Richard Briers – 1934 – 2013
Probably best remembered for his role as Tom Good, in The Good Life, Richard Briers had a career that spanned some fifty years, encompassing television, stage, film and radio and it was not all comedy.
Richard David Briers, CBE, was born in Raynes Park, Surrey, the son of Joseph Benjamin Briers and Morna Phyllis (née Richardson). He was the second cousin of well known actor Terry Thomas.
Spending his childhood in Raynes Park and Guildford, his Mother, Morna longed for a showbusiness career, an accomplished pianist, she was also a successful drama and music teacher. She would go on to become a member of Equity. His Father drifted between jobs.
Briers attended Rokeby Prep School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, and left at the age of 16 without any formal qualifications. His sister, Jane, is also an actress.
Whilst at Rep in Liverpool Briers met Ann Davies who was also working there as a stage manager. However she had acted on television and in films from the mid 1950s.
Within six months of meeting Ann Davies, he had borrowed £5 from his Mother, to buy an engagement ring and they were married soon after. They had two daughters, one of whom, Lucy, is also an actress; Katie worked in stage management.
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
Towards the end of a long and varied career in 2008 in an interview with The Guardian Briers revealed that, after 52 years of touring and theatre work, he was happy to do only television and voice-overs. He 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.”
Earlier in 2013, speaking to the Daily Mail, 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 “the ciggies got me”. He died at his home in London on 17 February 2013.
Richard Briers career spanned some fifty years.
In 1961, Briers was cast in the leading male role in Marriage Lines (1961–66) with Prunella Scales playing his character’s wife. This gave him his first big break and the following year, Briers appeared in Brothers in Law (from the book by Henry Cecil) as callow barrister Roger Thursby. He was cast in this role by adaptors Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who had seen him in the West End.
Other early TV appearances included Dixon of Dock Green (1962), The Seven Faces of Jim (1961) with Jimmy Edwards, 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.
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.
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 often forgotten, 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. 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.
One of his later roles was as Hector MacDonald, a character he played for the first three series of the popular BBC drama series Monarch of the Glen.
Richard Briers spent a great deal 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.
Briers was a member of the Renaissance Theatre Company appearing in many of their productions
Briers made his film debut in 1960 British feature film Bottoms Up. among the many films he appeared in were: Murder She Said (1961), The Girl On The Boat (1962), A Matter of WHO (1962), The VIPs (1963); and Raquel Welch’s spy spoof Fathom (1967).
He latterly appeared in Michael Winner’s A Chorus of Disapproval (1989). His last film was Cockneys vs Zombies (2012).
Radio and Voiceover
Briers was a familiar voice actor, with 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”
Among his best remembered voices were that of children’s cartoon Rhubarb and Custard in 1974 and then Noah and Nelly in… SkylArk 1976.