Actor Richard Briers dies at 79

Actor Richard Briers, known for his enduring roles in The Good Life and Monarch of the Glen, has died at the age of 79.

The star, who was also known for his Shakespearean roles, had been battling the lung condition emphysema for a number of years.

Briers died at his London home on Sunday, his agent said.

He was the lynchpin of three of the most notable sitcoms ever made in Britain - Marriage Lines, The Good Life (shown in the United States as Good Neighbours) and Ever Decreasing Circles.

But after a long career in television, Briers joined Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, and his already very successful professional life took a new turn as he moved on to major classical roles.

Briers in Monarch of the Glen. Credit: AAP

For Branagh he took on roles including King Lear, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and the buffoon Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also appeared in several Branagh-directed films, including Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Peter’s Friends and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Branagh remembered Briers as “a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man. He was greatly loved and he will be deeply missed.”

His agent, Christopher Farrar, of Hamilton Hodell, said: "Richard was a wonderful man, a consummate professional and an absolute joy to work alongside.

"He has a unique and special place in the hearts of so many. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go to his family at this sad time."

Former BBC chairman Michael Grade said: "I think the nation has lost one of its most favourite, favourite, favourite actors of all time - he's sort of up there with Ronnie Barker and Alan Bennett, you know, the people you're always pleased to see doing anything on television or in the theatre."

Briers also was the voice of rabbit Fiver in the much-loved animated animal feature Watership Down, and narrator 1970s children’s cartoon Roobarb.

Briers was born on January 14, 1934 and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he won the silver medal and a scholarship to Liverpool Playhouse in 1956. Two years later he made his first West End appearance in Gilt And Gingerbread. He barely stopped working from that day onwards.

In recent years the actor's health deteriorated after being diagnosed with emphysema five years ago.

In an interview only a few weeks ago, he told how he blamed his years of smoking for the condition. "It's totally my fault. So, I get very breathless, which is a pain in the backside. Trying to get upstairs ... oh God, it's ridiculous. Of course, when you're bloody nearly 80 it's depressing, because you've had it anyway."

Richard Briers and co-star in The Good Life Felicity Kendall.