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Making Monarch was almost the end of me; As Hector bids fond farewell to the Glen, Richard Briers tells of his own brush with death on the Loch.

Byline: BOB SHIELDS

YOU wouldn't be blamed for thinking Chiswick and Glenbogle had absolutely nothing in common.

Chiswick is card shops, patisseries and the Pack Horse Pub on the corner.

Glenbogle is ... well, Glenbogle. The only thing they share is sipping a coffee in a streetside cafe in front of me. But not for much longer.

In the tug-of-war between the sweeping glens around Loch Laggan and the tree-lined terraces of Turnham Green - suburbia has finally won.

Richard Briers has filmed his last episode of Monarch Of The Glen after almost freezing to death during a scene when his boat upturns in Loch Laggan.

The news will delight his wife Ann and daughters Kate and Lucy. Grandchildren, Harry seven, and Rachel, five, will get a lot more time on their doting 67-year-old granddad's knee.

But fans of BBC's Monarch Of The Glen, the nation's fireside Sunday favourite, will mourn the passing of the eccentric Hector.

"Miss it? Of course I will," says Richard, shaking his head with a sigh.

"Everyone involved with it was wonderful. I know every actor probably says this, but the crew up there were definitely the best I have ever worked with. And I don't need to tell a Scotsman like you about the scenery and the people.

"But I'm a home bird at heart. I must be to have lived in the same house here in Chiswick for 34 years.

"Monarch Of The Glen meant I was away for up to six months at a time. I was getting a five-day break every fortnight but even two of those were taken up by travelling north.

"The next series would have been even longer to film. I knew it was definitely time to call a halt."

I had to ask the question. So why did a book-collecting, wine-tasting old-age pensioner take the role in the first place?

"You know, Bob, I didn't think it would be such a success. No, I don't mean that - I mean I didn't think it would last so long. I thought maybe one series or two. And here we are, the third series starts on Sunday night and the fourth one is being written already.

"But I liked the part of Hector. I knew there was a lot of fun in his character. And I liked the idea of making good old- fashioned family viewing.

"Everything seems to be so depressing on TV these days."

Whatever he does next on the small screen, you can bet it won't be a bit part in Coronation Street or EastEnders.

"I've stopped watching that stuff. Either somebody's ill, been made unemployed or got some other problem.

"I keep waiting for a line that makes you smile or laugh but there never is.

"Whatever you are going through, you've got to be able to have some fun in life somewhere."

Making us laugh is something Richard Briers is incredibly good at. Despite the grey hair and the dew of old age on his blue eyes, you can imagine him pulling on his wellies and woolly sweater any minute and going out to feed the hens that were his co-stars in The Good Life.

Incredibly, that was 26 years ago. And you need both hands to count the years since his follow-up comedy, Ever Decreasing Circles.

But while he was putting a homely smile on our faces, Richard Briers was carefully putting money in the bank.

Classically trained at RADA alongside luminaries like Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney, his theatrical roots are firmly in Stratford Upon Avon.

Brier's abilty as a stage actor received unexpected recognition when Kenneth Branagh signed him up as King Lear in 1990.

He says: "He'd come to see John Sessions when I was playing Lord Foppington, but he seemed to like me.

"He told me comedy actors were always good Shakesperian actors and suddenly I was off on a world tour as King Lear. Maybe I should have stayed at it. They don't give knighthoods to comedy actors and Sir Richard Briers does have a nice ring to it," he smiled. But it's not that his talent has gone unrecognised by the Palace. In 1989, Richard was awarded an OBE by a monarch who apparently never missed a Good Life episode.

"But it was a very late age to go off globe-trotting. I'd spent 20 years going on the tube to the London stage or the BBC at Shepherd's Bush, never more than seven miles.

"It's the same with all this travelling up and down to Scotland. I remember thinking "Richard, you should have done all this thirty years ago when you had the energy to do it'."

But as Briers says firmly: "Bill Shakespeare never paid a mortgage. I've tried to cultivate an artistic arm and a commercial arm."

NOW that Monarch Of The Glen's heather-scented pounds are in his account, it's time to exercise his artistic arm again.

In February, he opens in Plymouth as Prospero in The Tempest and hopes to take the play on tour.

"We are planning to get to Glasgow or Edinburgh, or maybe even Aberdeen," he adds excitedly. "I used to go to Glenshee on holiday as a child and I always loved getting up to Scotland.

"I can remember finishing a run at the West End and driving straight up to Glencoe. The noise of London was in my ears for days before I got used to the beautiful silence up there.

"You know, I think I've got some Scots or Irish blood in me somewhere. I'd love the time to do the genealogy bit. Maybe I should just hire someone to do it for me."

Richard Briers may or may not have his beginnings north of the border - but he almost met his end there.

"We were filming a scene where I fell off a boat and had to plunge fully underwater. Even with a wet suit on, Loch Laggan was freezing.

"They had a nurse on hand and thankfully she knew how old I was and what my limitations were in those conditions. I had to stand in the water while they changed camera angles and eventually the temperature took its toll.

"She explained to me that I'd have obvious symptoms like shivering but then they would stop. 'That's good', I told her.

"That's not good," she fired back. "After you stop shivering - that's when you die. Luckily they just got me out of the water in time."

Contrary to press reports, Richard wasn't hounded by midges all the time.

"Just a few down at the lochside, but nothing to complain about," he says.

And did he suffer from ... er ... another itching ailment that only men wearing kilts can experience?

"Ooh, yes, a bit nasty that!" he laughs with a twinkle in his eye.

"But I got away with wearing my tartan trews most of the time, so it wasn't really too bad."

He may not have signed up for a fourth season in Monarch Of The Glen, but the glens of Glenbogle will never leave him.

He says: "I plan to take my family up there next summer to watch them film. It'll be great to meet the team again and not have to do all that work."

Richard will also be heading north in his capacity as honorary president of a charity fighting the horrors of Parkinson's Disease.

He says: "My cousin was the comedy actor, Terry Thomas, who suffered very badly from Parkinson's.

"So I do what I can to help out and I'll be taking my fund-raising efforts north of the border at some time.

"In fact, there's so much I want to do I just hope I'm spared enough years to do it all. I'll be 68 in January and it would be nice to think I could keep plodding on until I'm 134."

When his demise is finally screened at the end of this series, his fans will all be wishing that the cantankerous Hector MacDonald, Laird of Glenbogle, could live to double those 67 years as well.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 25, 2001
Words:1343
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