Obituary: Richard Briers
Obituary by Jack Foley
RICHARD Briers, the popular TV and film star, has died at the age of 79, according to his agent.
Best known for his role of Tom Good in seminal small screen comedy The Good Life (pictured), Briers also starred in shows such as Ever Decreasing Circles, Monarch Of The Glen and Doctor Who as well as movies Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing and Cockneys vs Zombies.
He was also an accomplished stage actor.
Briers died “peacefully” at his London home on Sunday (February 17, 2013), his agent said, having battled a serious lung condition for several years.
Briers recently said years of smoking had been to blame for his emphysema.
Born in London on January 14, 1934, to parents Benjamin and Morna, he was inspired to be an actor by his mother, a music and drama teacher.
He was initially raised in a flat above a cinema and attended Rokeby Prep School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, although he left at the age of 16 with no qualifications to study electric engineering.
He soon gave that up to become a filing clerk, and continued in that role when called up by the RAF to perform National Service. And it was while serving at RAF Northwood in Herefordshire that he met actor Brian Murphy (of George & Mildred fame) who introduced him to the dramatic society at London’s Borough Polytechnic Institute, now the South Bank University.
He immediately caught the acting bug and after taking advice from his father’s cousin, Terry Thomas, went to study at RADA for two years before winning a scholarship with the Liverpool Playhouse.
Briers subsequently made his West End debut in Gilt and Gingerbread at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1959 and continued to find plenty of work on the stage.
But he was always keen to look out for fresh opportunities that would stretch his ability and broaden his appeal. Hence, in 1961 he got his big break in television after landing the lead role in Marriage Lines alongside Prunella Scales.
He went on to star in Brothers in Law and shows such as Dixon of Dock Green but had to wait until 1975 to land the role that really turned him into a household name.
That role was Tom Good, an endearing yet accident prone former office worker who decided to give up his steady job on his 40th birthday to become self-sufficient.
The part had been written specifically for him by scriptwriters John Esmonde and Bob Larbey and saw him paired with Felicity Kendall as his wife, Barbara.
The show followed the couple as they continued to live in their plush Surrey home in Surbiton, but turned their garden into an allotment complete with livestock to the continued consternation of well-to-do neighbours (played by Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington).
The show ran for four years and its final episode was filmed in front of The Queen in 1978.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Briers went on to star as the obsessive Martin Bryce in another popular sitcom, Ever Decreasing Circles, again written for him by Esmonde and Larbey.
But then decided to go after more serious roles and, in 1987, joined Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company where he took on a number of stage roles as well as appearing in Branagh’s film versions of Henry V and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein alongside Robert De Niro.
Further small screen success came in 2000 when he played Hector Macdonald, the ageing patriarch, in Monarch of the Glen, while more recently he has appeared in Extras, New Tricks and Holby City.
In 2012, he also made another big screen appearance in the film comedy Cockneys and Zombies, where he played a resident in a home under threat from a zombie apocalypse.
In addition to his work in front of the camera, or on stage, Briers was known for his distinctive voice, which also helped him land a lot of narrating work. During the ’70s, he was the voice of popular children’s TV series Roobarb & Custard as well as the voice of the rabbit Fiver in the animated film of Watership Down.
And he was a frequent voice on radio where he played Dr Simon Sparrow in BBC Radio 4’s adaptations of Richard Gordon’s comic novels Doctor in the House and Doctor a Large.
He was appointed OBE in 1989 and CBE in 2003.
In more recent years, he enjoyed playing to his grumpy old man persona and candidly told the Daily Mail only last month that he was “buggered” after being diagnosed with emphysema.
“Five hundred thousand cigarettes, darling – that’s the trouble,” he admitted. “It’s totally my fault. So, I get very breathless, which is a pain in the backside. Trying to get upstairs – oh God, it’s ridiculous. Of course, when you’re bloody nearly 80 it’s depressing because you’ve had it anyway.”
In his personal life, Briers married fellow actress Ann Davies, who he met while she was working as the stage manager for the Liverpool Playhouse, within six months of meeting her.
He is survived by her and their two children.