The deaths of Richard Briers and Richard Griffiths have robbed us, far too early, of two of our finest actors. How different they were, the one all nervous energy and crisp delivery, the other avuncular and lugibrious – though such short-hand descriptions hardly do justice to either of them. I would have loved to have worked with both of them but sadly never did.
Briers was one of the reasons I became an actor – the parts he excelled in were the ones I aspired to. I was still at school when I saw him as Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace (with Sybil Thorndike and Athene Seyler) at the Vaudeville (I think). I got to play the part a few years later as an amateur. He created the role of Greg in Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking. I never saw him in the part but got do my own Greg in 1973 with Dora Bryan and Moray Watson (later replaced by Robert Flemyng), one of my favourite times on stage. It was Briers’s reading of Three Men in a Boat on Radio 4 that gave me the idea of using an extract from Jerome’s masterwork as an audition piece, and then inspired me to adapt the entire book as a one-man show. Wish I had the occasion to thank Briers. I owe him a lot.
Richard Griffiths was another of those actors who are as life-enhancing off stage as they are on it, much loved by their fellow pros. My favourite Griffiths moment was in the film of The History Boys, a few extra lines which I gather were inserted by Alan Bennett especially for the actor. Hector (Griffiths) has been reading a racing paper, gets up and whispers in the ear of Wilkes the strait-laced PE teacher who is pinning up a notice on the board.
Hector: French Kiss?
Wilkes (alarmed): I beg your pardon?
Hector: Three o’clock at Chepstow.
No one but Griffiths could have delivered that with such mischievous relish.