Feb 18 2013 By Cheryl Mullin
RICHARD Briers was one of the most popular television sitcom actors of his generation.
But he was no less acclaimed as a distinguished Shakespearean actor, a major development in his career, at a point when he said “I realised I had gone as far as I could doing sitcoms”.
He will be best remembered as a bumbling, fussy and occasionally downtrodden figure in some of the most successful TV comedies of his era.
He was the lynchpin of three of the most notable sitcoms ever made in Britain – Marriage Lines, The Good Life (shown in the United States as Good Neighbours) and Ever Decreasing Circles.
But after a long career in popular television, Briers joined Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, and his already very successful professional life took a new turn as he moved on to major classical roles.
Briers was born on January 14 1934 and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he won the silver medal and a scholarship to Liverpool Playhouse in 1956. Two years later he made his first West End appearance in Gilt And Gingerbread. He barely stopped working from that day onwards.
His big screen career began with the British features Bottoms Up (1960), Murder She Said (1961), The Girl On The Boat and A Matter of Who (both 1962) and the multi-national The VIPs (1963), followed by Raquel Welch’s spy spoof Fathom (1967).
Over the next 36 years, he alternated his TV and film work with such plays as Present Laughter (1965), The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Butley (1972), Run For Your Wife (1983), Twelfth Night (1987-88) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Bottom, 1990).
Throughout these years, he was regularly and prominently on TV including such shows as Brothers In Law (1962), Bird On A Wing (1971), and starring with Michael Gambon in the series The Other One (1977).
Briers also provided the voice for the character of Fiver in the animated feature Watership Down (1978).
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.