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Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, CBE (born 29 August 1923) is an English actor, director, producer, and entrepreneur. Attenborough has won two Academy Awards, four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes. He is the elder brother of naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough.

Early life

Attenborough was born in Cambridgemarker, England, the son of Mary Attenborough (nee Clegg) a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a don at Emmanuel College, Cambridgemarker and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boysmarker in Leicestermarker and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). During the Second World War Attenborough served in the Royal Air Force.

Acting career

Attenborough's film career began in 1942 as a deserting sailor in In Which We Serve, a role which would help to type-cast him for many years as spivs or cowards in films like London Belongs to Me (1948), Morning Departure (1950), and his breakthrough role as a psychopathic young gangster in the film of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock (1947).Attenborough worked prolifically in British films for the next thirty years, and in the 1950s appeared in several successful comedies for John and Roy Boulting, including Private's Progress (1956) and I'm All Right Jack (1959). Early in his stage career, Attenborough starred in the London West Endmarker production of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which went on to become one of the world's longest running stage productions. Both he and his wife were among the original cast members of the production, which opened in 1952 and as of 2009 is still running.

In the 1960s, he expanded his range of character roles in films such as Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). In 1963 he appeared in the ensemble cast of The Great Escape, as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett ("Big X"), the head of the escape committee. It was his first appearance in a major Hollywood film blockbuster, and his most successful film up to that time.

In 1967 and 1968, he won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor, the first time for The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen, and the second time for Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. He would win another Golden Globe for Best Director, for Gandhi, in 1983. Six years prior to Gandhi he played the ruthless General Outram in Indian director Satyajit Ray's period piece The Chess Players. He has never been nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category.

He took no acting roles following his appearance in Otto Preminger's version of The Human Factor in 1979, until his appearance as the eccentric developer John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park in 1993. The following year he starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street as Kris Kringle. Since then he has made occasional appearances in supporting roles including the 1998 historical drama Elizabeth as Sir William Cecil.

Producer and director

Attenborough in 1983
In the late 1950s, Attenborough formed a production company, Beaver Films, with Bryan Forbes and began to build a profile as a producer on projects including The League of Gentlemen (1959), The Angry Silence (1960) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961), also appearing in the first two of these as an actor.

His feature film directorial debut was the all-star screen version of the hit musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), and his acting appearances became more sporadic - the most notable being his portrayal of serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971). He later directed two epic period films: Young Winston (1972), based on the early life of Winston Churchill, and A Bridge Too Far (1977), an all-star account of Operation Market Garden in World War II. He won the 1982 Academy Award for Directing for his historical epic, Gandhi, a project he had been attempting to get made for many years. As the film's producer, he also won the Academy Award for Best Picture. His most recent films as director and producer include Chaplin (1992) starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Charlie Chaplin and Shadowlands (1993), based on the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. The star of the latter was Anthony Hopkins, who also appeared in three other films for Attenborough: Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far and the thriller Magic (1978).

Attenborough also directed the screen version of the musical A Chorus Line (1985); and the apartheid drama Cry Freedom based on the life and death in police custody of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the experiences of Donald Woods. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for both films.

Corporate appointments

Lord Attenborough also heads a committee awarding the eponymous Attenborough Prize, a £2000 annual arts prize celebrating creativity by emerging artists. The Attenborough Prize is awarded to the best contemporary visual artist among a shortlist of six artists presented to Lord Attenborough. The most recent (2007) Prize was awarded to Choterina Freer.

Current projects

Chancellor of the University of Sussex
Attenborough has been in Belfastmarker, Northern Irelandmarker filming his latest film, Closing the Ring, set in Belfast during the Second World War.

Attenborough is also the patron of the UWC movement (United World Colleges) whereby he continually contributes greatly to the colleges that are part of the organisation. He has frequented the United World College of Southern Africa (UWCSA) Waterford Kamhlabamarker. His wife and he founded the Richard and Sheila Attenborough Visual Arts Centre. He also founded the Jane Holland Creative Centre for Learning at Waterford Kamhlaba in Swazilandmarker in memory of his daughter who died in the tsunami on 26 December 2004marker. He passionately believes in education, primarily education that does not judge upon colour, race, creed or religion. His attachment to Waterford is his passion for non-racial education, which were the grounds on which Waterford Kamhlaba was founded. Waterford was one of his inspirations for directing the Cry Freedom motion picture based on the life of Steve Biko.

He was elected to the post of Chancellor of the University of Sussexmarker on 20 March 1998, replacing the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. He stood down as Chancellor of the University following Graduation in July 2008. There now hangs a 42 inch by 46 inch portrait of him in the University's library.

A lifelong supporter of Chelsea Football Club, Attenborough served as a director of the club from 1969-1982 and since 1993 has held the honorary position of Life Vice President.

He is also the head of the consortium "Dragon International", which are currently constructing a film and television studio complex in Bryncae near Llantrisant, Wales, often referred to as "Valleywood."


In 1967, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was knighted in 1976 and in 1993 he was made a life peer as Baron Attenborough, of Richmond upon Thamesmarker in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thamesmarker.

On 13 July 2006, Attenborough, along with his brother David, were awarded the titles of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicestermarker "in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University".

On 20 November 2008, Attenborough was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Drama from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow.

Lord Attenborough is also listed as an Honorary Fellow of Bangor Universitymarker for his continued efforts to film making.

Personal life

Attenborough has been married to English actress Sheila Sim since 1945. Since 1951 he has lived in a house on Richmond Greenmarker; his wife became a local JP. They had three children. On December 26, 2004 his elder daughter, Jane Holland, as well as her daughter, Lucy, and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker. A memorial service was held on 8 March 2005, and Attenborough read a lesson at the national memorial service on 11 May 2005. His grandson Samuel Holland and granddaughter Alice Holland also read in the service. A commemorative plaque has been placed in the floor of St Mary Magdeline's Parish church in Richmond.

As well as his daughter Jane, Attenborough has two other children, Michael John and Charlotte, an actress. Michael John Attenborough is Creative Director of the Almeida Theatre, London, married to actress Karen Lewis and has two sons. Attenborough has six grandchildren, five grandsons and one granddaughter, Alice (Lucy d. 2004).

Attenborough's father was principal of University College, Leicestermarker, now the city's university. This has resulted in a long association with the university, with Lord Attenborough a patron. The university's Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts[753902], which opened in 1997, is named in his honour.His son, Michael Attenborough, is also a director. He has two younger brothers, the world famous naturalist Sir David Attenborough; and John Attenborough, who has made a career in the motor trade.

He has collected Picasso ceramics since the 1950s. More than 100 items went on display at the New Walk Museummarker and Art Gallery in Leicester in 2007; the exhibition is dedicated to his family members lost in the tsunami.

In 2008 he published in association with his long standing associate, Diana Hawkins, an informal autobiography, Entirely Up to You, Darling.

In August 2008 Attenborough was hospitalised with heart problems, and was fitted with a pacemaker. In December 2008 he suffered a fall at his home and was admitted to St George's Hospital in Tootingmarker, South West London. He went into a coma, but came out of it within a few days.


Year Title Credited as
Producer Director Actor Role
1942 In Which We Serve Young Stoker
1943 Schweik's New Adventures Railway worker
1944 The Hundred Pound Window Tommy Draper
1946 Journey Together David Wilton
A Matter of Life and Death An English pilot
School for Secrets Jack Arnold
1947 Brighton Rock Pinkie Brown
The Man Within Francis Andrews
Dancing with Crime Ted Peters
1948 London Belongs to Me Percy Boon
The Guinea Pig Jack Read
1949 The Lost People Jan
Boys in Brown Jackie Knowles
1950 Morning Departure Stoker Snipe
1951 The Magic Box Jack Carter
Hell is Sold Out Pierre Bonnet
1952 Father's Doing Fine Dougall
Eight O’Clock Walk Thomas "Tom" Leslie Manning
Gift Horse Dripper Daniels
1955 The Ship That Died of Shame George Hoskins
1956 Private's Progress Pvt. Percival Henry Cox
The Baby and the Battleship Knocker White
1957 The Scamp Stephen Leigh
Brothers in Law Henry Marshall
1958 Dunkirk John Holden
The Man Upstairs Peter Watson
Sea of Sand Brody
1959 The League of Gentlemen Lexy
I'm All Right Jack Sidney De Vere Cox
Danger Within Capt. "Bunter" Phillips
Jet Storm Ernest Tiller
SOS Pacific Whitney Mullen
1960 The Angry Silence Tom Curtis
1961 Whistle Down the Wind
1962 Only Two Can Play Probert
The L-Shaped Room
Trial and Error Herbert Fowle
1963 The Great Escape Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett
1964 The Third Secret Alfred Price-Gorham
Seance on a Wet Afternoon Billy Savage
Guns at Batasi Regimental Sgt. Major Lauderdale
1965 The Flight of the Phoenix Lew Moran
1966 The Sand Pebbles Frenchy Burgoyne
1967 Doctor Dolittle Albert Blossom
1968 Only When I Larf Silas
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Robert Blossom
1969 The Magic Christian Oxford coach
Oh! What A Lovely War
1970 Loot Inspector Truscott
The Last Grenade Gen. Charles Whiteley
A Severed Head Palmer Anderson
1971 10 Rillington Place John Reginald Christie
1972 Cup Glory Narrator
Young Winston
1974 And Then There Were None Judge Arthur Cannon
1975 Rosebud Edward Sloat
Brannigan Cmdr. Charles Swann
Conduct Unbecoming Maj. Lionel E. Roach
1977 Shatranj Ke Khiladi General Outram
A Bridge Too Far Lunatic wearing glasses
1978 Magic
1979 The Human Factor Col. John Daintry
1982 Gandhi
1985 A Chorus Line
1987 Cry Freedom
1992 Chaplin
1993 Jurassic Park Dr. John Hammond
1994 Miracle on 34th Street Kris Kringle
1996 Hamlet English Ambassador to Denmark
In Love and War
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Dr. John Hammond
1998 Elizabeth William Cecil
1999 Grey Owl
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Jacob
2002 Puckoon Writer-director
2007 Closing the Ring

Titles and Honours

  • Mr Richard Attenborough (1923–1967)
  • Mr Richard Attenborough, CBE (1967–1976)
  • Sir Richard Attenborough, CBE (1976–1993)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Attenborough, CBE (1993–)


  1. Richard Attenborough Biography (1923-)
  2. Richard Attenborough Biography - Yahoo! Movies
  3. Lord Attenborough steps down as Sussex University chancellor
  4. [1]
  5. Burke's Peerage - Preview Family Record
  6. University of Leicester - Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Honorary Fellowships Announced by University of Leicester
  7. News from India
  8. Lord Attenborough, Honorary Fellow, Bangor University
  10. Leicester City Council
  11. Richard Attenborough's Picasso ceramics - Times Online

External links

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