Obituary: Comedy legend Richard Briers of The Good Life fame dies at 79
15:30 18 February 2013
SIT-COM star Richard Briers has died at the age of 79, his agent revealed today.
Briers’ best-known role was as the self-sufficient Tom Good in the massively-successful comedy The Good Life in the 1970s – it ran for three years and a special edition was filmed in front of The Queen to mark her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
Briers made his name in The Marriage Lines in the 1960s starring opposite Prunella Scales as a young couple.
He went on to star in other sitcoms includind The Other One, opposite Sir Michael Gambon, and as the ever-fastidious Martin Bryce in the 1980s hit Ever Decreasing Circles.
In recent years he played more straight roles – albeit with a comic twist.
He played Sir Hector in early series of Monarch of the Glen and appeared in several Shakesperean films alongside Kenneth Branagh – most notably in Henry V.
It was in 1987 that he joined Branagh’s company, saying at the time: “Ken offered me Malvolio in his production of Twelfth Night at the very time I had decided to expand my career when I realised I had gone as far as I could doing sitcoms. As soon as I worked with him, I thought he was truly exceptional.”
After his Malvolio, Briers took on King Lear at Branagh’s insistence, followed by the title role in Uncle Vanya and Menenius in Coriolanus.
However, Briers still considered himself a sitcom clown, and on film Branagh cast him as Bardolph in Henry V (1989), as Stephen Fry’s father in the comedy Peter’s Friends (1992), Don Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing (1993), the blind grandfather in the controversial Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) and as a cranky old trouper in A Midwinter’s Tale (1996), the same year in which he filmed the role of Polonius in Hamlet.
He also co-starred with Sir John Gielgud in Branagh’s Academy Award-nominated short film Swan Song.
It was his film-making with Branagh’s company which made his name in the United States.
Other film credits included Michael Warner’s A Chorus Of Disapproval (1989) and the big-screen version of the hit TV series Minder.
He also appeared in the harrowing period drama Skallagrigg (1994) and the PG Wodehouse comedy Heavy Weather (1996), with Peter O’Toole and Judy Parfitt.
Briers also often appeared in the works of the prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn, playing leading roles in Relatively Speaking, Absurd Person Singular and Absent Friends on the stage and The Norman Conquests and Just Between Ourselves on television.
In recent years the actor saw his health deteriorate after being diagnosed with emphysema five years ago.
In an interview only a few weeks ago, he told how he blamed his years of smoking for the condition. “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.”
He was awarded the OBE in 1989 for services to the arts.
Briers married the actress Anne Davies in 1956. They had two daughters.