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Richard Beckinsale

as Lennie Godber
Born Richard Arthur Beckinsale
6 July 1947(1947-07-06)
Carlton, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom
Died 19 March 1979 (aged 31)
Sunningdale, Berkshire, England, UK
Occupation Actor
Years active 1962-1979
Spouse(s) Margaret Bradley (1965–71)
Judy Loe (1977–79)

Richard Arthur Beckinsale (6 July 1947 – 19 March 1979) was an English actor, best known for his roles as Lennie Godber in the popular BBC sitcom Porridge and Alan Moore in the British sitcom Rising Damp.

He is the father of actresses Samantha Beckinsale and Kate Beckinsale.

Contents

Early days

Beckinsale was born in Carlton, Nottinghamshire in 1947, to a half-Burmese father, Arthur John Beckinsale (Beckinsale's grandfather was of Bamar Burmese origin),[citation needed] and an English mother, Maggie Barlow.[1] He left Alderman White Secondary Modern school at 15 with ambitions to become an actor, so while working in numerous manual jobs he gained some experience by enrolling at a Nottingham adult drama class. As a consequence, he won a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, turning professional in 1968. He then moved to Crewe to begin in repertory theatre, like most newly-graduated actors at the time, and then made his television debut in 1969 as a police officer in Coronation Street, in which he had to arrest veteran character Ena Sharples.

Sitcom star of the 70s

Beckinsale acquired his first starring role in 1970 as Geoffrey in the sitcom The Lovers, opposite fellow newcomer Paula Wilcox. The show was a success without being a runaway triumph, and did enough to put both lead performers in the public eye. It also, like many sitcoms of the time, spawned a movie version.

There followed a purple patch when he was appearing in two of British TV's most successful sitcoms at the same time. On ITV, he was playing naive medical student Alan Moore in Rising Damp (voted ITV's best-ever sitcom in the Britain's Best Sitcom survey of 2004) while also starring in Porridge. Shortly after his 30th birthday, Beckinsale was surprised by Eamonn Andrews with the famed 'big red book' for an appearance on This Is Your Life.

Beckinsale quit Rising Damp in 1977, the same year that Porridge was brought to a natural end after his character of Godber was released from his prison sentence in the final episode. He subsequently starred alongside Barker in Going Straight, a spin-off of Porridge in which the two criminal characters are seen on the outside rebuilding their lives.

At the beginning of 1979, Beckinsale filmed a movie version of Porridge. It was to be his last and only completed work of the year.

Death

With filming completed on the movie version of Porridge, Richard started work on a sitcom for the BBC called Bloomers, and also prepared to start work on the film Bloody Kids. According to his Bloomers co-star Anna Calder-Marshall, during the recording of the first episode, Richard told her he'd suffered some kind of black-out, and also had some dizzy spells. This concerned him enough to make a doctor's appointment, but the doctor could not find anything wrong apart from an overactive stomach lining, and slightly high cholesterol. As filming on the show progressed, Richard appeared increasingly tired, and "greyer and greyer" according to David Swift who played Dingley in the show. Towards the end of filming, Richard was also complaining of pains in his arms.

On the day she was due to go into hospital, a week before he died, Beckinsale complained to his wife Judy Loe of feeling unwell and said he was unable to take her to the hospital. At the time, they both put it down to nerves; she was due to have an operation to increase the couple's chances of having another child. The day before he died, he and his five-year-old daughter Kate visited Loe in hospital. He seemed to be in good health, although he did tell his wife he'd been feeling tired. Upon leaving the hospital, Beckinsale dropped Kate off at the home of relatives to spend the night. He then attended a farewell party for The Two Ronnies, who were about to leave for Australia for a tour. According to Ronnie Barker, Richard seemed fine, and his usual self. After the party Richard returned to his house in Sunningdale, Berkshire. At some point that day, he had also called his eldest daughter Samantha, and made plans to spend some time with her the following weekend. According to newspaper reports, sometime on the evening of 19 March, he telephoned friends. During the conversation he repeated that he had been feeling tired, and also said that he had some pain in his chest and arms. One of his friends told Beckinsale to see a doctor, but Beckinsale laughed it off, and seemed to be in good spirits when the conversation ended.

Concern was raised when he didn't show up for rehearsal for the sixth and final episode of Bloomers the next morning. A member of the production team called his house, and the phone was answered by family friend Rosana Bradley,who'd been staying at the house to help take care of Kate, but who hadn't been there the previous night. She said Richard was still sleeping, and she left the phone to go and wake him up. When she returned, she said that she was unable to wake him, and was advised to call a doctor. Shortly after, it was confirmed that Richard had died sometime during the night, of what appeared to be a massive Heart Attack. This was confirmed during a post-mortem, which also revealed that Richard had a congenital heart defect.

Beckinsale had expressed worries about his cholesterol to director friend Stephen Frears over dinner just days earlier, but he seemed healthy and fit and had no cardiac problems in his medical records. According to Frears, Beckinsale's high cholesterol may have been a factor in his early death.

Porridge co-star Ronnie Barker commented on Beckinsale's premature death saying: "He was so loved. He hadn't done much but he was so loved that there was a universal sort of grief that went on." When asked to comment on his death years later, Kate Beckinsale said, "It was so sudden. He just went to sleep one night, and didn't wake up again."

Unfinished work

At the time of his death, Beckinsale had almost completed a 6-part BBC sitcom called Bloomers — writer James Saunders' original script reveals that Beckinsale was due to attend the sixth and last rehearsal for the final episode of the series on the day he died, with the show to be recorded the following day. The five completed Bloomers episodes were aired later in the year.

He was also filming a movie, Bloody Kids, which then had to be re-cast. This role marked a change in direction for Beckinsale, being a more hard-nosed character than those he had played before. Three days after his death, Going Straight won a BAFTA award. A clearly distressed Barker delivered a brief but emotional acceptance speech in tribute to his co-star.

Plans had been drawn up to make a movie of Rising Damp — Beckinsale's other big sitcom success — and ultimately the movie was made in 1980. Christopher Strauli was recruited to replace Beckinsale, playing a different character.

Legacy and private life

In 2000, 21 years after his death, a documentary was broadcast on ITV in tribute, called The Unforgettable Richard Beckinsale. It featured interviews with his widow, the actress Judy Loe, as well as his father, sister, closest schoolfriend and two daughters. Also contributing were his co-stars, Barker and Rising Damp's Don Warrington.

Beckinsale married twice — firstly to Margaret Bradley, with whom he had a daughter, Samantha Beckinsale (also an actress), in 1966. They divorced in 1971. He then married Loe in 1977, four years after the birth of their daughter, Kate.

As a tribute to Beckinsale, pop star Robbie Williams wrote a song about him and his daughter Samantha titled "Baby Girl Window".[2]

Television roles

Year Title Role
1970 to 1971 The Lovers Geoffrey Scrimgeor
1974 to 1977 Rising Damp Alan Moore
1974 to 1977
1978
Porridge
Going Straight
Lennie Godber
1979 Bloomers Stan

References

External links

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