8 December 1930 - 11 February 2005
Poacher-turned-gamekeeper Seth Armstrong had become one of Emmerdale's permanent fixtures since actor Stan Richards first appeared in 1978. His Barbour jacket, wellingtons, woolly hat and handlebar moustache were as much his trademarks as the bushy sideburns sported by former Woolpack landlord Amos Brearly were his.
'When I joined the programme, there were just seven regular members of the cast,' Stan recalls. '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.'
Seth has changed too. After the death of his wife Meg, he found new love with old flame Betty Eagleton. 'No one gets the better of Seth,' says Stan, 'but he's terrified of Betty! She loves him dearly, though - otherwise she wouldn't stick with him.
Stan was one of a number of soap stars who switched to acting after years working as a stand-up comic. Born Stanley Richardson in Barnsley, South Yorkshire on 8th December 1930, he started his working life as a Ministry of Labour clerk, but when he was transferred to London he hated the capital so much that he resigned. Returning to Yorkshire, Stan took a job in the accounts department of a firm that sold disinfectants and toilet rolls.
Having played the piano from the age of ten, Stan had been performing with dance bands in pubs and clubs during the evenings. He formed a comedy and musical quartet called Melody Maniacs when he was 21. 'We played all the clubs in Yorkshire,' says Stan, 'and we were a very successful act. Then I joined another lad, Frankie Newton, who played the drums, 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-mens clubs.
'I was building up a good reputation when the BBC rang me and asked whether I would be interested in acting in The Price of Coal, which was being directed by Ken Loach. This acclaimed 1977 Play for Today cast Stan as a friend of the lead character, played by Bobby Knutt, who, almost 20 years later, joined Emmerdale as Albert Dingle. 'It was a two part play,' recalls Stan, 'and we were both miners. I was killed in the second play in a pit explosion and Bobby was badly injured when he got buried under the coal.
As a result of doing that, I got an agent and finished up doing all sorts of things on television.' Stan appeared in series such as The Cuckoo Waltz, Crown Court and Last of the Summer Wine. He has also played a pig farmer in All Creatures Great and Small and Councillor Stokes briefly in Coronation Street - buying a second-hand china cabinet from Betty Turpin and mistakenly thinking she was having an affair with Alf Roberts.He took roles in the films Yanks and Agatha.
Then came the part of Seth Armstrong in Emmerdale Farm, whose reputation as the wiliest poacher in the area inspired NY Estates to employ him as gamekeeper, with the result that there was a sudden decrease in illegal activities. Originally cast for one month Stan was destined to be Emmerdale's longest serving cast member, with over 27 years service at the time of his death.
In 1995, Stan broke his leg while getting out of his son's car which left him with steel plates in his leg, but he insisted on returning to Emmerdale eight weeks later, before he had fully recovered. He arrived at the studios in a wheelchair and was perched on a bar stool for scenes in Seth's favourite abode, The Woolpack.
He had suffered from lung problems, including emphysema, for some time and had been in and out of hospital. In 2003 he spent three months in hospital recovering from a collapsed lung.
Also in 2003, he celebrated 25 years on the show. At the time he said: "I have enjoyed every single minute of it. It's been 25 years of fun."
Stan's last appearance was on Christmas Eve 2004 after a 15-month absence, sending a Christmas message from Australia to his partner Betty Eagleton, played by Paula Tilbrook.
Stan loved to meet his fans and regulally attended the annual Emmerdale Club Gala Dinner where he would chat to anyone and everyone, young and old, signing autographs and posing for photographs. 2005 was no exception as he surprised us all by attending at what was possibly his last public appearance.
Stan passed away in his sleep on Friday 11th February 2005, at home in Barnsley. He was with members of his family.
Stan is survived by five children - his youngest son died in a road accident in 2002 aged 36. He lost Susannah, his wife of more than 40 years in 1994.
IMDB Entry for: Stan Richards
2004 Interview for 'Retired Magazines'.
Seth hits silver for popular Stan
By Graham Smith
It’s 25 years since Seth Armstrong first appeared on our TV screens in Emmerdale. Actor Stan Richards has made him one of the best loved soap favourites in the land, but back in May 1978 he originally came for a month!
“ I think I might have got the job,” joked Stan who regards the cast and crew of Emmerdale as his “family” and vowed to stay for as long as they want him.
His Seth hat has become as famous as an Ena Sharples hairnet. He’s instantly recognisable with the permanent twinkle in his eye and a moustache you could hide a dozen poachers in, and while he tells me that he’s nothing like Seth really, to me he will always be the poacher turned gamekeeper turned Internet surfer.
Stan still lives not far from the Yorkshire mining village near Barnsley where he was born and can often be spotted learning his lines there, not over a foaming pint as you might expect but with a nip of something stronger.
“I don’t drink beer, I’m a whiskey man,” he tells me. How does he get away with that on set?
“It’s easy,” he laughs, “You watch and I’m either just finishing one or just ordering one.”
Seth first hit Emmerdale, or Emmerdale Farm as it was then, as the village odd job man.
“He’d sweep the car park in front of The Woolpack, dig graves for the vicar, in fact anything I could turn my hand to, and doing a bit of poaching,” says Stan, “Then when there was a vacancy for a gamekeeper at what was then NY Estates, they gave me the job to stop me poaching. I was doing more damage to them than any other poacher in the area.”
Seth epitomises the loveable rogue. Now retired he lives relatively quietly with his Betty, played by Paula Tilbrook, but they have their moments. Remember Betty on the Internet, courtesy of Seth’s web cam? It’s a wonder she did part him from his cap, his breath and his body when she found out about that one, and you can bet your life there will be more scrapes in store.
“But he’s a kind man really, especially with the youngsters in the village,” says Stan, “He’s a popular character because everyone knows they are in for a laugh if Seth is knocking around.”
Stan has come a long way since his early career as a dance band pianist in the clubs. He still plays for his own amusement but you can tell that he is rather grateful that Seth came into his life and a month’s work turned into 25 years as an institution.
And Seth’s recently become a pin up for the Wrens on the Ark Royal!
“ I met one of them at Christmas and was told that they all enjoy watching Seth, so now they have his photograph pinned up in their mess,” he tells me with a twinkle in his eye “It’s quite a privilege but there is a snag to it. The sailors on HMS Ocean, another aircraft carrier, have me as their pin up as well. I’m not too sure about the sailors.”
Seth has had some scrapes over the years and remembers them all fondly.
“ I remember the two-way radio stunt with Turner. He gave me a walkie talkie, the fool, and he was on the other end,” recalls Stan, “I had him running all over Yorkshire looking for me and I was sitting in The Woolpack which was where he caught me in the end.
“The I had a horse called Samson and I tarted it up with flashing lights and things and took him out in the middle of the night and everyone thought it was The Beast of Beckindale and frightened all the youngsters to death.
“Seth, who was penniless, spent about £15,000 on lights for the horse.”
The characters of Stan and Seth are as different as cheese and chalk.
Stan says: “The only thing we have in common is a sense of humour and fun. I don’t go down to the woods, I don’t gamble and I don’t like beer.”
He recalls the time he joined the programme. There were just seven people in the cast and now there is upwards of 50.
“I like to think everyone is my favourite but there are certain people I’ve done some good stuff with,” recalls Stan, “Clare King who played Kim Tate I particularly enjoyed working with. A very good actress. Seth was the only person in the village who actually liked her and before she left we had a wonderful scene when she came and told him.”
Stan had no formal acting training and was “discovered” by Ken Loach doing two plays for the BBC called “The Price of Coal” in which he played a miner. From there he went on and acquired an agent and did Coronation Street, All Creatures Great and Small, Last of The Summer Wine and Crown Court.
“I was a witness in Crown Court and the judge nearly gave me two years for being obstructive, it was hilarious,” said Stan.
I suspect there is much more to come from Seth.
“ While ever I am fit and they want me I shall stay with it,” says Stan, “It’s a way of life now and this is my family. I am the godfather of the programme now. No one has ever done 25 years in this, in fact no one has done 25 years in a British soap outside of Coronation Street.”
Will he be putting Betty on the Internet again I wonder.
“ I doubt it,” says Stan, “He nearly lost her. The truth is I don’t know how to switch an abacus on let alone a computer!”
Stan admits to slowing down due to emphysema and steel plates in his leg following an accident a few years ago.
“ I will just keep going for as long as they want me,” he says.
After 25 glorious years of Seth the public has certainly proved they want him and as I leave him the twinkle in the eye is as mischievous as ever. But now it’s a silver twinkle from an actor whose public think he is pure gold.
© Graham Smith
Stan was born and grew up in Barnsley and started out as a pub pianist at the age of 15 before later playing professionally with many bands, in addition to performing as a stand-up comedian. A great fan of classical music, Stan also worked as a civil servant in accounts and wages offices.
Stan worked on six episodes of Coronation Street before he first appeared in Emmerdale on 17 May 1978. He was initially offered four weeks work as the ‘gentleman-poacher’ Seth Armstrong. In 2003 he celebrated 25 years on the show thus making him the longest serving soap actor in Britain outside of Coronation Street. He was quoted as saying “I have enjoyed every single minute of it. It’s been 25 years of fun”.
Stan appeared very briefly in the film Agatha alongside Dustin Hoffman as well as other television shows including Last of the Summer Wine and All Creatures Great and Small.
In 2003 Stan spent three months in hospital following a collapsed lung and took a break from Emmerdale to convalesce.
His last appearance in the show was on Christmas Eve 2004 after a 15-month absence, when Seth was seen sending a recorded Christmas message from Australia to his partner Betty Eagleton, played by Paula Tilbrook.
After filming the scene late last year he said “It was fantastic to be back and has done me the world of good. It’s been wonderful to catch-up with all my old friends and receive such a warm welcome back.”
Co-star Paula Tilbrook says “Stan was a completely irreplaceable and unique character. I had the pleasure of working with him for 11 years. I will remember the laughter.”
Tim Fee, Line
Producer, Emmerdale says “This is a tragic loss
and we are all deeply saddened. Stan will be greatly missed by everyone
who has worked with him on Emmerdale during the past 27 years. He was
an asset to the show and a hugely popular and well-respected member
of the cast, Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
© 2005 Bill Sands & www.emmerdale.org. These pages have been especially put together by Bill Sands out of respect to Stan Richards