Richard Beckinsale

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Richard Beckinsale
Beckinsale as Lennie Godber
Richard Arthur Beckinsale

(1947-07-06)6 July 1947
Died19 March 1979(1979-03-19) (aged 31)
Cause of deathHeart defect
Years active1962–1979
Margaret Bradley
(m. 1965–1971)

Judy Loe
(m. 1977)
ChildrenSamantha Beckinsale
Kate Beckinsale

Richard Arthur Beckinsale (6 July 1947 – 19 March 1979) was an English actor, who played Lennie Godber in the BBC sitcom Porridge (along with its sequel series Going Straight) and Alan Moore in the British ITV sitcom Rising Damp. He is the father of actresses Samantha Beckinsale and Kate Beckinsale.

Early life[edit]

Beckinsale was born in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, to an Anglo-Burmese father, Arthur John Beckinsale, and an English mother, Maggie Barlow.[1][2] Beckinsale stated in a 1977 interview that he was related to the actor, Charles Laughton via his great-great-grandmother's side.[3] He left Alderman White Secondary Modern School at 15 with ambitions to become an actor, so while working in numerous manual jobs he enrolled at a Nottingham adult drama class. As a result, 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.


Beckinsale's first starring role was as Geoffrey in the sitcom The Lovers (1970–71), opposite fellow newcomer Paula Wilcox. The show put both lead performers in the public eye and, like many sitcoms of the time, spawned a film version.

Soon after, he appeared in two of British TV's most successful sitcoms at the same time from 1974 to 1977. On ITV, he was playing naive medical student Alan Moore in Rising Damp while also starring as prison inmate Lennie Godber alongside Ronnie Barker in the BBC sitcom Porridge. He also appeared in the films Rentadick (1972) and Three for All (1975) and made appearances in several other television series such as the Stephen Frears-directed ITV Playhouse episode "Last Summer" in 1976. Throughout his tv series run, Beckinsale also did an eighteen-month run in the West End play Funny Peculiar, for which he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for "Actor of the Year in a New Play" and "Comedy Performance of the Year."[4] He later did a six-month run in the London debut of the Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart play I Love My Wife. Shortly after his 30th birthday, Beckinsale was the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life.[5]

Beckinsale quit Rising Damp in 1977, the same year that Porridge was brought to an end with his character of Godber being released from his prison sentence in the final episode. He subsequently starred alongside Barker in Going Straight (1978), a spin-off of Porridge in which the two criminal characters are seen on the outside rebuilding their lives. In 1977, he starred in a radio comedy series called Albert and Me with Pat Coombs and John Comer. Beckinsale appeared in the film version of Porridge released in 1979. It was to be his last and only completed work of the year.

In October 1980, Frederick Muller Ltd published a volume of Beckinsale's poetry entitled "With Love" (ISBN 0-584-10387-5).


In January 1979, for an insurance policy prior to shooting the film version of Porridge, Beckinsale passed a full medical examination in which his heart, lungs, breathing, and blood pressure were checked.[6] After filming was completed, Beckinsale 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, Beckinsale told her he had suffered some kind of black-out, and had some dizzy spells. This concerned him enough to make an appointment to see a doctor, but the doctor could not find anything wrong apart from an overactive stomach lining, and slightly high cholesterol. As filming on the show progressed, Beckinsale appeared increasingly tired, and "greyer and greyer", according to co-star David Swift, and towards the end of filming he was complaining of pains in his arms. On what was to be his last day of filming on the show, he gave Anna Calder-Marshall a lift home after filming. To her surprise, he began to talk about his fear of dying, and of being alone in the house.[7]

A week before he died, Beckinsale complained to his wife Judy Loe of feeling unwell and said he was unable to take her to 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.[8] Loe underwent the operation on Wednesday 14 March and while she remained in the hospital recuperating, Beckinsale continued to work on Bloomers and Bloody Kids, commuting between London by day and Southend-on-Sea by night.[9] On the evening of Saturday 17 March, he attended a farewell party for the Two Ronnies, who were about to leave for Australia. According to David Jason, who was at the party, Beckinsale left the party at around eleven-thirty, in order to attend another friend's party.[10] Jo Apted, wife of The Lovers director Michael Apted, stated that Beckinsale attended a party at her house on Saturday night and felt unwell the next day.[11] On Sunday 18 March, he and his five-year-old daughter Kate visited Loe in hospital. Upon leaving the hospital, Beckinsale dropped his daughter off with relatives to spend the night. Afterwards, he returned to his house in Sunningdale, Berkshire. At some point that day, he called his elder daughter Samantha, and made plans to spend some time with her the following weekend. Before going to bed, he telephoned a couple of friends and during the conversation, he repeated that he had been feeling unwell, and also said that he had some pain in his chest and arms. He seemed in good humour though, and made a joke out of it.[12]

Beckinsale's memorial plaque in St Paul's in Covent Garden

When he did not arrive at the rehearsal for the sixth and final episode of Bloomers the next morning, a member of the production team rang his house, and the phone was answered by family friend Rosana Bradley, who had been staying at the house to help take care of Kate, but who had not been there the previous night. She said Beckinsale was still sleeping, and she left the phone to 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 he had died during the night, of what appeared to be a massive heart attack. This was confirmed during a post-mortem examination, which also revealed that he had a congenital heart defect.[13] Beckinsale had expressed worries about his cholesterol to 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."[14]

Beckinsale was cremated during a private service in Bracknell, Berkshire and his remains were then taken to Mortlake Crematorium.[15] On 19 April 1979, the one-month anniversary of his death, more than 300 people attended a memorial service at the actors' church St Paul's in Covent Garden.[16] Porridge co-star David Jason attended, as well as Beckinsale's Bloomers co-star, Anna Calder-Marshall. Leonard Rossiter, Fulton MacKay, Richard Briers, and Porridge writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais gave tributes. La Frenais stated: "I was always amazed by Richard's talent. I'm convinced he would have become an international actor." Briers said: "The character of Lennie Godber had a kind of innocence which was a danger but also a kind of protection against prison life. Richard had a similar innocence. It made him vulnerable but he was never one for upstaging, scene-stealing and the kind of action which substituted technique for truth. Richard made us laugh and also charmed us. He was an effortless charmer." Beckinsale's widow, Judy, stated: "It was a celebration, not a memorial service."[17] A memorial plaque was later erected in the church in Beckinsale's honour.

Unfinished work[edit]

At the time of his death, Beckinsale had almost completed Bloomers. Writer James Saunders's 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 making a television film, 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. Barker delivered a brief acceptance speech in tribute to his co-star.

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

Personal life and legacy[edit]

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.

In the 2006 film Venus, during a scene inside the actors' church, St Paul's, Peter O'Toole's character, an aging actor, points out Beckinsale's plaque, as an example of an actor who died in his prime.[18]

In 2013, a blue plaque in Beckinsale's memory was unveiled at his former school, College House Junior School in Chilwell. Kate Beckinsale, Judy Loe, David Walliams, and Michael Sheen attended the ceremony.[19]

In 2018, as part of an art project in Beckinsale's former hometown of Beeston, a mural of him was commissioned by the town council and painted by the French street artist, Zabou.[20][21]

Rising Damp co-star, Frances de la Tour said of Beckinsale's acting ability: "Richard was a brilliant young actor as so many have testified. His comedy was based on the truth. That is what people mean by 'timing.' So we believed him at all times. There is no greater testament. Ronnie Barker was similar, which is why they worked so well and movingly together."[22]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1969 Coronation Street PC Wilcox 1 episode
1970 A Family at War Private Grey 1 episode
1970-1971 The Lovers Geoffrey Scrimgeor 13 episodes
1971 Armchair Theatre Lewis 1 episode
1972 Rentadick Hobbs Feature film
1973 The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Richard Frobisher 1 episode
1974-1977 Rising Damp Alan Moore 22 episodes
1974-1977 Porridge Lennie Godber 17 episodes
1975 Three for All Jet Bone Feature film
1975 Play for Today Michael Robson 1 episode
1977 ITV Playhouse Johnny 1 episode
1978 Going Straight Lennie Godber 4 episodes

{1978-79 Asda Advert

1979 Porridge Lennie Godber Feature film spin-off of TV series
1979 Bloomers Stan 5 episodes


  1. ^ "Richard Arthur Beckinsale | English Actor 1947 to 1979". Richard Beckinsale. Archived from the original on 2 April 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  2. ^ Barratt, Nick (4 November 2006). "Family Detective". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  3. ^ "He's A Cell-Out!". Jackie. 20 August 1977. My family's related to that famous actor, Charles Laughton. He's probably best known in his role as the Hunchback of Notre Dame," Richard explained. "He's somewhere on my great-great-grandmother's side!
  4. ^ "Olivier Winners, 1976". Official London Theatre. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  5. ^ "This Is Your Life - Richard Beckinsale". Big Red Book. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  6. ^ Pratt, Colin (21 March 1979). "TV Star's Last Hours, By Wife". Daily Express.
  7. ^ Clayton, David (2008). The Richard Beckinsale Story. Stroud: History Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7509-5061-9.
  8. ^ Clayton, p157.
  9. ^ Pratt, Colin (21 March 1979). "TV Star's Last Hours, By Wife". Daily Express.
  10. ^ Jason, David (2013). David Jason: My Life. Random House UK. p. 240-241.
  11. ^ Pratt, Colin (21 March 1979). "TV Star's Last Hours, By Wife". Daily Express.
  12. ^ Clayton, p159.
  13. ^ Clayton, p173.
  14. ^ Donnelly, Gabrielle (29 April 2008). "Kate Beckinsale: 'Losing my dad made me anorexic'". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  15. ^ Clayton, p173.
  16. ^ Clayton, p175.
  17. ^ "The Last Goodbye: Celebrity tributes to Porridge star Richard". Daily Express. 20 April 1979.
  18. ^ Cho, Seongyong (5 August 2012). "Venus if you will, send a girl for me to thrill". Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  19. ^ "Kate Beckinsale unveils plaque for father Richard". BBC Online. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Icons Of Beeston In Street Art Tribute". Broxtowe Borough Council. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  21. ^ "Hollywood star Kate Beckinsale thanks Beeston for new mural of her dad calling it 'unbelievably wonderful'". Nottingham Post. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  22. ^ Clayton, p126.

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