Friday, 9 February 2007

Obituary: Ian Richardson

With his threatening, sardonic look and his cut-glass accent, Ian Richardson became a household name in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy.
As the Machiavellian Prime Minister, Francis Urquart, his line "You might well say that but I couldn't possibly comment", became something of a catchphrase when the series was broadcast in the 1990s.

By now, Richardson had become well-known for playing upper-crust types, most notably as Bill Haydon in the BBC adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Yet, he was born in Scotland to a working-class family with no acting tradition.

It was during Richardson's own National Service in the 1950s that his now familiar delivery was first honed. After a spell with the Army's Special Investigations Branch, the military equivalent of the CID, he transferred to Forces radio where he became an announcer.

When he returned to Edinburgh with his plummy accent, he found it difficult to fit in. He once said: "You were alright in Edinburgh so long as you stayed within the bounds of your own social status."

A chance encounter with an actress, Nancy Mitchell, led to a successful audition at Glasgow's College of Dramatic Art. Asked why he wanted to become an actor, he replied "Because I can conceive of no other career I could possibly exist in."

By 1958, Richardson had joined the Birmingham Repertory Company where he was chosen to replace Albert Finney.

Two years later, he was recruited by Peter Hall for the company that was to become the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

It was the start of a 15-year association with the RSC at Stratford and the Aldwych Theatre in London, appearing in all its major productions including the title roles in Hamlet, Richard I and Richard II.

Richardson's other notable parts included Lord Groan in the BBC's adaptation of Gormenghast, and the movie From Hell with Johnny Depp.

He was last seen on TV at Christmas on Sky One as the narrator, the Voice of Death, in Hogfather, the Terry Pratchett work.

The actor was awarded a CBE in the 1989 New Year's Honours List.