It was an hour-long drama performed and directed to perfection, evoking laughter, summoning tears, combining mourning and celebrating in equal measure, in order to say farewell to a much loved and admired actor in the way only theatre people can...
We entered the church to a subtle organ arrangement (so subtle that most people would have missed it) of songs from My Fair Lady: a doubly appropriate welcome since Ian had acted and sung the role of Professor Henry Higgins and because St Paul’s is the church featured in the opening scene of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and under the portico of which Higgins loiters in order to eavesdrop on the gutter-English of Eliza Doolittle.
This was followed (unbilled in the order of service) by Ian’s voice as Richard II exhorting us, for god’s sake, to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…
“Ian loved memorial services,” said one of the actor’s sons, Miles Richardson, “He said it was an opportunity for all the old farts to get together!” Then, looking round the pews packed with names from the Who’s Who of British Theatre, he added, “Thank you for coming!”
There was a sterling rendition of ‘Jerusalem’ that would have gladdened the heart of every member of the Women’s Institute from whose ranks, one suspects, had come the considerable phalanx of female admirers that swelled the congregation.
There was a Robbie Burns song from Scottish soprano, Isobel Buchanan; Stephen Gray singing 'Blow, Northern Wind', a song Ian had sung in a production of Pericles; and there was a hilarious piece of comic nonsense from Sir Donald Sinden about watching a Noh Drama in Japan which - though Sir Donald forgot to mention it - was Ian's favourite joke!
There were readings by Dame Helen Mirren and Simon Russell Beale and reminiscences from composer Guy Wolfenden and the theatre equivalent of Zeus, Sir Peter Hall.
Sir Peter recalled seeing Ian act for the first time with the Birmingham Rep and of inviting him to join the newly founded RSC. He praised Ian's 'voice' and noted that "some actors think that to raise ones voice is unnatural!" Not a view with which PH has any truck: "I tell them, 'You are wearing somebody else's clothes, saying somebody else's words and sitting on somebody else's chair. What's natural about THAT?'"
In concluding what was the closest thing in the service to a eulogy, Sir Peter said that Ian had, in his work both as a classical actor and as a star of popular television dramas, provided “hours and hours not of truth, but of credibility”.
Richard Pasco then read Shakespeare's poem 'Fear no more...' from Cymbeline:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,Lines that were aptly followed by Geoffrey Burgon’s famous setting of ‘Nunc Dimittis’ in the version used as the closing music to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (in which Ian had played the ‘Tailor’) with St Paul’s Cathedral chorister, Paul Phoenix piping Simeon's prayer, "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace..."
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o' the great;
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownéd be thy grave!
After which it was left to Sir Derek Jacobi to deliver the curtain speech in the form of Prospero's final perorartion from The Tempest:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
There are two more episodes of Ian Richardson’s reading of my book Shadowlands still to be broadcast on BBC Radio (88-90.2 FM) this and next Friday evening at 21.15.
Last week - for the second time - Radio Times chose Shadowlands as its ‘Pick of the Day’, calling it “a rare and poignant piece of radio.” And that is a tribute solely to the performance of the reader who posessed one of the great voices of our age...