Category: obituary

R.I.P. Richard Briers, British actor of The Good Life

Richard Briers—the British comic actor best known for the sitcom The Good Life and appearances in eight Kenneth Branagh films—died Sunday at age 79, after years of smoking-related ailments.

Born in London, Briers was interested in acting from childhood, an ambition fostered by his pianist mother as well as his father’s cousin, the successful comedian Terry-Thomas. After menial jobs as a filing clerk and a stint in the RAF, he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the mid-1950s alongside classmates Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole, winning early praise for his performance in the title role in Hamlet. He enjoyed a busy career ever afterwards on stage, TV and film, earning fame for his good-natured and genial comic roles, but also proving himself adept at darker, dramatic characters like King Lear and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

Briers’ first TV starring roles came in the mid-1960s with Brothers In Law and Marriage Lines; by far his biggest success was the 1975-78 sitcom The Good Life, also known in America as Good Neighbors. Briers starred as the boyish, doggedly optimistic Tom Good, a bored graphic designer who, following an epiphany on his 40th birthday, convinces his wife Barbara (the charming Felicity Kendal) to embrace a self-sufficient, back-to-the-earth lifestyle by turning their suburban homestead into a working farm, much to the chagrin of his more conventional best friends and neighbors (played by Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington). The show was a huge hit in England and a mainstay of PBS stations in the U.S., becoming such a British institution that its final episode was recorded in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Briers’ career also included a plethora of productions by Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company, both on stage and in eight of the director’s films made between 1989 and 2006, including Frankenstein (as the blind hermit who befriends Robert De Niro’s monster) and the Shakespeare adaptations Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. In 1978, he voiced the role of the nervous but prophetic rabbit Fiver in Watership Down.

Other TV work included starring roles in Ever Decreasing Circles—another suburban comedy by the Good Life writers that cast Briers in a more curmudgeonly role—and the darkly satiric If You See God, Tell Him, in which Briers played a pathologically optimistic man who unwittingly wreaks disaster everywhere he goes. He also had noteworthy smaller roles in many other shows, including the sitcom Monarch Of The Glen, Mr. Bean (as a man irritated by Rowan Atkinson’s attempts to stay awake in church), the Nazi-like Chief Caretaker in the 1987 Doctor Who serial “Paradise Towers,” and as himself in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, a cameo that allowed him to act out his frustration on a symbol of the dumb, catchphrase-based comedy he disliked.

Briers was honored twice by the United Kingdom, becoming an Officer of the British Empire in 1989 and a Commander of the British Empire in 2003. His final film role is the forthcoming Cockneys Vs. Zombies.

Originally published on Read the original article.

R.I.P. Bernard Horsfall, British character actor of Doctor Who and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Actor Bernard Horsfall, whose 50-year career of film and television roles included the 1969 James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, small roles in Braveheart and Gandhi, and four guest appearances on Doctor Who, died on Tuesday, reports Radio Times. He was 82.

Horsfall made his film debut in the 1957 Cold War drama High Flight, going on to play military men and similar tough-guy roles in movies like The Steel Bayonet, Guns At Batasi, and Shout At The Devil. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he appeared as Campbell, who helped George Lazenby’s Bond on a mission in Switzerland, only to be [spoiler alert] killed by archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld as a warning against further interference.

Horsfall is probably most well-known for his Doctor Who roles, beginning with 1969’s “The Mind Robber” as the fictional traveler Lemuel Gulliver. In the same year’s “The War Games,” he returned to play an unnamed Time Lord who presided over the trial of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, then returned in 1973 to play Taron, an ally of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, in “Planet Of The Daleks.” Most memorably, Horsfall played opposite Fourth Doctor Tom Baker in 1976’s “The Deadly Assassin” as the ambitious and power-hungry Time Lord Chancellor Goth, who hunted the Doctor through a nightmarish, hallucinogenic landscape only to be betrayed and killed by his boss and the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master. The serial’s third-episode cliffhanger, in which Goth appears to be graphically drowning the Doctor, became infamous after being singled out by conservative antiviolence campaigner Mary Whitehouse, and was censored from subsequent broadcasts for years. Horsfall later returned to Doctor Who in the 2003 audio drama Davros.

Horsfall appeared frequently on British TV screens, including starring roles in the late-1970s WWII drama Enemy At The Door and the short-lived 1960 series Captain Moonlight: Man Of Mystery, as well as guest roles in The Saint, Z-Cars, three episodes of The Avengers, and the 1988 Jeremy Brett adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Horsfall also appeared frequently on stage, including several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.

Originally published on Read the original article.

R.I.P. Mary Tamm, Doctor Who’s Romana

British actress Mary Tamm, known for playing the first incarnation of Romana during Doctor Who’s “Key To Time” season in 1978 and 1979, has died of cancer. She was 62.

The child of Estonian refugees, Tamm graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, starting her career in the early 1970s with appearances in British TV shows like Coronation Street, as well as the films The Odessa File and The Likely Lads. She joined Doctor Who in the sci-fi series’ sixteenth-season opener “The Ribos Operation” as the haughty but inexperienced Time Lady Romanadvotrelundar—”Romana” for short—who was assigned to help the Doctor search for the six segments of the Key to Time, a missing artifact with vast cosmic powers. Her character made an effective foil for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, contrasting against his bohemian, devil-may-care personality with an icy sophistication of her own, and matching his arrogance and high-wattage charisma with often-superior intelligence and competence—not to mention a healthy disdain for her older colleague’s eccentricities.

Tamm also played Romana’s doppelganger, Princess Strella, in the season’s fourth serial, “The Androids Of Tara.” But Tamm was unhappy that the format of Doctor Who kept its focus tightly on its title character and didn’t allow for his companions to rival the Doctor in importance, and she left the show after the season finale, “The Armageddon Factor.” Her character was assumed in the following season by a new actress, Lalla Ward (who would later marry Baker).

After Doctor Who, Tamm was seen regularly in British TV dramas including Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Paradise Heights, Wire In The Blood, and EastEnders. Like many other Doctor Who series regulars, she returned to reprise her character in audio dramas produced by Big Finish, including a series of six new serials with Tom Baker that will be released next year.

Originally published July 27, 2012 on Read the complete article.

R.I.P. Caroline John, Doctor Who’s Liz Shaw

British actress Caroline John, best known for playing scientist Liz Shaw during Doctor Who’s seventh season in 1970, died June 5 at age 71. Her death was reported by the BBC, after her funeral was held yesterday. The cause of death was not made public.

The daughter of an actor and a dancer, John trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama before joining Sir Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre in the 1960s, where she played Ophelia in the professional debut of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. She joined Doctor Who—alongside Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor—in “Spearhead From Space,” at a time when the show was seeking to reinvent itself as a more serious sci-fi adventure program that confronted its hero with contemporary social and political problems as often as it did alien invasions. Liz Shaw was a reflection of that, being consciously conceived as more than merely an assistant to the main hero but a smart and capable professional in her own right, and someone who could stand up to the frequently petulant Doctor and tell him when he was wrong. Though Shaw was not the first strong female character on the series, John’s grounded, sympathetic portrayal helped push the boundaries for women in science fiction and TV drama, and she was an important precursor to the likes of The X-Files‘ Dana Scully and Fringe‘s Olivia Dunham. (It’s almost certainly deliberate homage that Noomi Rapace’s Prometheus character is also named Elizabeth Shaw.)

John left Doctor Who after only one year, due to a combination of her pregnancy and the producers’ desire to return to more traditional companions. Afterwards, she worked frequently on the stage while also appearing on television programs like Agatha Christie’s Poirot, The House Of Elliott, and (with Fourth Doctor Tom Baker) 1982’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles. She also had a non-speaking cameo in the 2003 film Love Actually. John eventually returned to the role of Liz Shaw in the 1990s, both in the obscure direct-to-video Doctor Who spinoff P.R.O.B.E. and later in audio dramas produced by Big Finish, recording her final appearance as the character this past January. She’s survived by three children and her husband Geoffrey Beevers—another Doctor Who vet who played the Doctor’s rival The Master in the 1981 episode “The Keeper Of Traken,” and had a smaller role as a UNIT soldier opposite his wife in 1970’s “The Ambassadors Of Death.”

Originally published June 21, 2012 on Read the complete article.

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen, Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane

British actress Elisabeth Sladen, best known for her longtime role as Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who, has died from cancer. She was 63. 

Born in Liverpool, Sladen got her start as a stage actress before appearing in small roles on British TV in the early 1970s on shows like police drama Z-Cars and the long-running soap Coronation Street. She joined the cast of Doctor Who in 1973, staying on for four seasons as the companion of the Third and Fourth Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Her character, Sarah Jane, was a young journalist whose bravery and intelligence reflected the burgeoning spirit of 1970s feminism. Smith’s independence and self-reliance made a marked contrast to more stereotypical previous roles for female co-stars on the show, although her curiosity and willingness to stand up to authority frequently got her into trouble. She remained on Doctor Who until 1976, appearing in many of the series’ best episodes, including "The Time Warrior," "Genesis Of The Daleks," "Pyramids Of Mars," and "The Seeds Of Doom."   

Along with the Brigadier (who also recently passed), Sladen became perhaps the Doctor’s most popular companion in the show’s history, returning in the 20th-anniversary special The Five Doctors, several Big Finish audio plays, and the 1981 spinoff K-9 And Company, which never went beyond the pilot stage. She made a more lasting, high-profile return in the series’ modern-day reincarnation with Tenth Doctor David Tennant in the episode "School Reunion," which led to a starring role in another, much more successful spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures. The show debuted in 2007 and has lasted for four seasons. She appeared in the main series again twice, in the double-episode "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey’s End," and a cameo in Tennant’s final swan song "The End Of Time." A fifth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures—approximately half of which Sladen had completed filming before her death, according to io9—was due to air in the fall, but has now been postponed. Sladen’s autobiography will be published in July.

Originally posted on April 19, 2011. Read the complete article.

Suburbs guitarist Bruce Allen dies at 54

courtesy Twin/Tone Records

Guitarist Bruce C. Allen, a mainstay of the Twin Cities music scene best known for his work with New Wave band The Suburbs, died yesterday at 54. According to the Star Tribune, Allen was taken off life support after being admitted to Hennepin County Medical Center for complications resulting from triple bypass surgery. “Family and friends had time to gather around his bedside,” said Chris Osgood, guitarist for The Suicide Commandos and Allen’s friend and bandmate in his post-Suburbs group The X-Boys.

Allen co-founded The Suburbs in 1977 with four friends from, true to their name, the Twin Cities’ western suburbs. The following year, their self-titled debut EP was the first album to be released by esteemed local label Twin/Tone Records; The Suburbs went on to release four full-length albums, from 1980′s In Combo to 1986′s The Suburbs, including classic singles like “Love Is The Law,” “Rattle My Bones,” and the charmingly strange “Cows.” The band’s catchy fusion of New Wave pop, punk, funk, and dance music combined the suavity of Roxy Music, the manic energy of Iggy Pop, and the offbeat humor of Devo. They broke up in 1987, but reunited occasionally in subsequent years, last performing in 2006 on Harriet Island. Although co-frontmen Beej Chaney and Chan Poling tended to draw the most attention, Allen’s contribution to The Suburbs’ sound was significant, helping provide the driving rhythms and spiky, high-energy riffs that were part of their signature.

Garage D'Or Records

Also a graphic designer, Allen created logos and album-cover designs instantly familiar to many in the Twin Cities, including the cover of The Replacements’ Let It Be, the Uptown Bar’s sign, and The Suburbs’ own iconic five-men-in-a-circle logo (which can be seen at right, on the cover of the 2006 live album High Fidelity Boys).

He will be missed. Here are a couple of videos of The Suburbs in their prime, “Love Is The Law” and “Cows.”

Originally published on A.V. Club Twin Cities.

Crime writer Donald Westlake dies at 75

Prolific and influential crime novelist Donald A. Westlake died Jan. 1 after collapsing of a heart attack on his way to a New Year’s Eve party the previous day. He was 75. Westlake wrote more than 100 novels over the course of his long career, turning out material of extremely high quality with such speed that early on, he found it necessary to use a variety of pseudonyms, most famously Richard Stark, because publishers were leery of releasing more than one book a year by the same author. His writing was notable for its brisk, inventive plotting, sharply drawn and believable characterizations, and especially his mastery of both the drolly absurd and the starkly hardboiled. Westlake often used his pseudonyms for particular kinds of stories, something like a brand name. As Westlake, he wrote mainly lighter-hearted crime stories, including the recently republished Somebody Owes Me Money, as well as harder-edged material including the terrifically bleak thriller The Ax, in which an out-of-work job-hunter raises his chances of landing a new position by systematically tracking down and murdering the other qualified applicants in the area. Writing as Richard Stark, he created what became his quintessential character: master criminal and heavy heister Parker, the antihero of more than two dozen novels. Originally, Westlake intended the character to die at the end of his first book, and so never bothered to give him a first name. That choice stuck with the character, though, because it fit both his taciturn personality and his workmanlike attitude toward thievery, which he treated as a job to be done, carefully and thoroughly.

Originally published Jan. 2, 2009 on Read the complete article.

Steve Gerber, creator of Howard The Duck, dead at 60

Comic-book writer Steve Gerber, best known for creating the character of Howard The Duck, died Sunday of pulmonary fibrosis in a Las Vegas hospital where he had been on a waiting list for a lung transplant.

Gerber contributed extensively to the Marvel Comics stable in the 1970s, working on such mainstream titles as Iron Man, Daredevil, and The Fantastic Four as well as more offbeat series where his creativity was probably seen to better effect, including Shanna the She-Devil and Man-Thing, the latter of which featured the first appearance of Gerber’s cigar-chomping duck. His career was marked by disputes over creator’s rights, including legal action against Marvel over the ownership of Howard, and criticism of the revival by author Jonathan Lethem of the character Omega the Unknown, which Gerber had co-created. He also suffered the indignity of George Lucas’ box-office-bomb Howard The Duck movie, into which Gerber had little to no creative input.

His friend and colleague Mark Evanier, who broke the news on Gerber’s website, also posted an extensive biography and reminiscence of Gerber. Tom Spurgeon also posted a worthwhile obit at the Comics Reporter website.

Originally published Feb. 12, 2008 on Read the complete article.

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