Who was Richard Briers?
Richard David Briers was an accomplished yesteryear English stage, radio, TV, and film actor, with a career spanning over 5 decades. His ‘West End’ debut happened with ‘Gilt and Gingerbread.’ He came to prominence playing ‘George Starling’ in the TV sitcom ‘Marriage Lines.’ While earning fame as a comic actor with other TV programs, Briers struck gold while portraying ‘Tom Good’ in the TV comedy classic ‘The Good Life,’ written for him by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. The series ‘Roobarb’ and ‘Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk’ made him a household name. His continued association with Esmonde and Larbey led him to perform in the series ‘Ever Decreasing Circles,’ ‘Down to Earth,’ and ‘The Other One.’ He also made his mark on the big screen, with Shakespearean roles in Kenneth Branagh-directed films, such as ‘Henry V,’ ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ ‘Hamlet,’ and ‘As You Like It.’
Childhood & Early Life
Richard David Briers was born on January 14, 1934, in Raynes Park, Surrey, England, to Joseph Benjamin Briers and Morna Phyllis (née Richardson). His father often changed jobs, while his mother, a pianist and a drama and music teacher, later became a member of the ‘British Actors' Equity Association.’
Briers attended the ‘Rokeby School’ in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, and the ‘Ridgeway School’ in Wimbledon. He, however, dropped out from the latter at 16. Well-known English comedian and character actor Terry-Thomas was his second cousin.
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Briers initially worked as a clerk with a London cable manufacturer and attended evening classes in electrical engineering for a while. He later worked as a filing clerk at ‘RAF Northwood’ after being called for 2 years of national service with the ‘RAF’ at age 18. While there, he met English actor/comedian Brian Murphy, who introduced him to the ‘Dramatic Society’ at the ‘Borough Polytechnic Institute’ (presently the ‘London South Bank University’). Briers performed in various productions at the institute.
After leaving ‘RAF,’ Briers attended the ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’ (RADA) from 1954 to 1956 and graduated with a silver medal. He earned a scholarship with the ‘Liverpool Repertory Company.’ Fifteen months later, he shifted to the ‘Belgrade Theatre,’ and remained associated with them for 6 months.
He made his ‘West End’ debut in 1959 at the ‘Duke of York's Theatre,’ with Lionel Hale’s ‘Gilt and Gingerbread.’ He performed in several productions, including plays by Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. One of his notable projects was Alan Ayckbourn's ‘Relatively Speaking’ in 1967. Later in his career, Briers met Kenneth Branagh, and that resulted in a fruitful association between the two, with Briers playing ‘Malvolio’ in the ‘Renaissance Theatre Company’ production of ‘Twelfth Night.’ He also joined the company and appeared in title roles in ‘Uncle Vanya’ and ‘King Lear.’
The Initial screen works of Briers include the British comedy films ‘Girls At Sea’ (1958) and ‘Bottoms Up’ (1960) and the TV play ‘Murder Club’ (part of the series ‘Armchair Theatre,’ 1961) that marked his small-screen debut. Briers first came into the limelight in 1961, after he was cast in the leading role of ‘George Starling’ in the British sitcom ‘Marriage Lines.’ The series was originally aired on ‘BBC 1’ from August 16, 1963, to June 3, 1966.
Meanwhile, the British legal comedy ‘Brothers in Law,’ which aired on ‘BBC,’ between April 17, 1962, and July 10, 1962, gave Briers his first regular starring role in a TV series. He earned the role of a barrister named ‘Roger Thursby’ in the series after being spotted by two of the most prolific sitcom writers of the era, Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who adapted the series with Richard Waring.
He became a household name after contributing as a narrator in the British animated children's TV shows ‘Roobarb’ (1974) and ‘Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk’ (1976–1977). His warm and expressive voice also led Briers to work in productions such as the 1978 British animated adventure–drama film ‘Watership Down’ and in commercials for brands such as ‘Midland Bank’ and ‘Ford Sierra.’
His popularity touched new heights after he was cast in the lead role of a draughtsman named ‘Tom Good’ in the British sitcom ‘The Good Life.’ John Esmonde and Bob Larbey specifically wrote the series and the role for Briers. The final episode of the hugely successful series, which aired on ‘BBC One’ from April 4, 1975, to June 10, 1978, was performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II.
In the following years, Briers featured as the lead in several TV series, such as ‘Goodbye, Mr Kent’ (1982), ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ (1984–1989), ‘All in Good Faith’ (1985–1988), and ‘If You See God, Tell Him’ (1993). He shot back to limelight by appearing as ‘Hector’ in the British TV drama ‘Monarch of the Glen’ (2000–2005).
In his expansive acting career, Briers featured in several Branagh films. These include ‘Henry V’ (1989), ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1993), ‘Frankenstein’ (1994), ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ (1995), ‘Hamlet’ (1996), and ‘As You Like It’ (2006). Some of his other notable films were ‘Spice World’ (1997), ‘Unconditional Love’ (2002), ‘Peter Pan’ (2003), and ‘Run for Your Wife’ (2012). The 2012 British zombie comedy ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’ was the last film that featured Briers.
Some of his notable radio projects were ‘BBC Radio 4's adaptations of ‘Doctor in the House’ and ‘Doctor At Large’ (1968) by Richard Gordon and the afternoon play ‘Two Pipe Problems.’
Family & Personal Life
Briers married English actor Ann Davies in 1956. Together, they acted in the films ‘Peter's Friends’ and ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and featured in the radio adaptation of the TV series ‘Brothers in Law.’ The couple had two daughters, actor Lucy Briers and primary school teacher Katie Briers.
Briers became the president of ‘Parkinson's UK,’ a Parkinson's research charity, and aided in launching a ‘Sense, The National Deafblind and Rubella Association’ campaign. He supported the movement for a national memorial for the ‘RAF Bomber Command’ and was an avid visitor of the UK churches. He published a book named ‘English Country Churches’ in 1988. He was honored with an ‘Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) in 1989 and then a ‘Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ (CBE) in 2003.
Briers, who was a regular smoker until he quit smoking in 2001, was diagnosed with emphysema in 2007. He succumbed to the effects of a cardiac arrest on February 17, 2013, at his home in Bedford Park, London. His funeral was held on March 6, 2013, at the ‘St. Michael and All Angels’ church in Bedford Park.