I don't normally comment on the death of actors, I just quietly acknowledge it in my own way. However, the death of Richard Briers last Sunday made me extremely sad.
I've only seen a tiny portion of his work, but two British TV series stand out.
The Good Life (Good Neighbors in the US) ran from 1975 to 1978. It was a situation comedy in which Tom Good (Briers) and his wife, Barbara (Felicity Kendal), attempted to be self-sufficient. Tom quit his job as an architect when he turned 40, and tried to turn his garden into something capable of growing enough food to live on. The two other main characters were Margot (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington), who were the snobby neighbors who lived next door.
Unlike modern comedies, The Good Life did not rely on shock value and aggressive humor. In fact, it's probably the gentlest comedy I own. I have watched all 30 episodes on at least ten occasions and know that I will keep returning to it. Tom Good had a great marriage, but his character was not without flaws. He was always opinionated and stubborn, but would eventually admit it when he was wrong.
All four actors were perfectly cast and it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles. It would be like watching M*A*S*H* without Alan Alda in the role of Hawkeye, or Frasier without Kelsey Grammer.
North Americans usually mention Are You Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, or Benny Hill when they are talking about British comedy, but those are pretty weak in terms of the other fantastic series made over the past 40 years. I would recommend Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses, Porridge, Men Behaving Badly, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Father Ted, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
However, The Good Life remains my number one choice. Perhaps it's because I watched it as a child with my grandparents? Richard Briers' passing makes me feel like I lost a vital piece of my childhood.
Here's a full episode of The Good Life, from Season 3:
The other series that I would like to mention is Ever Decreasing Circles, which ran from 1984 to 1989. Peter Egan and Penelope Wilton played other key characters in the series, but Richard Briers stole the show as Martin. He played a fussy man, with few friends, who tried to make himself seem important by running as many local clubs and schemes as possible.
Here's an episode from Season 2:
Richard Briers has 122 acting credits on IMDB. He was a respected Shakespearean actor, as well as finding success in comedy. I'll also remember his role in Watership Down as the voice of Fiver.
The Queen attended a command performance of The Good Life, and recognized Briers twice in the Honors List; he received an OBE in 1989 and a CBE in 2003.
Briers hated the character of Tom Good, and was surprised that the British public liked him so much. I suspect that the real man was even more likable than the characters I came to love on the small screen.
He will be missed.
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