Richard Briers (1934- 2013). Briers graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1956 and had worked steadily as an actor ever since. He performed Shakespearean roles as part of Kenneth Branagh’s theatre company as well as appearing in films and many television series including Marriage Lines, Ever Decreasing Circles and Monarch of the Glen.
It was his role as Tom Good from the 1970’s sitcom The Good Life, however, which was undoubtedly the most popular with viewers.
David Frost (1939- 2013). Frost was a media renaissance man – producer, journalist and presenter. Though renowned for interviewing presidents (including his infamous marathon session with Richard Nixon), prime ministers and all manner of celebrities, Sir David was better known as a comedian early in his career. A graduate of Cambridge with a degree in English, he was part of the famous Footlights Drama Society and performed in cabaret right after he left university. His first big break happened in 1962 when Frost was chosen to be the host of That Was the Week That Was, a satirical comedy program that focused on spoofing the political establishment. You might even assert that he served as a predecessor to Jon Stewart andThe Daily Show.
Richard Griffiths (1947 – 2013). A radio and stage veteran, Griffiths developed a well-rounded career as a character actor in television and film as well. He appeared in Oscar-winning movies such as Gandhi and Chariots of Fire. His engaging role as gourmand police detective Henry Crabbe from Pie in the Sky was created specifically for the actor. Griffiths won multiple theater awards on both sides of the pond for his portrayal of Hector in The History Boys. But I reckon that for generations to come, he will be most frequently identified as Harry Potter’s uncharitable Uncle Vernon.
Peter O’Toole (1932 – 2013). Another RADA alumnus, O’Toole transitioned from the Shakespearean stage to the screen in a big way, wowing the world in the titular role in Lawrence of Arabia. He went on to be nominated for a Lead Actor Oscar a total of eight times and finally won an honorary Academy Award statuette for “remarkable talents (which) have provided cinema history with some of its most memorable characters.” O’Toole’s last nomination was for his memorable role in the 2006 film Venus wherein Maurice Russell, an elderly and once-lauded actor, takes on a young girl as a caregiver and a companion even though she appears to be completely unsuitable for the task.
Mel Smith (1952- 2013). For Americans, Mel Smith is probably most recognizable as evil Count Rugen’s henchman, The Albino, from The Princess Bride. His countrymen, on the other hand, know he was so much more – a film director, a comedian and one of the founders of Talkback, a very successful British TV production company. Smith is best remembered in the UK for his multiple series with his comedy partner Griff Rhys-Jones and the ensemble sketch show, Not the Nine O’Clock News.
Frank Thornton (1921 – 2013). The eldest on our list of dearly departed actors, Thornton was an airman in the Royal Air Force during World War II. From the military, he went straight to the stage, screen and airwaves. With an apparent flair for the humorous, Thornton made guest appearances on classic sitcoms and played supporting roles in comedy films early in his career. It turns out this was the perfect training ground for his two most identifiable roles – Truly from Last of the Summer Wine and, of course, stuffy Captain Peacock from that old PBS mainstay Britcom, Are You Being Served?
As the year draws to a close and we take a moment to pay our respects, please share your thoughts about these talented individuals. Do you have a favorite role or memory about Messrs. Briers, Frost, Griffiths, O’Toole, Smith or Thornton?