Stan Richards

Seth Armstrong in the soap 'Emmerdale'

Monday 14 February 2005 01:00

In his Barbour jacket, wellingtons and woolly hat, and sporting a handlebar moustache, Seth Armstrong, played by Stan Richards, was one of the most instantly recognisable characters in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, most likely to be seen propping up the bar at the local pub the Woolpack.

Stanley Richardson (Stan Richards), actor and comedian: born Barnsley, South Yorkshire 8 December 1930; married (two sons, three daughters, and one son deceased); died Barnsley 11 February 2005.

In his Barbour jacket, wellingtons and woolly hat, and sporting a handlebar moustache, Seth Armstrong, played by Stan Richards, was one of the most instantly recognisable characters in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, most likely to be seen propping up the bar at the local pub the Woolpack.

When first seen, in 1978, Seth was the odd-job man who looked after the village school's boiler. On discovering that he was illiterate, one of the teachers taught him to read and write. But he was not unskilled in the ways of the countryside. His reputation as the wiliest poacher in the area led him to be employed as gamekeeper by NY Estates, which bought the Home Farm estate following the death of the local squire, George Verney. The result was a sudden decrease in illegal activities, although Seth had a reputation for being workshy and devious, and found less time to slip away to the Woolpack when he was given responsibility for looking after a new fish farm.

After the death of his rarely seen wife, Meg, Seth found new love when he rekindled the flames with his wartime sweetheart, Betty Eagleton (the actress Paula Tilbrook), in 1994, although the couple never married.

"No one gets the better of Seth," said Richards, who played the character for almost 27 years. "but he's terrified of Betty! She loves him dearly, though - otherwise, she wouldn't stick with him." The actor summed up the lovable rogue with the words: "Seth is happy as long as he has something to eat and a few quid in his pocket to go to the pub."

Richards himself was born Stanley Richardson in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in 1930. He started his working life as a Ministry of Labour clerk and, after being transferred to London, hated the capital so much that he resigned. Returning to Yorkshire, he took a job in the accounts department of a firm that sold disinfectants and lavatory paper.

A pianist since the age of 10, he had already been performing with dance bands in pubs and clubs in the evenings. When he was 21, he formed a comedy and musical quartet called Melody Maniacs. "We played all the clubs in Yorkshire,"explained Richards, "and we were a very successful act.

I joined another lad, Frankie Newton, who played the drums and sang and did impressions, and I did the comedy and played the

piano. In 1965, I went professional with a vocal-comedy quartet called the Four Renowns and, three years later, went solo and performed all over the country, at Batley Variety Club, social clubs and working men's clubs.

Then, the acclaimed film director Ken Loach invited Richards to take an acting role in a two-part BBC play, The Price of Coal (1977), written by Barry Hines, the author and playwright from Hoyland Common, near Barnsley. Like some other Loach productions, including the film classic Kes, it cast stand-up comedians in straight acting roles, to dramatic effect. Richards's character, Albert, was one of two miners killed in a pit explosion. The other leading parts were taken by Bobby Knutt, Jackie Shinn and Duggie Brown.

This resulted in Richards finding an agent and getting more television roles. He was briefly seen as Arthur Stokes, a councillor who bought a secondhand china cabinet from Betty Turpin (now Williams) in Coronation Street (1977, 1978) and mistakenly thought she was having an affair with Alf Roberts, his friend on the council.

He also played a pig farmer, Charlie Dent, in three episodes of All Creatures Great and Small (1978, 1980) and a railway parcel man in Last of the Summer Wine (1979), as well as taking bit-parts in The Cuckoo Waltz, Crown Court and the films Agatha (as a hotel porter, 1979) and Yanks (1979).

Richards landed the role of Seth Armstrong in 1978, when the ITV serial set in Yorkshire was six years old and called Emmerdale Farm (it was retitled Emmerdale in 1989). It was a very different serial in those days, as Richards recalled.

When I joined the programme, there were just seven regular members of the cast. It went out around the country on different days and at different times. Now, we have a much bigger cast and more variety of characters, and it's been updated, aiming for a younger audience. Whereas the Sugdens and the farm were the whole programme when I started, now they are just a part of it - and that hasn't done us any harm.

Although the soap became raunchier and one of television's most popular programmes, with a peak-time, networked slot in the ITV schedule, Seth himself mellowed slightly, perhaps battered by the effects of being beaten unconscious by a gang of poachers and badger-baiters, the death of his wife and the demolishing of his home in the Lockerbie-style plane crash that wiped out four villagers, various buildings and Seth's dog, Smokey.

Shortly afterwards, he started a new life with Betty Eagleton. "He is slightly more domesticated," Richards reflected, "but he is still the eccentric character he was. He is a very good gamekeeper and goes his own way with everything."

In recent years, the actor suffered increasing ill health. He broke a leg in 1995 - a year after the death of his wife, Susan, from cancer - but insisted on getting back to the studios eight weeks later, switching between a wheelchair and a bar stool on the Woolpack set, saying: "I felt I wanted to come back. After almost 20 years, Emmerdale is my life."

Then, in September 2003, Richards was written out of Emmerdale after suffering a collapsed lung and emphysema - Seth was sent to Australia to recuperate from his own illness. However, he was seen on screen last Christmas Eve, when Betty and other villagers watched a video message he had recorded for them.

Richards was the serial's longest-serving cast member.

Anthony Hayward

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