Richard Briers' good life: five things you might not know

Feb 18, 2013

Best known as Tom in The Good Life, Richard Briers was equally at home as King Lear or a cartoon rabbit

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Richard Briers

RICHARD BRIERS, the genial actor best known for playing a self-sufficiency pioneer in the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, has died from lung disease at the age of 79. Trained at RADA, he was well-known for his stage, film and television work. But it was the role of Tom Good alongside Felicity Kendal in The Good Life that enshrined him as "the incarnation of the middle-class English bloke", says the Daily Telegraph's Damian Thompson. Here are five things you might not know about Briers: 

Tom Good wasn't his favourite: In 1989, a decade after he finished playing Tom Good in The Good Life, he was cast as Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles. Bryce, "an obsessive middle-aged man", was not a sympathetic character, but Briers said he was his favourite sitcom character. The actor returned to sitcoms in 2000 as Hector, Laird of Glenbogle, in Monarch of the Glen.

He didn't stay in touch with Felicity Kendal: The chemistry between Briers and Kendal, his co-star in The Good Life, was one of the reasons the show was such a hit. But towards the end of his life, Briers revealed that 66-year-old Kendal had "disappeared" from his life. "She's very strange," Briers told the Daily Mirror. "Enchanting, but very strange."

He was a fine Shakespearian actor: Anyone who grew up watching The Good Life might struggle to imagine Briers performing the Bard. But after his interest in sitcoms waned and he joined Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, Briers's career "moved on to major classical roles", reports the BBC. Malvolio in Twelfth Night was followed by a lead role in King Lear which the Telegraph's Damian Thompson calls "one of the finest in living memory". Briers also played Polonius in Hamlet and appeared in Coriolanus, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.

His voice was his calling card: Even when he wasn't appearing on television, Briers's friendly voice was hard to escape. Britons of a certain age might remember him as the voice of the Midland Bank's Griffin symbol, the rabbit Fiver in the 1978 big screen animation Watership Down or as the narrator of the kids' show Roobarb.

He smoked like a chimney: Briers told the Daily Mail last month he had developed a serious lung disease thanks to a nicotine habit that had seen him consume "500,000 ciggies". "I've got emphysema, you see, so I'm buggered," he told the paper. "I haven't even got the strength to garden any more."

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So sad to read of Richard Brier's demise. I was pleased to see that Martin Bryce was his favourite role. It was mine too. I still curl up laughing at some past episodes which I watch on DVD! Penelope Wilton was brilliant as his long suffering wife, Anne.RIP, dear Richard Briers.