Richard Arthur Beckinsale (6 July 1947 – 19 March 1979) was best known for his roles as Lennie Godber in the classic BBC Sitcom Porridge and Alan Moore in the classic ITV sitcom Rising Damp.
Richard Beckinsale was born in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, to a quarter-Burmese father, Arthur John Beckinsale, and an English mother, Maggie Barlow. 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 consequence, 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 classic character Ena Sharples.
Richard Beckinsale acquired his first starring role in 1970 as Geoffrey in the sitcom The Lovers, opposite fellow newcomer Paula Wilcox. The show was a success without being a runaway triumph, and did enough to put both lead performers in the public eye. It also, like many sitcoms of the time, spawned a film version.
There followed a purple patch when he was appearing in two of British TV's most successful sitcoms at the same time. On ITV, he was playing naive medical student Alan Moore in Rising Damp (voted ITV's best-ever sitcom in the Britain's Best Sitcom survey of 2004) while also starring in Porridge. Shortly after his 30th birthday, Beckinsale was surprised by Eamonn Andrews with the famed 'big red book' for an appearance on This Is Your Life.
Beckinsale quit Rising Damp in 1977, the same year that Porridge was brought to a natural end after his character of Godber was released from his prison sentence in the final episode. He subsequently starred alongside Barker in Going Straight, a spin-off of Porridge in which the two criminal characters are seen on the outside rebuilding their lives.
At the beginning of 1979, Beckinsale made a film version of Porridge. It was to be his last and only completed work of the year.
With filming completed on the film version of Porridge, Richard 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, Becksinsale told her he had suffered some kind of black-out, and had also 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. 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. The day before he died, 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. He then attended a farewell party for The Two Ronnies, who were about to leave for Australia. Afterward, he returned to his house in Sunningdale, Berkshire. At some point that day, he had also called his eldest daughter Samantha, and made plans to spend some time with her the following weekend. After arriving home late on the evening of Sunday 18 March, he telephoned friends. 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.
When he did not show up for rehearsal for the sixth and final episode of Bloomers the next morning, a member of the production team called 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 go and 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, which also revealed that he had a congenital heart defect
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.
He was also filming a movie, 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. A clearly distressed Barker delivered a brief but emotional acceptance speech in tribute to his co-star.
Plans had been drawn up to make a movie of Rising Damp — Beckinsale's other big sitcom success — and ultimately the movie was made in 1980. Christopher Strauli was recruited to replace Beckinsale, playing a different character.
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, Ronnie Barker and Rising Damp's Don Warrington.