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He first came to prominence as George Starling in Marriage Lines in the 1960s, but it was in the following decade when he played Tom Good in the BBC sitcom The Good Life that he became a household name. In the 1980s he starred in Ever Decreasing Circles, and from 2000 to 2002 came back to the spotlight with a leading role in Monarch of the Glen.
Briers was born in Raynes Park, Surrey, England, the son of Joseph Benjamin Briers and Morna Phyllis (née Richardson). He is the second cousin of actor Terry-Thomas. He spent his childhood in Raynes Park and Guildford. His father drifted between jobs, while his mother dreamt of a career in showbiz, something she could not achieve for financial reasons. He attended Rokeby Prep School in Kingston upon Thames, and left at the age of 16 without any formal qualifications.
His first job was a clerical post with a London cable manufacturer, and for a short time he went to evening class 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 first been interested in acting at 14, to the Elephant and Castle Polytechnic, and when he left the RAF he studied at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which he attended from 1954 to 1956. He won a scholarship with Liverpool Repertory Company, and he worked with them for 15 months, then moved to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry for 6 months and then had his West End debut.
It was while at Liverpool Rep that he met his future wife Ann Davies, who was acting as stage manager, and has acted on television since the 1960s. Soon after meeting, he borrowed £5 from his mother, bought an engagement ring and they were married within six months. They have two children, one of whom, Lucy, is also an actress.
In 1961, Briers gained the lead male role in Marriage Lines (1961-66) opposite Prunella Scales. 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. His other early appearances included Dixon of Dock Green (1962), The Morecambe & Wise Show, 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).
Briers was cast in one of the lead roles 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. 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, he played roles in many programmes including Goodbye, Mr Kent (1982), All in Good Faith (1985), Tales of the Unexpected (1988), Mr. Bean (1990) and Twelfth Night (1988) as Malvolio. In 1987, he appeared in the Doctor Who episode Paradise Towers. From 1984 to 1989 he was the lead role of Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles, and in 1993 took the lead role of Godfrey Spry in the BBC comedy drama If You See God, Tell Him'.
Briers has spent much of his career in theatre work, 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 Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company, taking on classical and Shakespearean roles including Malvolio in Twelfth Night and the title roles in King Lear and Uncle Vanya. Briers has also appeared in nine of Kenneth Branagh's films, such as Henry V (as Bardolph, 1989), Much Ado About Nothing (as Signor Leonato, 1993), and as Polonius in Hamlet (1996).
Briers is also 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, and the animated children's series Roobarb (1974) and Bob the Builder (2005) to his credit. He also provided the voice of Fiver in the animated film adaptation of Watership Down (1978).
His work in radio includes playing Bertie Wooster in a series of adaptations of the Jeeves novels by P. G. Wodehouse, Dr. Simon Sparrow in BBC Radio 4's adaption of Doctor At Large, and later the play Not Talking, commissioned for BBC Radio 3 by Mike Bartlett.
Since 1990, he has appeared in Lovejoy, If You See God, Tell Him, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders (the episode "Death's Shadow"), Doctors, New Tricks and Kingdom. Richard Briers starred as Hector in the first three series of Monarch of the Glen from 2000 to 2002, a role which saw him return to the limelight. He contributed "Sonnet 55" to the 2002 compilation album, When Love Speaks, which features famous actors and musicians interpreting Shakespeare's sonnets and play excerpts. In 2005, he appeared alongside Kevin Whately in Dad, a TV Film made by BBC Wales exploring issues of elder abuse. In 2006, he made an appearance in an episode of Extras, and portrayed the servant Adam in Kenneth Branagh's 2006 Shakespeare adaptation, As You Like It. He made a cameo appearance as a dying recluse in the 2008 Torchwood episode "A Day in the Death".
Richard Briers was appointed the OBE in 1989, and in 2003 he became a CBE. As a result of Terry-Thomas's Parkinson's disease, Briers became President of the Parkinson's Disease Society. Briers has helped launch a Sense-National Deafblind and Rubella Association campaign.
- Internet Movie DataBase: Richard Briers
- Wikipedia: Richard Briers