Richard Beckinsale was an English actor, primarily known for his roles in sitcoms. His best known characters were prison inmate Leonard Arthur “Lennie” Godber in “Porridge” (1974-1977) and its sequel series “Going Straight” (1978), and medical student Alan Moore in “Rising Damp” (1974-1978).
Beckinsale was born in the suburban town of Carlton, Nottinghamshire, which is part of the Borough of Gedling. His father Arthur John Beckinsale was Anglo-Burmese, while his mother Maggie Barlow was English. Beckinsale claimed to be a distant cousin of actor Charles Laughton (1899-1962).
Beckinsale attended College House Junior School in Chilwell,and performed in many school plays. His first notable role was that of Dopey the Dwarf in a school play adaptation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. He also appeared in school plays while attending Alderman White Secondary Modern School. In 1962, he decided to drop out of school and pursue a career as a professional actor. At age 15, Beckinsale was too young to attend drama school. He financially supported himself through a series of odd jobs.
In 1963, Beckinsale was enrolled at Nottingham College, Clarendon, pursuing a drama teacher’s training programme. In 1965, Beckinsale applied for training the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He was accepted there with his second audition, one of only 31 applicants accepted. During his training, Beckinsale accepted a comedy award. He graduated in 1968.
Following his graduation, Beckinsale started appearing in repertory theatre. He toured the United Kingdom with such roles as the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”, Sir Andrew Aguecheek in “Twelfth Night”, and the title role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He made his television debut in 1969, playing a one-shot police officer character in the soap opera “Coronation Street”. He next gained a minor role in the drama series “A Family at War” (1970-1972).
His first major television role was that of leading Geoffrey Scrimshaw in the sitcom “The Lovers” (1970-1971). The premise was having a mismatched couple, with a romantic girl paired with a sex-obsessed boyfriend. It was a minor ratings hit and brought some much-needed fame to Beckinsale.
Beckinsale’s career reached new heights with the hit sitcoms “Porridge” and “Rising Damp”. He also appeared in the sequel series “Going Staight”, with the humorous concert of former prison inmates trying to rebuild their lives and seeking honest jobs. His final major role was the leading actor in the sitcom “Bloomers”, but only five episodes were completed before his death.
In December, 1978, While filming episodes for “Bloomers”, Beckinsale suffered from dizzy spells. He was worried about his health and sought medical help, but his doctor reassured him that his only health problems were ” an overactive stomach lining, and slightly high cholesterol”. He subsequently had further signs of ill health, but he attributed them to his nerves.
By 18 March, 1979, Beckinsale was suffering from pain in his chest and arms, but decided against seeking further help. He went to bed, and was found dead the next morning. He had died during the night due to a heart attack. A post-mortem examination revealed that his recent health problems were the results of coronary artery disease. He was only 31 at the time of his death.
Beckinsale was cremated in Bracknell, Berkshire, and his remains were taken to Mortlake Crematorium. A memorial service for him was attended by 300 people, a testament to his popularity. In his will, he left about 65,000 pounds for his wife and daughters. Only 18,000 pounds were left after taxes.
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