HOW WE MET; PATRICIA EDDINGTON AND RICHARD BRIERS
Sunday 08 December 1996
The actor Richard Briers OBE, 62, was born in London. A versatile stage and television actor, he appeared with Paul Eddington in the BBC series The Good Life from 1974-77. From 23-27 December, Briers will read extracts from Eddington's autobiography on Radio 4. Briers lives with his wife, the actress Ann Davies, in London; they have two daughters
Patricia Eddington was born in London. She was married to the actor Paul Eddington for 43 years until his death last year. A former actress and drama teacher, she has also worked as a volunteer special needs teacher in a primary school. She has four children and two grandchildren; she lives in London.
PATRICIA EDDINGTON: Paul introduced me to Dickie when they both started doing The Good Life in 1974. They already knew each other slightly, having met in various studios around the BBC; they were also both on the council of Equity, the actors' union. Even then, Dickie was already a big star. He'd been famous more or less since he left RADA with a silver medal.
From the first time we met, I felt Dickie was a friend I'd known for ever. It was strange - that feeling of thinking we had known each other always. Since Paul died, Dickie rings me every 10 days and says "Hello, darling," in that wonderfully silly way he has. It never fails to cheer me up. I think one of the reasons he and Paul were so close was their sense of humour. It just gelled. Dickie's way of telling a story is very giggly and expansive; and Paul, too, was a wonderful raconteur. Like all of us, Paul was caught up in Dickie's enthusiasm and they felt very comfortable working together. Each of them had an instinctive ability to use some of their own individual qualities in characters.
The cast of The Good Life used to celebrate once a new series was underway and the costumes were sorted out. When it was our turn to host the party, Paul and I were still living in north London. I'd worked out how long it would take for everyone to come up from TV Centre, and planned the cooking time around their journey. Unfortunately, Dickie arrived much earlier than anyone else; I still had my pinny on and absolutely nothing was ready. But as soon as I opened the door, instead of panicking me, he just said, "Hello darling, I flew here," and made himself at home.
In the acting profession, there are plenty of happily married couples like Dickie and Ann; or me and Paul, but they're not the ones who are news- worthy, so you don't hear about them most of the time. As it happens, the four of us come from very similar backgrounds. We're all rooted in the theatre, although Ann has been freer to pursue her work than me - I was the one who had four children.
When Dickie and Paul acted opposite each other in David Storey's play Home in 1994, Dickie knew how ill Paul was - as did the producer and director. But everyone was very keen to do it. Dickie could just fit it in before he took on yet another project. He very much wanted to do it and Ann, Dickie's wife, backed him up. At times the schedule was very difficult, because Paul had to have his treatment and still carry on with rehearsals. The treatment exhausted him, so Dickie - being Dickie - took away all the stress of the publicity and interviews. "Look, old love," he said, "I'll do it. If they've got one of us they don't need you." That meant Paul could conserve all his energies for the stage. There were nights when Paul was undoubtedly feeling very ill, but the minute he had to appear, something extraordinary happened. He got up, did the play and was fine. I think Dickie knew how serious Paul's illness was, but I don't think he wanted to believe it.
Paul greatly admired Dickie's work. He thought he'd taken a huge step forward when we saw him in Hammersmith in The Wild Duck. He surprised everyone. We usually think of him as a great comedian and his performance was very touching. Dickie is a considerable actor with a marvellous voice. He's a much "bigger" actor than most people imagine because he hides under his jokey personality. Dickie's opinion of himself as an actor and as a person is engagingly low, and quite unfounded. I'm constantly surprised by him; Paul was, too.
I asked Dickie to read from Cymbeline, "Fear no more the Heat of the Sun..." at Paul's funeral. At the Thanksgiving Service, Dickie also read some PG Wodehouse, which Paul always loved. As a boy at boarding school, where he was frequently cold and undernourished, Paul would sneak off to the airing cupboard to read PG Wodehouse by torchlight under the blankets. He thought Dickie was the finest exponent of PG Wodehouse we have.
When Dickie rang to ask how I felt about him reading Paul's book for Radio 4, I told him that of course I'd love him to do it. He had no need to ask me, but it would have been out of character for him if he hadn't. It's just over a year since Paul died, but even though he's extremely busy, Dickie has literally looked after me. He's a person who inspires friendships in people, and I love him.
RICHARD BRIERS: I met Trish when Paul Eddington and I were doing The Good Life for BBC. As couples, in real life, the four of us became friends. We all felt genuine affection for one another. Had Paul and Trish lived nearer, we would definitely have seen much more of them in those early days. Unfortunately, they were near Muswell Hill and we've always been in west London, which makes it difficult for frequent visiting. Even if we didn't see each other a lot, we phoned often. As couples, one of the things we shared was each having our own extremely happy family. Ann and Trish are both the real anchors.
Although Paul was always in work - until The Good Life brought TV celebrity status - he was more of a jobbing actor. At times, he and Trish and their growing family were not at all well off. The huge success came late, but when it did the work doubled and then tripled - along with the interviews and press calls which are always the price of fame. Trish was always there for him. However stressed he may sometimes have felt, she was an amazing support. It's an awful cliche to say, "Behind every great man..." but in Paul's case it was certainly true. Theirs was an extraordinary partnership. It was a marriage I would compare to the famously long-lasting and close one between the actors Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson.
After Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, Paul and Trish did quite a lot of travelling on behalf of the programme. In certain countries, people actually thought that Paul, if not actually prime minister, must be some high ranking official. I think it was in Sweden when they were met by a VIP limousine and swept off for drinks at government offices. I've no doubt Trish played her part as First Lady brilliantly.
Although I knew of Paul's skin cancer for some years, I was never fearful for him, and I don't think, in the early days of the diagnosis, that Trish was either. It seemed to me that I'd heard of many people who'd had skin cancer on their noses - moles and blemishes. Obviously, the condition was very unpleasant, but I never thought for a moment that what Paul had was going to kill him. When the disease began slowly to spread to his face, hair and lymph glands, Trish was his nurse and constant support - always meticulous in the way she looked after him. Her main concern was that he shouldn't be in any pain.
Paul's illness did nothing to change the relationship between me and him. Gradually, over the years, his condition got worse, but it wasn't anything dramatic, so we carried on quite normally. Looking back on it now, it was rather like watching my cousin, Terry Thomas, who died, very slowly, of Parkinson's disease.
Throughout, Trish coped with great bravery. I've always thought that women were much stronger than men, and if Trish is anything to go by then I'm probably right. However much she might feel like it, life has to go on.
When we did David Storey's play Home, Paul was already quite ill and needed regular out-patient hospital treatment. We did 10 weeks on tour and 10 weeks in the West End. Our tour was planned around towns which had hospitals where Paul could go for his weekly treatment sessions. Sometimes, in his dressing room, he would be looking very tired and frail, but Trish was there, by his side, with her tapestry or her knitting, looking after him and bolstering him up. Paul was the centre of her life, as she was for him. Now she has the grandchildren and children to keep her busy.
There were times, towards the end, whilst Paul was writing his autobiography, when he felt he couldn't be bothered, or was too exhausted to carry on. Trish gently encouraged him to keep at it. She was never pushy or sentimental, she just quietly persevered - and the book was finished.
I was delighted when the BBC asked me to read extracts from Paul's autobiography. When we were planning the actual recordings, I thought it would be a bit too emotional for me - and, I suspect, for Trish too - if she sat through it all. So we arranged that she would come in on the second day. After I finished the last two extracts, which I'd rehearsed like mad, we went out for lunch.
Since Paul's death, I've kept in touch with Trish by phone at least once a fortnight. Work permitting, we do the usual things we would have done when Paul was alive - have a drink or a meal together. It gives us a chance to catch up on each other's lives.
Sometimes, when one half of a partnership is more famous than the other, and that famous half is no longer here, a friendship can fade. With me and Trish, it's the opposite; our friendship has grown. Being with Trish reminds me of happy times with Paul - my lasting memory is that, even in his final illness, we never really stopped laughing. !
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