March 19, 1979: Porridge actor Richard Beckinsale dies suddenly, aged 31

Richard Beckinsale, father of Kate and star of hit TV shows Rising Damp and Porridge, died in his sleep on this day in 1979.

The world of British entertainment fell into mourning on this day in 1979 when it was announced that Richard Beckinsale, the much-loved comedy actor, had died in his sleep aged just 31.

The TV star was killed by a massive heart attack suffered during the night, which he spent alone in his Berkshire home. His second wife, actress Judy Loe, was in hospital awaiting an operation, and their 5-year-old daughter Kate was staying with relatives.

Beckinsale had become a popular and recognisable figure over the course of the preceding decade – not least for playing regular characters in two of television’s most highly-regarded and successful sitcoms at the same time.

[September 14, 1982: Hollywood star turned princess Grace Kelly dies after Riviera car crash]

Alongside Ronnie Barker’s lead character Norman Fletcher in the BBC’s Porridge, Beckinsale played the wet-behind-the-ears first-time convict Lennie Godber with naïve charm, often acting as the moral compass that steered the escapades of the conniving old lag, Fletch.

In Yorkshire TV’s Rising Damp, he was equally appealing as amiable but socially awkward medical student Alan Moore, staying in a bedsit in a run-down house owned by the miserly and over-inquisitive Rigsby – memorably played by Leonard Rossiter.

For a while the two shows were running concurrently on opposing channels. Then, in 1977, Porridge ended (to be followed by its sequel, Going Straight) and Beckinsale decided to leave Rising Damp while the show was at its height.

When Going Straight was awarded the Best Situation Comedy award by Bafta three days after Beckinsale’s death, a clearly emotional Ronnie Barker would give a speech full of praise for his co-star and friend.