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Richard Attenborough


Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)
One of the most respected figures in the history of the British film industry, Richard Attenborough had an impressive career as both an actor and director.

Richard Samuel Attenborough was born in the cathedral city of Cambridge, England, on August 29th, 1923. His parents were Frederick Levi and Mary Attenborough. Frederick was a respected scholar, and Mary founded the Marriage Guidance Council. Richard Attenborough had two younger brothers. Brother David is a famous presenter of wildlife programmes on BBC TV, and Richard's other brother John worked in the motor trade.

Teenage Stardom

It was at Britain's Royal Academy of the Dramatic Art (RADA) that Richard Attenborough set his sights on becoming a professional actor. He was a familiar face in British movies before he was out of his teens, and his youthful looks meant that he convincingly portrayed teenage wannabe gangster Pinkie in 'Brighton Rock', while he was actually in his mid-20s.

Attenborough played a cowardly powder handler in the 1942 British classic, 'In Which We Serve', and it was to lead to his being cast in ignoble roles throughout the 1940s. Though often playing cowards, Attenborough wasn't in real life, and he served with the British Royal Air Force in World War Two.


Though sometimes a theatre actor, and someone who starred in the 'The Mousetrap', Richard Attenborough was principally known for his film work. At the end of the 1950s, and in the early 1960s, Attenborough was appearing in a diverse mix of movies, from comedy, including 'I'm All Right Jack (1959)', to heavy drama such as 'The Angry Silence (1960)'. In the latter, Attenborough delivered one of his most powerful roles, as Tom Curtis. Despite suffering intimidation, Curtis is a worker who refuses to strike. It is one of the most notable British films about intolerance ever made.

For the 1964 film, 'Guns at Batasi', Richard Attenborough won a Best Actor BAFTA for his portrayal of Regimental Sergeant Major Lauderdale. He also starred in the World War Two drama, 'The Great Escape (1963)', and the musical 'Doctor Dolittle (1967)'.

Directorial Debut

Richard Attenborough moved into directing for the first time in the late '60s, when directing the 1969 anti-war satire 'Oh! What a Lovely War'. By the 1970s, Attenborough's acting career was winding down, and he was focusing more on directing. He did, however, make a particularly chilling appearance as notorious murderer John Christie in '10 Rillington Place (1971)'. In the '70s, Attenborough directed three movies, 'Young Winston' - a biopic about the young Winston Churchill, the star studded 'A Bridge Too Far', and the dark film 'Magic', whose main star was a young Welsh actor called Anthony Hopkins.

Gandhi Triumph

In the early 1980s, Richard Attenborough set about making a film about the great Indian figure Mahatma Gandhi, which he eventually directed and produced. Released in 1982 and starring Ben Kingsley in the title role it won Attenborough an Oscar for Best Director, and the film also won the Oscar for Best Picture. Attenborough's career as a director went on to include the equally impressive anti-apartheid movie, 'Cry Freedom (1987)', the musical 'Chorus Line (1985)', the biopic 'Chaplin (1992)', and 'Shadowlands (1993)'. Richard Attenborough then renewed his acting career, when playing dinosaur theme park director and creator John Hammond in the first two 'Jurassic Park' movies in the1990s.

Despite a magnificent career in movies, Richard's world was shattered on Boxing Day, 2004, when his daughter Jane and granddaughter Lucy were killed by the Asian tsunami. Despite the tragedy, Richard Attenborough carried on being very busy, and he held many important positions, including President of RADA. Richard Attenborough's marriage to Sheila Sim (they married in 1945) produced two other children, Michael and Charlotte.

Richard Attenborough, who had been in declining health, passed away days before his 91st birthday on August 24th, 2014. Despite becoming a lord, Richard was still affectionately known as Dickie, and he really was the grand old man of British film. He was a giant of film, both in front of, and behind the camera. The word 'luvvie' was also probably inspired by Richard, who once, during a lively exchange with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, still couldn't resist calling her "darling"!

- Paul Rance/

The Angry Silence - Film Review Cry Freedom - Film Review

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