Richard Briers (1934-2013)
February 18, 2013 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Richard Briers, TV, radio, movie and stage actor, died yesterday aged 79. Richard was most well-known for playing Tom, who gives up his 9 to 5 job to attempt a sustainable lifestyle, much to the horror of his posh neighbor Margo, in The Good Life (1975-78).

Previous to The Good Life, Richard played George Starling in Marriage Lines. In the 1980s Richard was the main actor in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89), and had a leading role in Monarch of the Glen (2000-2). Amongst many other TV credits, he appeared in Lovejoy and Doctor Who.

Briers performed Shakespeare across various media, including parts in three Kenneth Branagh films - Henry V (as Bardolph, 1989), Much Ado About Nothing (as Signor Leonato, 1993) and as Polonius in Hamlet (1996).

Richard was also the voice of Fiver in Watership Down.

Opening scenes from The Good Life.
An episode of Roobarb.
With Mr Bean in church.
Behind the scenes - 'A Poem Is'.
The first episode of The Other One, with Michael Gambon.
In Extras.
posted by Wordshore (46 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by lalochezia at 6:28 AM on February 18, 2013


I'm not altogether happy about this.
posted by Grangousier at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Still my favourite Bertie Wooster, who he played in a BBC radio adaption of (I think) the 1980s. Michael Horden was Jeeves, and for my money that pairing's yet to be beat.

My favourite Richard Briers story concerns his opening night playing Hamlet live on stage. He was rather nervous, and so gabbled his way through the role at 90mph. "Not a great Hamlet," he would sigh when telling this story against himself years later. "But it was perhaps the fastest."
posted by Paul Slade at 6:36 AM on February 18, 2013

Goodbye you sugar flavoured snob, you loveable middle class eccentric. No matter what Vyvyan thought, The Good Life was bloody good entertainment.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:39 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ah, Tom.
An inspiration to us all in these locavore, low-impact times.


I always liked to think Briers was a bit like that because he's one of those faces/voices written across my life. Although that was him as the Chief Caretaker in Doctor Who? Either I did not know that, or forgot. I assumed it was an actor from On The Buses.

(Cockneys vs Zombies! Awesome film!)
posted by Mezentian at 6:45 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by ZeusHumms at 6:55 AM on February 18, 2013

Briers was a truly great actor. This is terribly sad. Apart from his TV work, he was a fantastic Shakespearean.

He does great work in all the Kenneth Branagh-directed Shakespeare films--he's Bardolph in the Henry V and Polonius in Hamlet-- but what really opened my eyes was his Leonato in Branagh's Much Ado. Leonato is a thankless part; it demands everything an actor has and still tends to leave audiences bored. Particularly after the big non-wedding scene (in which he watches his daughter be publicly shamed on her wedding day by his close friend and patron), Leonato has a bunch of longish speeches that directors usually cut-- first recriminations against his daughter; then against his friends and the bridegroom who framed her. I've seen many, many Leonatos chew scenery while doing johnny-one-note shouty grief stuff with these speeches.

Briers is a revelation. He brings those speeches alive; gives them light and shade; speaks truthfully; makes you care. It's a masterclass in how to do Shakespeare well when what you have to work with is not Shakespeare's greatest.

So farewell, sir, and may the earth rest lightly on you, a true master of your art and craft.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:01 AM on February 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

posted by motty at 7:04 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by Joh at 7:10 AM on February 18, 2013


As a kid my parents let me watch 'Good Neighbors' (the U.S. name for 'The Good Life') and I loved his character's relentless good cheer, buffering a sharp tongue. He was a joy to see in the Shakespeare movies, too, and I was always pleased when his name appeared in the cast of a movie I was about to watch.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:15 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Absolutely fantastic in the oft overlooked If You See God, Tell Him, shown in full only once by the BBC likely due to the extremely dark nature of its comedy.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 7:20 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by biffa at 7:29 AM on February 18, 2013

Our PBS station played The Good Life in the 80s, and it was a treat to watch after school.

posted by RakDaddy at 7:33 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My son turned me on to 'The Good Life'. The raspberry wine episode became a source of running jokes because of the totally accidental occurance of raspberry wine at our place once long ago...
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:34 AM on February 18, 2013

A little peapod burgundy will be drunk in his name.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:36 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

He will be laid to rest in a burial shroud made of Felicity Kendall's knickers.

posted by dr_dank at 7:41 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's a bit into the series, but you can hear a young Richard Briers (1968) vintage in Doctor At Large, a radio series currently being repeated on BBC 4 Extra -
posted by Devonian at 8:08 AM on February 18, 2013

"He will be laid to rest in a burial shroud made of Felicity Kendall's knickers."
posted by dr_dank at 7:41 AM on February 18 [2 favorites +] [!]

Oddly enough, I have that proviso in my will too.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Other than my own parents (and maybe the fourth Doctor and second Romana), Tom and Barbara Good may have shaped what I think a married couple should be more than any other.

Yes, I watched a lot of PBS with my parents at a formative age.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:13 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

One of the kindliest faces of any actor. He made me smile whenever he would pop up in anything, and particularly was a great resource to Branagh in the latter's glory period of adaptations.

Also, whenever I think of him I think of a young Felicity Kendal, and that's a very good thought. Yum.
posted by selfnoise at 8:16 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

SO once showed me a box set of The Good Life saying it explained the English suburbs better than anything else on Earth.
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 AM on February 18, 2013

He was one of the most impossibly lovable actors I ever interviewed.

I used to work as a freelance entertainment hack and by chance Richard Briers was the very last actor I interviewed with only a week to go before I was moving from the UK to the USA. (The relocation was for my scientist husband's job).

Briers had a new TV series coming up - this was 1993 -and I had abandoned packing up our house to trek out to his (large, fashionably scruffy, middle class) home in west London, with my notebooks & tape recorder to do a magazine interview. We were chatting away on his big saggy living room sofa about his career to date & his latest role...and I blurted - towards the end of the interview - that I was a bit distracted - because in a week's time I was moving to New York.

(When you are a freelance journalist, it's a very, very stupid idea ever to talk about yourself in an interview - it's bad manners, but you are also wasting your own earning time. Additionally, Briers was still a huge tv name in 1993 - he must have been 59 - and I was in awe of the man.)

Anyway, Briers shot out of the room and then came back with his wife Ann - she was also an actress, but not remotely as well known, saying that he knew she'd also love to hear about how I was about to move to the USA - and the three of us talked on and on over endless coffees and biscuits - the beaming Briers peppering me with questions about how I felt about going to a brand new country "just" because of my husband's job -and how we'd manage the move with 2 young kids & me working as a freelance journalist, and how we knew what to pack and what to leave behind & what sort of science did my husband do...and what I thought about New York...I remember I could not stop thinking - in a dazed bliss - "why am I telling Richard Briers all this stuff?!" - then when I finally left, he checked I had his home number.

He said that he'd taken up too much of MY time asking me questions - and if I felt I needed to check some more details about his new tv show for the commissioned magazine interview, I should just call him and he'd give me some more good quotes!

I did call him a day later, and he did as promised - gave me a bunch of lovely quotable quotes.

(I bet everyone who ever met Richard Briers has stories a bit like this - he was one of life's givers.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:21 AM on February 18, 2013 [35 favorites]

I got to see him play Shakespeare on stage when Sir Kenneth Branagh's long-defunct Renaissance Theatre Company came through the International Theatre Festival in Chicago in the 90s. I saw him play Lear in King Lear, and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was truly a great Shakespearean actor. It's nice to read that he was a wonderful person, as well--I always assumed he was just from the presence there in all his various performances.

posted by tzikeh at 8:32 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was very sorry to hear of his passing. Loved the man and his work.

Still think Ever Decreasing Circles is an underrated show. It was the reason I bought an all-region DVD player in the first place. And little did I know that years later I would have deal, through forced circumstances, with a man very similar to Martin Bryce. EDC actually helped me figure out what was going on with the fellow.
posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 8:47 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lovely man. Superlative Wooster.
posted by runincircles at 8:50 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by marienbad at 9:09 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by kuppajava at 9:36 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by Faintdreams at 10:24 AM on February 18, 2013


The amusing thing about that Vyvyan clip is, 30-40 years on, The Good Life has aged much, much better than The Young Ones has.
posted by anagrama at 10:28 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 11:07 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by AtalantaPendragonne at 11:57 AM on February 18, 2013

posted by vac2003 at 12:08 PM on February 18, 2013

posted by humph at 12:24 PM on February 18, 2013

posted by toadflax at 12:25 PM on February 18, 2013

Goodbye, you lovely, lovely man.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:10 PM on February 18, 2013

The Vyvyan rant was always a bit unfair, but it's very much of its time. The Good Life had a certain amount of darkness of its own - after all, Tom Good is a man who has a mid-life crisis, decides to become a suburban subsistence farmer and drags his wife after him. The series works because of the way that Briers and Kendall play the characters so beautifully. I think it's interesting that three of the four main cast were related to Alan Ayckbourn's play The Norman Conquests (Kendall and Keith were in the London stage production, Keith and Briers in the television version) because I think they're quite similar - especially the Christmas episode of The Good Life where the Goods and the Leadbetters get drunk together and the various intermarital attractions come to the surface. And are buried again, obviously. Similarly, Ever Decreasing Circles is built around the different longings of the three leads. If Martin were simply a figure of fun, it would be unbearable. It relies on Briers' ability to make the character real (and I must confess, I feel a lot of sympathy for him) for the entire show to work.

(I'm also remembering a production of Arms and the Man that I was struck by - Briers as Bluntschli with Alice Krige as Raina. Tom Good and The Borg Queen together. What wonderful connections the world of drama makes.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:34 PM on February 18, 2013

posted by mdoar at 1:37 PM on February 18, 2013

So have just spent an inordinate amount of time watching old episodes of The Good Life today. And remembering, aged quite young, being insanely jealous of Tom Good (Richard Briers) but being confused about exactly why. And also being absolutely convinced that Tom and Barbara really were married and that it wasn't fiction.

Sequences such as Tom and Barbara experimentally talking to plants are a reminder that they really did seem, so naturally, a couple.

Grinning, but nearly four decades on still massively envious. Dammit, he got to hug and sweet talk Felicity Kendal. Felicity Kendal! Every week, in every episode. And got paid to do it. Richard Briers, I forever salute you.
posted by Wordshore at 2:02 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


He seemed like a very nice guy.
posted by jiawen at 3:35 PM on February 18, 2013

posted by numes with an s at 4:12 PM on February 18, 2013

posted by Jubey at 4:53 PM on February 18, 2013

Very much enjoyed him as the lovable Hector on Monarch (which is sappy and unchallenging, but oh! the Scottish landscapes, and that castle, and the frequent appearances by Julian Fellowes as Kilwillie -- which, like his screenplay for Gosford Park, may in some sense prefigure his work on Downton Abbey -- not to mention the later appearance of Tom Baker).
posted by dhartung at 6:03 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by disclaimer at 9:03 PM on February 18, 2013

The National Theatre's just posted this YouTube clip from Briers' final stage performance: Dolly Spanker in Dion Boucicault's London Assurance.
posted by Paul Slade at 4:08 AM on February 19, 2013

posted by monopas at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2013

We watched Good Neighbors religiously in my house when I was a kid--my parents had immigrated from England in 68, and I was born here in 71, and British shows on public television were a constant. I must have seen every episode five times. Briers did some great work on that show, and it sounds like there was a lot of him in Tom.

Even now, with regularity, I have secret fantasies of trading in cubelife for farm life, preferably with an ill-fitting home-loomed sweater.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:26 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Farewell to an old rock'n'roller...   |   Parasite of the Day Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments