This is a quickie, as Richard always said: “if you have anything to say, get on stage, say it and get off.” He also said: "If you have a lot to say, get on stage and say it quickly.” And believe me no-one said his Hamlet quicker than Richard, I was there with many young people, some that knew very little about the play. Richard spoke at the speed of an express train and when the final curtain came down many of the audience thought it was the interval.
We met whilst doing our National Service in the R.A.F. stationed at Northwood. We were clerks. I was “Clerk Organisational” and Richard “Clerk Personal” and we were terrible but Richard was more terrible than me…… in fact it is my belief that due to Richard’s incompetence the Government decided in its wisdom to do away with National Service!!?
We soon discovered our mutual love of acting and the theatre and as I still managed to attend Drama Classes at the London Borough of Southwark Polytechnic I persuaded Richard to join me and we were in many productions together. Later Richard swore that because of my encouragement it was my fault he became an actor – for which I gladly take the blame.
We’d often when free at week-ends go back to Richard’s home, which was close by at Hatch End, together with another would-be actor and we would read and undertake all the principal roles in Shakespeare – our heroes at the time were John Neville and Richard Burton who were playing at The Old Vic – it was our ambition, believe it or not, to assume their mantles! For the women’s parts we allowed Richard’s sister Jane to join but as soon as she finished her contribution we kicked her downstairs.
I managed to purchase a second-hand tape recorder, reel to reel – a reel state of the ARK – and it weighed a ton. One week-end late in the evening we struggled with the tape recorder off the train heading towards Richard’s home – we took it in turn to carry the recorder when suddenly a policeman on a motorbike roared up and dismounted. “Good evening gentlemen” he said “that appears to be a very heavy case you have with you, can I ask what’s inside?” and Richard without hesitation said: “It’s nothing to worry about Officer – it’s only a head”…….. The rest of the conversation took place down the local police station.
When we were demobbed we went our separate ways to Drama Schools, Richard to RADA where he won what I thought was the best prize of all – not the Bancroft Gold Medal but a year’s contract with the Liverpool Playhouse where he played all different kind of roles and proved his versatility. He also met his future wife, Ann. The profession employed and developed his brilliance as a “light comedian” but later it was the young Kenneth Branagh who detected the tragedian beneath the comic mask and gave Richard the opportunity to play the roles that we had all those years ago performed in Richard’s bedroom…….without doubt he could have assumed our heroes mantle.
We all know what a brilliant actor Richard was but he was also a wonderful husband, family man and friend – loving, supportive and generous and it was with these qualities that he served on the Council of the ABF………”It’s alright Richard, I’m getting off now.”
Brian Murphy, ABF Vice President
Photograph of Richard Briers and Lucy Briers courtesy of Michelle Martinoli