Saturday 6 April 2019

Time to Celebrate the work of Richard O'Sullivan?

As I tweeted last night, I've recently rediscovered that most Seventies of situation comedies, Robin's Nest, on Talking Pictures TV. The series ran from 1977 until 1981 and was a spin off from the hugely successful Man About The House which had come to an end the year before. Robin's Nest starred Richard O'Sullivan as his Man About The House character Robin Tripp who sets up a Bistro with his girlfriend Victoria, played by Tessa Wyatt. Other regular cast members were Tony Britton as Victoria's disapprovingly posh father and the unforgettable Irish actor David Kelly as a one-armed kitchen hand Albert Riddle. 

The series is very much of its time and that's not a criticism. It's undemanding, gentle and well written. It's not gag central but neither should it be as that's more of an American invention. The characters are well written and played by an expert cast of actors. We really don't see the likes of such programmes these days and that, I think, is a shame. At the heart of Robin's Nest is of course Richard O'Sullivan. I've been aware of Richard's work for years, mainly thanks to his Seventies sitcom work and his earlier teenage role as Maudlin Street troublemaker Robin Stevens in the excellent 1959 comedy Carry On Teacher. However there is much more to Richard than that and I honestly believe he's one of our most under-appreciated actors.

Richard started his acting career at an early age after attending the famous Corona Academy, which also produced the likes of Dennis Waterman, Susan George and the Geeson sisters Judy and Sally. Many of the Corona kids appeared in Teacher with Richard and you can spot the likes of Francesca Annis and Diane Langton in some of the crowd scenes. Richard began appearing on our screens from the early 1950s, mostly in small roles as a child actor. He appeared in Children's Film Foundation pictures and worked on film alongside the likes of Trevor Howard, Keith Michell, Belinda Lee and John Mills. On television he made early appearances in Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood with Richard Greene. Around the time he made Teacher, Richard landed one of his first leading parts in the ITC series The Four Just Men. The same year he had a scene in the Audrey Hepburn film, The Nun's Story.

The transition from child actor to leading star is not an easy one and many struggle to make the crossover. That wasn't the case for Richard, as the early 1960s saw him take leading parts in several films. He appeared in two Cliff Richard musical films, The Young Ones in 1961 and Wonderful Life three years later. In between he played Ptolemy XIII in the big budget epic Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. You can't get much bigger than that. The rest of the Sixties saw Richard continue to work steadily, learning his craft across a number of productions including Danger Man, No Hiding Place, Dixon of Dock Green, Redcap and Emergency Ward 10. It was the next decade, however, which would see Richard become a star of the small screen.

Richard's situation comedy career kicked off in earnest in 1971 when he was cast as Dr Lawrence Bingham in the small screen adaptation of the Richard Gordon series of Doctor stories. The 1971 series, Doctor At Large, also starred Barry Evans, George Layton and Geoffrey Davies and was written by the likes of Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and John Cleese. Richard continued in the role for the next series the following year, Doctor in Charge, before taking a leading role in the Thames TV comedy series Alcock and Gander, which starred Beryl Reid. The year after this series ended, Richard found his biggest and longest lasting role as chef Robin Tripp in the Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke comedy, Man About The House.

Man About The House was a flat share sitcom which in some ways, at the time, was revolutionary. It featured Richard's character sharing with two young women, played by Sally Thomsett and Paula Wilcox. It was quite daring for the time and perhaps also forward thinking as the two female characters always got the better of poor old Robin. The series also co-starred Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce in their original incarnations of bickering middle-aged couple George and Mildred Roper. While Richard was given the spin off Robin's Nest once Man About The House ended, Brian and Yootha also went on have their own show, simply titled George and Mildred, which ran until Yootha's sad death in 1980. Man About The House also led to a feature film spin off in 1974, in line with the trend for such things in the 1970s.

Robin's Nest again showcased Richard's flair for light comedy and the simple fact is, like all great actors he made it look so easy. In fact he was one of his generations' hardest working actors and for that I don't think he ever received his fair share of credit. He was also multi-talented, as Robin's Nest clearly shows. As well as starring in the series, he also wrote the theme tune and even published a cook book based on the show, which was called Man About The Kitchen and came out in 1980. Robin's Nest was also the first UK comedy series to feature an unmarried couple cohabiting. So there you go! The mid-1970s also saw Richard star in a touring production of the play Boeing Boeing. This tour capitalised on his sitcom success by co-starring Yootha Joyce and Sally Thomsett. The record breaking national tour also co-starred Judy Matheson, a great friend to this blog.

The late 1970s and 1980s saw Richard continue to work prominently on television. He took the title role in the LWT series Dick Turpin, which ran between 1979 and 1982 and this series is perhaps rather overlooked these days and due a repeat. It also featured Carry On great Joan Sims in a guest role so that alone is worth a view. From 1984 for the next four years Richard took the lead in another comedy series, Me and My Girl, also for LWT and co-starring the late, great Joan Sanderson of Please Sir fame. 

Richard continued to be in demand for acting work right through until the mid 1990s however very sadly ill health took its toll and he was forced into early retirement. One of his last appearances was as part of the audio commentary team for the DVD release of Carry On Teacher in 2006. Joined by co-stars Paul Cole and Larry Dann, the conversation is riotous and thoroughly entertaining. The old Richard O'Sullivan cheeky charm and charisma is still evident and it's great to hear him reminisce about his career with a group of old mates. 

Sadly Richard suffered a stroke in the early 2000s and now resides at Brinsworth House, a wonderful retirement home for actors and other entertainment stars. Richard was back in the news recently when he was pictured meeting Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, while she was touring Brinsworth. Judy Matheson also still keeps in touch with Richard and not so long ago shared a photo of him on Twitter, which was lovely to see. 

I'm sad that Richard has not been in the best of health in recent years as it has robbed us of one of our most talented and charming leading actors. I think Richard O'Sullivan has suffered when it comes to critical acclaim because he was such a prolific star of light comedies and television sitcoms. Rampant snobbery at work again I'm afraid. It takes a special kind of actor to be able to carry off leading roles in so many hit series and indeed to make it look so effortless. Looking into Richard's long career, dating back to the early 1950s, you can see the diverse nature of his acting work across all mediums and he really did learn his craft. That alone is worth celebrating. I think it's time Richard was reappraised and celebrated for all the magnificent work he has given us over the years.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram


  1. I agree entirely with everything you said. Only the other day I watched him in the 1956 movie "It's Great To Be Young" with John Mills and Cecil Parker,shown on Talking pictures. Excellent child actor, and even better as an adult. So very sad to read he had suffered with I'll health. I wish him well.

  2. I first remember him as Bingham and was surprised at how different a character Robin Tripp was. A tribute to his ability. So glad that he became a household name.

  3. Great article and very true about Richard a versatile actor and entertainer

  4. Great actor love the re runs of man about the house and Robins nest was brought up on these in the 70s wish him well

  5. Amazing actor, amazing career, totally agree

  6. Watching "Every Day's a Holiday" 1964 on Talking Pictures. Very funny, daft 60's musical.
    I miss our Richard O'Sullivan on our screens.
    I hope he is well as it possible. He has brought so many laughs into my life. A consummate actor, vastly underrated. Please send my love and fondest good wishes for his health. Janet Rice (59 yesterday) and still a silly girl! ❤

  7. Yes i too love to see Man about the house and all the other series with Richard O'Sullivan. Very talenten man he is for years and years .I wish him all my love for all the happy times he has given me. Thank you Richard, from Petra de Nijs from Amsterdam Netherlands