- Category : Actor
- Type : PE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 4
Richard David Briers, CBE (14 January 1934 - 17 February 2013) was an English actor. His fifty-year career encompassed television, stage, film and radio.
Briers first came to prominence as George Starling in Marriage Lines (1961–66), but it was a decade later, when he narrated Roobarb and Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk (1974–76) and when he played Tom Good in the BBC sitcom The Good Life (1975–78), that he became a household name. Later, he starred as Martin in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–89), and he had a leading role as Hector in Monarch of the Glen (2000–02). From the late 1980s, with Kenneth Branagh as director, he performed Shakespearean roles.
Briers was born in Raynes Park, Surrey, the son of Joseph Benjamin Briers and Morna Phyllis (née Richardson). He was the first cousin once removed of actor Terry-Thomas (or Terry-Thomas was his father's cousin). He spent his childhood in Raynes Park in a flat in Pepys Court behind the now demolished Rialto cinema and Guildford. His father drifted between jobs, while his mother wished for a showbusiness career; she went on to become a member of Equity. Morna was also a pianist and a successful drama and music teacher.
Briers attended Rokeby Preparatory School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, and the Ridgeway School in Wimbledon, which he left at the age of 16 without any formal qualifications. His sister, Jane, is also an actress.
Briers' first job was a clerical post with a London cable manufacturer, and for a short time he went to evening classes to qualify in electrical engineering, but soon left and became a filing clerk.
At the age of 18, he was called up for two years national service in the RAF, during which he was a filing clerk at RAF Northwood, where he met future George and Mildred actor Brian Murphy. Murphy introduced Briers, who had been interested in acting since the age of 14, to the Dramatic Society at the Borough Polytechnic Institute, now London South Bank University, where he performed in several productions.
When he left the RAF he studied at RADA, which he attended from 1954 to 1956. Placed in a class with both Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney, Briers later credited academy director John Fernald with nurturing his talent. Graduating from RADA with a Silver Medal, he won a scholarship with the Liverpool Repertory Company, and after 15 months moved to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry for 6 months. He made his West End debut in the Duke of York's Theatre 1959 production of Gilt And Gingerbread by Lionel Hale.
In 1961, Briers was cast in the leading male role in Marriage Lines (1961–66) with Prunella Scales playing his character's wife. In between the pilot and the series itself, Briers appeared in Brothers in Law (from the book by Henry Cecil) as callow barrister Roger Thursby in 1962. He was cast in this role by adaptors Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who had seen him in the West End. His other early appearances included The Seven Faces of Jim (1961) with Jimmy Edwards, Dixon of Dock Green (1962), a production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever (1968) and the storyteller in several episodes of Jackanory (1969). In May 1972 Briers was featured on the Thames Television show This Is Your Life when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews. He was a subject of the programme for a second time in March 1994 when Michael Aspel surprised him during a television interview.
In a role specifically written for him by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, Briers was cast in the lead role in The Good Life (1975–78), playing Tom Good, a draughtsman who decides, on his 40th birthday, to give up his job and try his hand at self-sufficiency, with the support of his wife Barbara, played by Felicity Kendal. Briers persuaded the producers to cast his friend Paul Eddington, a fellow council member of Equity, in the role of Jerry. An enormously successful series, the last episode in 1978 was performed in front of the Queen. In 1977, he starred with his The Good Life co-star Penelope Keith in the televised version of Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests. He also starred as Ralph in 13 episodes of The Other One (1977–79) with Michael Gambon.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Briers had leading roles in several programmes. including Goodbye, Mr Kent (1982), a rare failure also featuring Hannah Gordon, the lead role of Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–89), and as Godfrey Spry in the BBC comedy drama If You See God, Tell Him (1993). He also starred in All in Good Faith (1985), Tales of the Unexpected (1988), and Mr. Bean (1990). In 1987, he appeared as the principal villain in the Doctor Who serial Paradise Towers, a performance which was described by Radio Times writer Patrick Mulkern as Briers' "career-low". In 1995 he played the character Tony Fairfax in the BBC comedy Down to Earth. In the Inspector Morse episode 'Death is Now My Neighbour', he played the evil master of Lonsdale College, Sir Clixby Bream.
Briers spent much of his career in the theatre, including appearances in plays by Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. In 1967, one of his earliest successes was playing alongside Michael Hordern and Celia Johnson in the London production of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking.
After a long career in television sitcom, and looking to expand his career, his daughter Lucy took him to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch Kenneth Branagh in Henry V. After meeting Branagh backstage after the performance, Branagh offered Briers the role of Malvolio in the Renaissance Theatre Company production of Twelfth Night. Briers joined the company, and went on to play title parts in King Lear and Uncle Vanya. Briers also appeared in many of Branagh's films, including Henry V (1989, as Bardolph), Much Ado About Nothing (1993, as Signor Leonato) and Hamlet (1996, as Polonius). The theatre production of Twelfth Night (1988) was adapted for television, with Briers reprising his role as Malvolio.
In 2010, Briers played in the Royal National Theatre revival of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance, alongside Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw. A performance of this was broadcast live to cinemas round the world as part of the NT Live! program.
Briers made his film debut in 1960 British feature film Bottoms Up. He then took parts in Murder She Said (1961), The Girl on the Boat (1962), A Matter of WHO (1962), The V.I.P.s (1963); and Raquel Welch's spy spoof Fathom (1967).
He latterly appeared in Michael Winner's A Chorus of Disapproval (1989) and the 2002 film Unconditional Love. His last film was Cockneys vs Zombies (2012).
Radio and voice work
He was a familiar voice actor. Briers narrated the animated children's TV programme Roobarb (1974). Originally shown on BBC1 just before the evening news, each five-minute cartoon was written by Grange Calveley and produced by Bob Godfrey. He was the original voice actor for Noddy (1975) TV series based on the Enid Blyton character, and then another series with Godfrey, Noah and Nelly in... SkyLark (1976). He also provided the voice of Fiver in the animated film adaptation of Watership Down (1978). In the 90s he voiced the part of Mouse, opposite Alan Bennett's Mole in the TV series Mouse & Mole, based on books by Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew. He latterly starred alongside Neil Morrissey in Bob the Builder (2005) to his credit. Briers also featured in the television series adaptation of Watership Down (1999-2001), this time voicing a series exclusive character called Captain Broom, and was one of the very few actors who stayed for all 3 series of the series.
His work in radio included playing Dr. Simon Sparrow in BBC Radio 4's adaptions of Richard Gordon's Doctor in the House and Doctor At Large (1968), and a retired thespian in a series of six plays with Stanley Baxter Two Pipe Problems (2008), and later the play Not Talking, commissioned for BBC Radio 3 by Mike Bartlett. In 1986 he narrated Radio 4's "oh yes it is!", a history of pantomime written by Gerald Frow. Between 1973 and 1981, Briers played Bertie Wooster in several adaptations of the P.G. Wodehouse novels with Michael Hordern as Jeeves.
Briers narrated numerous commercials. including adverts for the Midland Bank in which he was the voice of the company's Griffin symbol. Between 1984 and 1986 he made a series of commercials for the Ford Sierra done in a sitcom style portraying the Sierra as "one of the family". He also recorded the voice of a Sat nav specifically designed for pensionate citizens in the BBC 2’s hit TV Show Top Gear, Season 19, episode 5, which aired only a week after his death.
After 1990, he appeared in Lovejoy, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders (the episode "Death's Shadow"), Doctors, New Tricks, Kingdom, and If You See God, Tell Him. Richard Briers starred as Hector in the first three series of Monarch of the Glen from 2000 to 2002, a role which saw him return to the limelight. He contributed "Sonnet 55" to the 2002 compilation album, When Love Speaks, which features famous actors and musicians interpreting Shakespeare's sonnets and play excerpts. In 2005, he appeared alongside Kevin Whately in Dad, a TV Film made by BBC Wales exploring issues of elder abuse. In 2006, he made an appearance in an episode of Extras, and portrayed the servant Adam in Kenneth Branagh's 2006 Shakespeare adaptation, As You Like It. He made a cameo appearance as a dying recluse in the 2008 Torchwood episode "A Day in the Death".
On 17 December 2000, Briers was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Among his musical choices were "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, "I Feel A Song Coming On" by Al Jolson and "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" by Louis Armstrong. His favourite piece was the Organ Concerto in F major "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" by George Frideric Handel.
Briers met Ann Davies while both were at Liverpool Rep. Davies was employed as a stage manager, and had acted on television and in films from the mid-1950s. Soon after meeting, he borrowed £5 from his mother, bought an engagement ring and they were married within six months. They had two daughters, one of whom, Lucy, is also an actress; Kate (or Katie) has worked in stage management. The couple latterly lived in Buckland, Oxfordshire close to Faringdon.
Briers and his friend Paul Eddington shared a similar sense of humour, and knew each other before being cast in The Good Life. After Eddington was diagnosed with skin cancer, Briers accepted a role opposite him in David Storey's play Home in 1994, agreeing to take on all of the publicity interviews to allow Eddington time for his treatment. At Eddington's memorial service, Briers read both from Cymbeline and PG Wodehouse; he later read chapters from Eddington's autobiography on BBC Radio 4.
As a result of Terry-Thomas's Parkinson's, Briers became President of Parkinson's UK. He also helped to launch a Sense-National Deafblind and Rubella Association campaign. Briers was also a non-medical patron of the TOFS (Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula Support) charity, which supports children and the families of children born unable to swallow.
Interviewed by The Daily Telegraph in 2008, Briers admitted that, whilst on holiday, he enjoyed being recognised, saying, "I’m gregarious by nature, so I love chatting to people. It really cheers me up."
Briers was a keen visitor of Britain's historic churches and visited over one hundred for his book English Country Churches which was published in 1988. From his national service in the RAF, he was a supporter for a national memorial for RAF Bomber Command.
Briers was appointed OBE in 1989, and CBE in 2003.
In an interview with The Daily Mail on 31 January 2013, Briers stated that he had smoked about half a million cigarettes before quitting in 2003. He said he was diagnosed with emphysema in 2008, and that it had progressed quite rapidly. He died at his home in London on 17 February 2013.
The BBC referred to him as "one of Britain's best-loved actors". Sir Kenneth Branagh paid tribute to him, saying, "He was a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man. He was greatly loved and he will be deeply missed."
Briers's agent, Christopher Farrar, said: "Richard was a wonderful man, a consummate professional and an absolute joy to work alongside. Following his recent discussion of his battle with emphysema, I know he was incredibly touched by the strength of support expressed by friends and the public."
Fellow television star Penelope Keith said, "He was always courteous, always generous and always self-deprecating" adding, "He was also such a clever actor that he made you feel secure. You believed he was who he was portraying on the screen or on the stage... I just think of Richard and smile."
Writing in The Guardian, critic Michael Coveney described Briers as "always the most modest and self-deprecating of actors, and the sweetest of men," and noted: "Although he excelled in the plays of Alan Ayckbourn, and became a national figure in his television sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s, notably The Good Life, he could mine hidden depths on stage, giving notable performances in Ibsen, Chekhov and, for Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance company, Shakespeare."
On 30 March 2013 BBC Two broadcast an hour long review of Briers' life and career, with tributes from many friends and colleagues.