Richard had ambitions to be an actor from an early age but began his career working in his father’s shoe business. His father eventually sacked him for continual bad time-keeping, and Richard went from performing in amateur dramatics to training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Richard's first screen role was in the 1949 film Melody in the Dark. This was followed in 1955 by appearances in The Dambusters and then TV comedy Life with the Lyons. From 1959 to 1961 he had a lead role in early soap opera Emergency: Ward 10 which in turn led to a starring role in spin-off series Call Oxbridge 2000. Among his other television roles, Richard appeared in 1971's A Family at War, Crossroads (1973 – 1975), and The Cedar Tree (1978). He also appeared in comedies such as Thirty Minutes Worth (1972) and And Mother Makes Three (1973). His final role before joining Emmerdale Farm was in a 1982 episode of Strangers.
On stage, Richard appeared in Person Unknown in Bath (1964 – 1965) as well as West End productions of Murder at the Vicarage (1977) (in the lead role) and Moving (1980 – 1981), although he admitted to not enjoying theatre, telling Anthony Howard for The Emmerdale Companion: “I don’t like doing the same thing night after night. I have the most appalling stage fright. I get sick.”
Richard joined the cast of Emmerdale Farm on his 50th birthday, appearing on screen from EF0722 on 18 March 1982. Initially he was signed up for a six month stint to wind up the NY Estates storyline, but after building up a rapport with STAN RICHARDS, the producers decided to sign him up on a more permanent basis. In an interview published in Inside Soap in August 2000, Richard spoke about how the show had changed since he joined. "Things were a lot more character-led back then, but it worked as there weren't so many of us in the show and viewers knew each character really well. We didn't need one-hour specials and lots of sex. I appreciate that Emmerdale has to move with the times, but I liked it the way it was. It was unique, whereas now we're more like EastEnders in Wellington boots!"
In 1994, Richard was the star of This Is Your Life, transmitted on 13 July. At the after show party Richard suffered a heart attack which left him in intensive care for three days. Very soon after he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia, a moment he admitted was "terrifying". He cited these events as making him less ambitious but reflected that it was probably a good thing: "I've watched new characters, like the Dingles, step into the spotlight while Alan's taken more of a back seat. If that had happened before my heart attack, I would have resented it. But I think Alan still has a valid role to play in Emmerdale - the villagers now see him as a kind of father figure." Richard's cancer didn't develop but didn't go into remission either, which meant he got tired very easily, but he refused to let illness get him down.
From 2007 Richard's health began to decline and he began taking lengthy breaks, most notably from summer 2009 until March 2010, during which time he had his right knee replaced. Richard was interviewed for TV listings magazine Radio Times in 2010, where he remarked on why he had been in the show so long. "I ought to have regrets about staying, but I'm the laziest human being alive so I don't." He also claimed that: "There was no point in me moving on because I wasn't good enough!" Although happy to stay in the show, he was less happy with the amount of work he was given: "I would hate to leave, but I wish they'd find more for me to do. Recently I went to a cast meeting and a lot of people there had no idea who I was. Perhaps they thought I'd stumbled in off the street." Later that year he decided to sell his home of thirteen years in Wales to move nearer to the Leeds studios, telling Wales on Sunday: "I'm getting on a bit and it is a hell of a long drive to work. It didn't matter when I was doing a lot of work and I would stay for a few days, but I find myself doing a 150-mile trip to do one scene and then coming all the way back again. It's exhausting at my age. Emmerdale has been very good to me and has renewed my contracts for years, but they have not got as much work for me these days - I'm more like the village memorial now than an active character."
Following the announcement of his death on 22 May 2013, new producer KATE OATES said: "Richard's death is a sad loss to Emmerdale, of which he was at the heart for so many wonderful years. Richard had a brilliant sense of humour and he will be missed by every single member of our production whose lives he touched." Richard was buried in a private ceremony on 4 June, which was also the day his final scene, during 06569, was transmitted. Both this and the following episode, shown together in a one hour slot, were dedicated to him. Due to technical issues that resulted in many viewers across the country watching on certain platforms being unable to watch the original broadcast, the episodes were repeated again after the news at 10:35pm with the closing dedication also repeated.
In his 2000 interview, Richard cited Alan's 1997 romance storyline with Jo Steadman as his favourite. "This beautiful blonde in black leathers, played by the fantastic actress JULIE PEASGOOD, roared into Alan's life on a Harley-Davidson. I was in absolute heaven." Earlier producer MORAG BAIN was always happy to receive ideas from cast members, and Richard - a Harley Davidson owner himself (he was seen riding one in a 1990 episode of Stargazers) - had suggested they do a biker story, as he felt bikers in general had an awful reputation. Richard was always hopeful that the producers would get Julie back in the show again. His friend CHRISTOPHER CHITTELL - who has now become the current longest serving actor - spoke fondly about Richard to Peter Levy on BBC Radio Humberside the day after his passing, and revealed he was also keen for the producers to bring back LORRAINE CHASE who played his daughter, Steph Stokes, and also revealed that ITV had been about to produce a documentary on Richard.
A lover of good food and wine, Richard co-owned a wine business during the sixties and seventies. Although Richard - who married (and divorced) three times and had four children - had no plans to leave Emmerdale, he hoped to eventually retire back to Wales.