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Ian William Richardson CBE (7 April 1934 9 February 2007) was a Scottishmarker actor best known for his portrayal of the Machiavellian Tory politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy. He was also a leading Shakespearian stage actor.

Early life

Richardson was born in Edinburghmarker, the son of Margaret (née Drummond) and John Richardson. He was educated at Balgreenmarker Primary School and Tynecastle High Schoolmarker in the city, prior to training at the College of Dramatic Arts in Glasgow. After a period at the Birmingham Repertory Theatremarker (at what is now the Old Repmarker), he subsequently appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), of which he was a founding member, from 1960 to 1975.

Stage work

Richardson's claim to greatness lies in his stage performances. His first engagement after training was with Birmingham Repertory Theatremarker, where his performance of Hamlet led to an offer of a place with the RSC. He was a versatile member of the company for more than fifteen years, playing villainy, comedy and tragedy to equal effect. He was The Herald in Peter Brook's production of Marat/Sade in London and on Broadway in 1964 and played Jean-Paul Marat in the 1967 film version. In the 1969 season his rôles included Pericles in Terry Hands's production.

In 1972, he appeared in the musical Trelawney, with which the Bristol Old Vic reopened after its refurbishment, and which, having proved a great success, transferred to London, first to Sadler's Wellsmarker and later to The Savoymarker. Richardson played the hero, Tom Wrench, a small-part player who wants to write about "real people". He had a song, "Walking On", lamenting his lack of scope in the company, in which he explains that as a "walking gentleman" he will be forever "walking on", whilst Rose Trelawney will go on to be a star. In 1974, he played Iachimo in John Barton's RSC production of Cymbeline. In the seventies he performed a reading of Nevil Shute's Requiem for a Wren which was produced by "David Shute" at the BBC's Pebble Mill studiosmarker.

It was, however, for Shakespeare's great historical roles that Richardson is chiefly remembered. His Richard II (alternating the parts of the king and Bolingbroke with Richard Pasco) in 1974, and repeated in New York and London in the following year, set a standard unequalled for a generation: more than thirty years later notable performances of King Richard were still being compared with the production.

On leaving the RSC, he played Professor Henry Higgins in the 1976 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady and received a Tony nomination. He also appeared on Broadway in 1981 in the original production of Edward Albee's play Lolita, an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's book, but this is not regarded as having been a success.

In 2002 Richardson joined Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Donald Sinden and Dame Diana Rigg in an international tour of The Hollow Crown. A Canadian tour substituted Alan Howard for Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave for Rigg. He also appeared in The Creeper by Pauline Macaulay at the Playhouse Theatre in London, and on tour. His last stage appearance was in 2006 as Sir Epicure Mammon in The Alchemist at the National Theatre in London.

Films

He played one musical role on film - the Priest in Man of La Mancha, the 1972 screen version of the hit Broadway musical. In 1987, he played a variation on this role, when he portrayed the Bishop of Motopo in the non-musical telefilm Monsignor Quixote, based on Graham Greene's modernized take on the Quixote story.

He made many film appearances, including Brazil (1985), Dark City (1998), Polonius in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), Martin Landau's butler in the Halle Berry film B*A*P*S (1997), Cruella de Vil's solicitor, Mr. Torte, in the live action movie 102 Dalmatians (2000) and From Hell (2001). He also played the Judge in the family-based 2005 film, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby. His final film appearance was as Judge Langlois in Becoming Jane, released shortly after his death.

Television

During his career Richardson gave many memorable television performances. Though certainly not unknown before taking the part, his first major role was his appearance as Bill Haydon ("Tailor") in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). In the 1980s he became well-known as Major Neuheim in the award-winning Private Schulz, and more notably Sir Godber Evans in Channel 4's adaptation of Porterhouse Blue. He also played Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1986 television show, Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy.

Richardson's most famous and most acclaimed television role was as Machiavellian politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC adaptation of Michael Dobbs's House of Cards trilogy. He won the BAFTA Best Television Actor Award for his portrayal in the first series, House of Cards (1990), and was nominated for both of the sequels To Play the King (1993) and The Final Cut (1995). He also received another BAFTA film nomination for his role as Falkland Islands governor Sir Rex Hunt in the 1992 film An Ungentlemanly Act, and played another corrupt politician, Michael Spearpoint, British Director of the European Economic Community in the ambitious satirical series The Gravy Train and The Gravy Train Goes East. He narrated the 1996 BBC docudrama A Royal Scandal.

In 1999, he became known to a young audience as the titular character Stephen Tyler in both series of the family drama The Magician's House (1999-2000). Following this he played Lord Groan in the major BBC production Gormenghast (2000), and later that year he starred in the BBC production Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000-2001) (also screened in PBS's Mystery! series in the US), playing Arthur Conan Doyle's mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, a role he welcomed as an opportunity to play a character from his native Edinburghmarker. He had earlier played Sherlock Holmes in two 1980s television versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. In 2003 he once more returned to fantasy in the recurring role of the villainous Canon Black in the short-lived BBC cult series Strange.

In 2005, he took on the role of a curiously detached Chancellor in the highly successful TV drama Bleak House. In that year he appeared in ITV's main Christmas drama The Booze Cruise 2, playing Marcus Foster, a slimy upper class businessman forced to spend time with "the lower classes". He returned to this role for a sequel the following Easter. In June 2006 he was made an honorary Doctor of the University of Stirling. The honour was conferred on him by the university's chancellor, fellow actor Dame Diana Rigg. In December 2006, Richardson starred in Sky One's two-part adaptation of the Terry Pratchett novel Hogfather. He voiced the main character of the novel, Death, who steps in to take over the role of the Father Christmas-like Hogfather. The DVD of that miniseries, released shortly after his death, opens with a dedication to his memory.

He was also familiar to American television viewers as the man in the Rolls-Royce who asks "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" in the commercials for Grey Poupon Dijonmarker mustard. During the last fifteen years of his life Richardson appeared five times on television acting opposite his son, Miles Richardson, though this was usually with one or other in a minor role. In ITV's Marple, an uncredited Miles played Ian Richardson's son.

Death

Ian Richardson died in his sleep of a heart attack on the morning of 9 February 2007, aged 72. According to his agent, he had not been ill and had in fact been due to start filming an episode of Midsomer Murders the following week. He was survived by his wife, Maroussia Frank, an actress, and two sons, one of whom, Miles, is an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His widow and his son Miles placed his ashes in the foundations of the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatremarker in Stratford during its renovations in 2008.

Dame Helen Mirren dedicated her 2006 Best Actress BAFTA award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen to Ian Richardson. In her acceptance speech, she said that without his support early in her career she might not have been so successful.

Honours

He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989.

References

  1. Ian Richardson Biography (1934-)
  2. Best of British
  3. Mirren dedicates award to late 'mentor' Ian Richardson. Report from "PR insider" retrieved on 12 February 2007.


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