Brian Rix, Baron Rix
|The Right Honourable
The Lord Rix
Brian Rix and Ronald Shiner in Dry Rot (1956)
27 January 1924 |
Cottingham, Yorkshire, England
|Known for||Charity work for Mencap|
|Spouse(s)||Elspet Gray 1949-2013 (her death)|
|Children||Shelley Rix (deceased)
Born in Cottingham, East Riding of Yorkshire, the youngest of four children. His father, Herbert Rix, and Herbert's two brothers, ran the shipping (and subsequently, oil) company in Kingston upon Hull, founded by his grandfather Robert Rix. As a good Yorkshireman Brian, who was a talented cricketer, only wanted to play for Yorkshire CCC in his childhood, but when he was being educated at Bootham School, York his ambitions changed. He did play for Hull CC when he was 16 (and after the war for the MCC, the Stage and the Lord's Taverners) but during his school days his sister Sheila became an actress and Brian developed the same ambition - to go on the stage. All four Rix children had become interested in the theatre because of their mother, Fanny, who ran a good amateur dramatic society and was the lead soprano in the local Operatic Society. All her children performed in the plays and two of them, Brian and Shelia, became professional actors. Sheila Mercier, as she was known, worked regularly with her brother and then went on to play Annie Sugden for 25 years in the Yorkshire TV soap opera Emmerdale Farm. Brian became a professional actor when he was 18, on deferred service from the Royal Air Force, with Donald Wolfit's Shakespeare Company. After only 4 months as a professional actor, he played Sebastian in Twelfth Night at the now demolished St James's Theatre in London. His deferment was extended and he gained his first weekly rep(ertory) experience with the renowned White Rose Players at the Opera House in Harrogate. From there he went into the Royal Air Force, eventually ending up as a volunteer Bevin Boy working down the coal mines near Doncaster.
After the war, Rix returned to the stage, forming his own theatre company in 1947 as an actor-manager, a career he was to pursue for the next 30 years. He ran rep companies at Ilkley, Bridlington and Margate, and whilst at Bridlington, in 1949, he found the play that was to bring him fame and fortune - Reluctant Heroes. More importantly, in the same year, he engaged his wife to be, Elspet Gray as an actress in his company and six months later they married. They were together, domestically and professionally, for 64 years until her death in February 2013. In 1950 they toured together with Reluctant Heroes until Brian managed to persuade the Whitehall Theatre management that this army farce was the ideal play to follow the long-running Worm's Eye View. It was a happy choice, for Rix's productions ran there for the next 16 years, before he moved to the Garrick Theatre, breaking many West End records in the process. His farces for the BBC Television also began at the Whitehall, increasing Brian and Elspet's popularity as well as that of the Whitehall Theatre.
Reluctant Heroes, the first Whitehall farce, was by Colin Morris, who later became well-known for his his dramatised documentaries on BBC TV. One of those, Jacks and Knaves, was the forerunner for Z-Cars, a long running police drama on the BBC. During the four year run of Reluctant Heroes at the Whitehall, Rix also sent our National Tours of the play, generally with John Slater (later to be in Z-Cars) playing the dread Sgt. Bell, and always playing to packed houses. To give some sense of its popularity, at one time Rix had the play running at the Whitehall, three tours on the road and the film (which was no 1 at the UK box office in 1952) on release. Rix himself played the gormless north-country recruit, Horace Gregory, in both film and throughout the four year run at the Whitehall. This is where his reputation for losing his trousers began. He subsequently lost them at least 12,000 times in the 27 years he was on stage in the farces; though he lost them less in the TV plays.
In the first two years at the Whitehall, Rix's understudy was John Chapman, who also played a small part in Act 3, which ensured a long wait in the dressing room. To occupy his time, he began the first draft of the play that was to follow Heroes. later filmed was produced in 1954 with John Slater, Basil Lord and Rix himself in the cast and ran for nearly four years. When Dry Rot went on tour with John Slater in the lead, he was joined by two young actors, Ray Cooney and Tony Hilton. Both became involved in Rix's next production at the Whitehall, Simple Spymen (again by John Chapman) and had time to draft One For The Pot, which followed Simple Spymen. In all, 7 playwrights were spawned by the Whitehall Farces - Colin Morris, John Chapman, Ray Cooney, Tony Hilton, Clive Exton, Raymond/Charles Dyer and Philip Levene. All because the plays ran and ran and they had time on their hands.
In 1967, Rix moved on to the Garrick Theatre after the Whitehall Theatre lease expired. The larger stage gave him the opportunity to try his repertoire scheme. This was a similar idea to the way plays were presented at the National Theatre - that is several productions, each one being played on different days or weeks, thus giving the actors the chance to play a variety of roles - or even to have a night or two off. Rix tried with three farces - Stand By Your Bedouin, Uproar In The House and Let Sleeping Wives Lie - but as this was a commercial venture, without any state subsidy, it proved too expensive to run and Rix was forced to keep Let Sleeping Wives Lie on at the Garrick and transfer Uproar in the House (with Nicholas Parsons playing Rix's role) to the Whitehall. Stand By Your Bedouin went into storage. Let Sleeping Wives Lie enjoyed a further two year run with Leslie Crowther, Elspet Gray, Derek Farr, Andrew Sachs and Rix playing the lead roles. After the first year, Rona Anderson took over from Elspet Gray.
During his career at the Whitehall and Garrick, Rix appeared in 11 films, which he felt were less suited to his talents as a farceur than the 90 one-night-only television farces. In the early 1960's he was the highest paid actor (along with Robert Morley) to appear on BBC TV and the viewing figures for his productions regularly topped 15 million. Rix alson broke the record for the longest running farce team in the West End of London with great ease. In 1961 he gave a glass of champagne to every member of the audience who had watched Simple Spymen. The drink was served by many of the popular actors who had been with Rix in one of his productions - on stage, on TV and in films - and was to celebrate the Whitehall Theatre Team passing the record held by the Aldwych Theatre Team, whose farces were so popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The Aldwych farces ran from 10 years seven months and four days. Rix went on for another 16 years!
In 1977, Rix sensing that he had reached the peak of his success and weary of appearing night after night in the same production, retired from the stage and joined Cooney-Marsh Ltd. - a theatre-owning and production company - run by Ray Cooney, Laurie Marsh and Rix himself. Ably assisted by his former stage manager and now PA, Joanne Benjamin, Rix was responsible for obtaining productions for various West End Theatres including the Shaftesbury, the Duke of York's, the Ambassadors and the re-built Astoria which opened with the award-winning Elvis, starring P.J. Proby, Shakin' Stevens and Tim Whitnall. Rix and his partners were also responsible for re-opening the Billy Rose Theatre in New York,renaming it The Trafalgar and opening with a smash hit - Whose Life Is It Anyway, starring Tom Conti. However, Rix found being on the wrong side of the footlights rather frustrating and in 1980 he became the Secretary-General of Mencap then the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults, shortly to become The Royal Society. His association with the charity had begun in the early 60s when he became the first Chairman of the Special Functions Fundraising committee. Beyond his leading position as a fundraiser in the field he had also, from 1978 presented the BBC TV series, Let's Go. This was the first British programme to be created specifically for people with a learning disability and ran until 1982.
The reason Brian and Elspet became so involved in the world of learning disability is quite understandable. In December 1951 the first of their four children was born. She was a daughter, Shelley, and had Down's Syndrome, in those days referred to as mongolism. There was no welfare support for such children and certainly no education. The only offering the state made was a place in a Victorian, run-down so-called hospital where "patients" were left to their own devices for hours on end. The Rixes were determined to try and do something to better matters and became involved with various charities fighting to do the same. This finally lead to Brian applying for the job at Mencap adn then when he retired in 1987 to him becoming Chairman in 1988. In 1998, he became President, an office he holds to this day. Since entering the House of Lords as a Cross Bencher in 1992, he had campaigned ceaselessly on any legislation affecting people with a learning disability and much has been achieved.
Rix was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in October 1961 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at a friend's house in Surrey, and again in April 1977, when Andrews surprised him at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. He was also a castaway on Desert Island Discs on two occasions. The first was with Roy Plomley on the 16th May 1960, which was also the first time a castaway was caught on film and broadcast the following evening. His second appearance was with Kirsty Young on 1 March 2009.
Rix was created a Commander of Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1977, and knighted in June 1986 for his services to charity. On his 68th birthday, 27 January 1992, he was created a life peer, becoming Baron Rix, of Whitehall, in the City of Westminster and of Hornsea in Yorkshire. (Hornsea at that time was in North Humberside but Rix had it moved back into Yorkshire (on paper at least) two years before it actually happened!). He was Vice Lord Lieutenant of Greater London from 1987-1997 and was the first Chancellor of the University of East London from 1997-2012. He is now the Chancellor Emeritus.
He has been awarded ten Honorary Degrees by the following Universities: Hull (MA 1981), Open (MA 1983), Essex (DEd 1984), Manchester (LLD 1986), Nottingham (DSc 1987), Dundee (LLD 1997), Exeter (LLD 1997), Bradford (DU 2000), Kingston (DLitt 2012), East London (DU 2013) and five Fellowships including Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (FRSM) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (FRCPsych). He has also received numerous Awards including: The Evian Health Award (1988), RNID Campaigner of the Year Award (1990), The Spectator Campaigner of the Year Award (1999), Yorkshire Lifetime Achievement Award (1999, UK Charity Awards (2001), Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service - British Neuroscience Association (2001) and the e-Politix Charity Champions Lifetime Achievement Award (2004).
Brian Rix and Elspet Gray were married in 1949 in Hornsea. The couple had four children; Shelley, whose influence is described above; Louisa, who was a successful actress before becoming an equally successful interior designer; Jamie, a well-known children's author and television producer who now has to wear hats; and Jonty, an academic at the Open University who has worn hats since he was very young. Shelley died in July 2005 and Elspet died in February 2013.
Rix is the author of two biographies, My Farce From My Elbow (1974) and Farce About Face (1989), and two theatre histories, Tour de Farce and Life in the Farce Lane. He also edited, compiled and contributed to Gullible's Travails, an anthology of travel stories by famous people for the Mencap Blue Sky Appeal. For Mencap's 60th anniversary he produced All About Us! - The history of learning disability and of the Royal Mencap Society.
|1950-1954||Reluctant Heroes (1,610 performances)|
|1954-1958||Dry Rot (1,475 performances)|
|1958-1961||Simple Spymen (1403 performances)|
|1961-1964||One For the Pot (1210 performances)|
|1964-1966||Chase Me, Comrade (765 performances)|
|1966-1967||Chase Me, Comrade; Stand By Your Bedouin; Uproar in the House;|
|1967-1969||Let Sleeping Wives Lie|
|1969||She's Done It Again|
|1971-1973||Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something|
|Cambridge Theatre (+ extended tour)|
|1974-1976||A Bit Between the Teeth|
|Occasional One Night Stands|
|1994-2012||Tour de Farce; Life in the Farce Lane; A Peer Round Whitehall;|
90 Full length and one act plays for the BBC. More than 30 were live.
Sunday-Night Theatre; Laughter from the Whitehall; Dial Rix; Brian Rix presents…; Six of Rix;
|1952||Reluctant heroes (Act 1); Postman’s Knock;|
|1954||Dry Rot (Act 1);|
|1956||Love in a Mist; The Perfect Woman; Madame Louise; Queen Elizabeth Slept Here; Reluctant Heroes;|
|1957||You Too Can Have a Body; Jane Steps Out; Plunder; What the Doctor Ordered; Thark;|
|1958||On Monday Next…; Nothing But the Truth; Wanted, One Body; Cuckoo in the Nest; Simple Spymen (Act 1);|
|1959||A Policeman’s Lot; Nap Hand; Beside the Seaside; Sleeping Partnership; A Cup of Kindness;|
|1960||Is your Honeymoon Really Necessary?; Doctor in the House; Reluctant Heroes; Boobs in the Wood;|
|1961||A Fair Cop; Wolf’s Clothing; Basinful of the Briny; Flat Spin; Will Any Gentleman?;|
|1962||One For The Pot (Act 1); A Clear Case; See How They Run; Between the Balance Sheets; What a Drag; Round the Bend;
Nose to Wheel; No Plums in the Pudding;
|1963||Come Prancing (18 million viewers); Love's a Luxury; Caught Napping; Skin Deep; Rolling Home; What a Chassis; High Temperature;|
|1964||Trial and Error; All for Mary; One Wild Oat; Chase Me Comrade! (Act 1); Dry Rot; Simple Spymen; (This year they also started repeats)|
|1965||Don'Just Stand There; Rookery Nook; The Brides of March; Women Aren't Angels;|
|1966||The Dickie Henderson Show; To Dorothy, a Son; Good Old Summertime; The Little Hut; One for the Pot;|
|1967||Look After Lulu; Stand By Your Bedouin (Act 1); Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?; Uproar in the House (Act 1);
Money for Jam; Chase Me Comrade;
|1968||One for the Pot; Let Sleeping Wives Lie; Keep Your Wig On; A Bit on the Side; A Public Mischief;|
|1969||What an Exhibition; Two on the Tiles; Sitting Ducks; The Facts of Life; Odd Man In;|
|1970||Let Sleeping Wives Lie; Clutterbuck; Lord Arthur Savile's Crime; So You Think You're a Good Wife?; Stand By Your Bedouin!;|
|1971||Reluctant Heroes; She's Done It Again!;|
|1972||What the Doctor Ordered; Will Any Gentleman?; One Wild Oat; Aren't Men Beasts!; A Spot of Bother; Madame Louise;|
|1973-1974||"Men of Affairs" (17 episodes - 13 broadcast):
1. May We Have Our Ball Back?; 2. Brick Dropping; 3. Passes That Ship; 4. Half a Dozen of the Other; 5. Well I'm Burgled; 6. Horseface; 7. Near Miss; 8. To Russia With...; 9. Dash My Wig; 10. Desirable Residence; 11. Flagrant Memories; 12. Arabian Knights; 13. Silver Threads; 14. A Fair Cop; 15. ...As a New Born Babe; 16. Dinner for One; 17. It’s a Bug!;
|1977||"A Roof Over My Head" (8 episodes)
1. A Roof Over My Head; 2. First, Find Your House; 3. Take Me to Your Solicitor; 4. The Sitting Tenant; 5. Learn to Dread One Day at a Time; 6. Not Cricket; 7. Another Fine Mess; 8. Home and Dried;
|1978-1983||Let’s Go (42 episodes)|
|1954||What Every Woman Wants|
|1955||Up to His Neck|
|1957||Not Wanted on Voyage|
|1960||And the Same to You|
|1961||Nothing Barred; The Night We Dropped a Clanger; The Night We Got the Bird;|
|1973||Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something!|
|1963||Yule Be Surprised|
|1964||One Man's Meat (15 episodes)Example|
|1968||Radio series – Brian Rix says That’s life|
|1971||Radio play- For Love of a Lady|
|1978-1979||Brian Rix – Sunday mornings –Radio 2|
|1982||Falstaff in Henry IV (pt1); Josiah Bounderby in Hard Times|
|Header text||Header text|
|1975||My Farce from My Elbow|
|1989||Farce About Face|
|1992||Tour de Farce: A Tale of Touring Theatres and Strolling Players (from Thespis to Branagh)|
|1995||Life in the Farce Lane|
|1996||Gullible’s Travails (ed)|
|2006||All About Us! The story of people with a learning disability and MencapExample|
Some Fellow Performers
During the 30 years he was an actor-manager, Brian Rix appeared with practically all the best known comedy actors at that time, most of them working for his company. Such famous names as: Tommy Cooper, Dickie Henderson, Sidney James, Dora Bryan, Joan Sims, Ronnie Shiner, Moray Watson, Hattie Jacques, Rona Anderson, Ian Carmichael, John Le Mesurier, Brenda de Banzie, Cecil Parker, Leo Franklyn, Alexandra Bastedo, Katie Boyle, Roberston Hare, Basil Radford, Wynne Clark, Peggy Mount, Naunton Wayne, Gerry Campion, Anna Dawson, Patrick Cargill, Leslie Crowther, Vera Day, Derek Farr, Fabia Drake, Harry Fowler, Bryan Forbes, Ann Firbank, William Hartnell, Liz Frazer, David Jacobs, Harry Kendall, Jimmy Logan, Sheila Hancock, Alfred Marks, Irene Handl, Warren Mitchell, Thora Hird, Anthony Newley, Joan Sanderson, Wally Patch, Jan Holden, Leslie Phillips, Brian Reece, Joanna Lumley, Andrew Sachs, Muriel Pavlow, Terry Scott, Francis Matthews, Sheila Mercier, Michael Shepley, Bill Treacher and of course, Brian's wife - Elspet Gray - who was with him in many of the TV farces, the Radio Series and three of the theatre productions.
Also Elspet's sister, Rhoda Gray, was a set designer and created the setting for practically all of Rix's productions, both in the theatre and on TV. The Whitehall was particularly small and cramped and Rhoda's designs overcame the most difficult of obstacles. Rix also had a particularly long and fruitful relationship with the director Wallace Douglas and the musician Tommy Watt. Other writers of note included Michael Pertwee, Christopher Bond, John Cleese and Barry Took.
- Information provided by Brian Rix to his son Jonathan
- Information provided by Brian Rix to his son Jonathan
- "Lord Rix". www.parliament.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- "About the Friends of Richmond Park". Friends of Richmond Park. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- Information provided by Brian Rix to his son, Jonathan.
- "Desert Island Discs with Brian Rix". Desert Island Discs. 2009-03-01. BBC. Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs_20090301.shtml.
- The London Gazette: . 30 December 1986. Retrieved 2011-01-23.
- Dennis Barker Obituary:Elspet Gray, The Guardian, 18 February 2013
- Famous Ham Radio Operators and their Callsigns
- Discussion between Brian and Jonathan Rix
- Brian and Elspet Rix's diaries
- BBC Archives
- Brian Rix at the Internet Movie Database
- Whitehall Theatre History
- The Rix Centre - Learning Disability Charity
-  Mencap Official site
- Brian Rix's appearance on This Is Your Life
- The Brian Rix Archive is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.