of Briers's character's work. But the BBC decided to bring them back for one final series in 1966.

By the time Marriage Lines finally ended, Briers was established as one of Britain's leading comic actors, though he took on straight roles as well and played the title role in a touring production of Richard III, which visited Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling in 1972.

The warmth and child-like enthusiasm in his voice also made him an ideal choice as narrator on the animated children's series Roobarb (1974) and Noddy (1975).

His unbridled enthusiasm and optimism were evident again in The Good Life (1975-78) in which Briers and Felicity Kendal play a middle-class couple who drop out and decide to become self-sufficient and turn their suburban property into a mini farm, much to the annoyance of their neighbour Margo Leadbetter, played by Penelope Keith.

Tom Good, Briers's character, was really quite smug and Margo was a dreadful snob, and yet they were all very nice at heart and the British public loved the show. There were only 30 episodes, but it was voted the ninth best British sitcom of all time in a BBC poll in 2004.

A few years later, Briers and Penelope Wilton played another middle-class couple in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89). This time there was no pigs or goats and they seemed the very epitome of slightly dull normality, but therein lay the show's understated charm.

It would perhaps be misleading to describe it as a cult show, but Ever Decreasing Circles proved hugely popular when repeated on cable and satellite channels and commanded a loyal following.

In 1987 Briers appeared in the Doctor Who story Paradise Towers and joined Branagh's new Renaissance Theatre company, playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night on stage in London.

He was especially memorable in Henry V as Bardolph, the king's old drinking buddy when Hal was a mere prince. Bardolph is brought before Henry for looting a church; he looks pleadingly, wordlessly, into Henry's eyes.

Henry remembers their carousing together and then orders the hanging to go ahead. Briers's struggles as he is strung up are all the more heartbreaking for the audience's memories of a happy-go-lucky character from The Good Life.

As well as Lear, Briers also appeared in the Renaissance production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Edinburgh Festival in 1990.

He worked with Branagh on several other plays and films, including Peter's Friends (1992), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Frankenstein (1994) and Hamlet (1996), in which he was Polonius.

Briers seemed to be attracted to darker material as he grew older. In the short comedy series If You See God, Tell Him (1993) he played a man who has been paralysed, suffers from an attention disorder and believes everything he sees in television adverts. In 2005 he appeared in the television drama Dad about elderly abuse.

Even on the relatively lightweight Monarch of the Glen he has a dark past and meets a tragic end.

Briers appeared in the first three series of the comedy-drama playing Hector MacDonald, Laird of Glenbogle; it was loosely based on the stories of Compton Mackenzie and shot at Adverikie estate in Inverness-shire, the nearby village of Laggan and other locations across the Highlands.

Briers was involved in various charities, became an OBE in 1989 and a CBE in 2003. In 2013 he revealed that he had been diagnosed with emphysema, the incurable lung condition. He reckoned he had smoked half a million cigarettes before giving up in 2003.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters, one of whom, Lucy Briers, is an actress.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

141599