The actor Richard Briers, best known for starring in the popular BBC sitcom The Good Life, has died at the age of 79 after a five-year struggle with emphysema.
Briers, who played the self-effacing Tom Good in the classic series which ran for just three years, died peacefully at his London home on Sunday, his agent, Christopher Farrar, said.
The actor, who began his acting career at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1956, starred in many film and stage productions but will be best remembered for his sitcom work.
His most famous roles were as suburban obsessives in The Good Life and another BBC show, Ever Decreasing Circles, both written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey.
In the latter, he played Martin Bryce, a fussy busybody unusually preoccupied with law and order. As the more sympathetic Tom Good, he and his wife Barbara, played by Felicity Kendal, sought to live a self-sufficient lifestyle in Surbiton, the acme of suburban London.
Briers later admitted he never liked his character in The Good Life and he and Kendal were not friends off-set.
Briers was also feted for his classical stage roles, particularly after he was spotted in a production of Sir John Vanbrugh's The Relapse at Chichester in 1986 by actor and director Kenneth Branagh.
He recruited Briers into his Renaissance theatre company in 1987 where Briers took on roles such as Malvolio in the 1988 film of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and, at Branagh's suggestion, as King Lear in a world tour of the tragedy in 1990, a move which led many critics to comment on his versatility. He also appeared in a number of Branagh's films including Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and as Polonius in Hamlet (1996).
Branagh said: "He was a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man. He was greatly loved and he will be deeply missed."
Kenith Trodd, the veteran television drama producer, said Briers' successes in popular sitcoms belied his talents as a serious actor.
"He was a gentle and engaging man and went through many incarnations," said Trodd. "I remember him first as quite a smooth matinee actor. He was gentle and engaging and it gave the impression that he may have felt frustrated, that he had more to give.
"He thins an already diminished rank of distinguished stalwarts – Bernard Cribbins, Clive Swift, Stanley Baxter, Tim West, Geoffrey Whitehead still among them – who like Briers himself thrived in the vintage TV of yesteryear but were to some extent homogenised by the medium's over-appetite for that style."
Briers' film credits also included A Chorus of Disapproval (1989) and Watership Down (1978), for which he supplied the voice of the rabbit Fiver. He also narrated the children's cartoon series Roobarb and Custard.
More recently, he starred for five years in the BBC drama Monarch of the Glen as the eccentric patriarch Hector MacDonald. His character bowed out when he was blown up by explosives retrieved by his dog following a failed fishing expedition in a 2005 episode.
Briers spoke publicly about his illness in an interview with the Daily Mail earlier this month and blamed years of smoking for his condition. "It's totally my fault," Briers said. "So, I get very breathless, which is a pain in the backside. Trying to get upstairs … oh God, it's ridiculous. Of course, when you're bloody nearly 80 it's depressing, because you've had it anyway."
Farrar said: "Richard was a wonderful man, a consummate professional and an absolute joy to work alongside. Following his recent discussion of his battle with emphysema, I know he was incredibly touched by the strength of support expressed by friends and the public. He has a unique and special place in the hearts of so many. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go to his family at this sad time."
Stephen Fry, who worked with Briers in the 1992 film Peter's Friends, said on Twitter: "Oh no, I've just heard the news that Richard Briers has died. How sad. He was the most adorable and funny man imaginable."
Ricky Gervais tweeted: "RIP the wonderful Richard Briers."