For millions of TV viewers, Ian Richardson was - and forever remains - Francis Urquhart (or, appropriately, 'FU') the Machiavellian politician in Andrew Davies' TV serializations of Michael Dobbs' trilogy of novels, House of Cards, To Play the King and The Final Cut.
Davies' teleplays gave Urquhart the catchphrase by which the character would be famous: "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment." And part of the genius of Richardson's performance was his delivery of those theatrical asides, so daring in television, tossed out directly to the audience who consequently become Urquhart's confidants or, more precisely, unwitting accomplices in his infamy.
It is altogether appropriate, therefore, that my friend (and frequent commenter on this blog) Sharon Mail should have entitled her book: We Could Possibly Comment - Ian Richardson Remembered...
Before the Urquhart years, Ian Richardson had spent a decade-and-a-half with the Royal Shakespeare Company where his performances in Cymbeline, Macbeth, Richard II, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night's Dream earned him recognition as one of the great classical actors of his age.
Then came a career in television: starring in dramas such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Private Schulz, Porterhouse Blue and Gormenghast as well as playing Sherlock Holmes (in The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles) and the man credited with being the inspiration for that character, Dr Joseph Bell, in Murder Rooms.
A wealth of anecdotes recount how Ian Richardson became the first actor to appear naked on the Broadway stage, met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shortly before her assassination (and gained an insight into her father's relationship with Lady Mountbatten), was almost ‘throttled’ by Johnny Depp and happened to bump into the spy, Kim Philby, while shopping for caviar in Moscow.
Drawing on a lengthy, previously unpublished, interview with Richardson and the reminiscences of more than fifty colleagues, friends and admirers, Sharon Mail's book paints a portrait of an actor who was not simply admired and respected as a consummate, highly gifted performer, but who was also deeply loved and revered as the most generous-hearted of men.
Contributors to We Could Possibly Comment include Sirs Ian McKellen and Peter Hall, Dames Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, John Sessions, Stacy Keach, Joanne Woodward, Brian Blessed and many other actors, writers, producers and directors with whom Richardson worked in his prolific career that ranged from the greatest roles written by the Bard to musical performances as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and as the Padre alongside Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren (and, here, between Julie Gregg and Rosalie Crutchley) in the film of Man of La Mancha...
There is even a contribution from Yours Truly remembering the first and last occasion on which I worked with this wonderfully talented performer on what was to be one of his final jobs before his death: a radio reading of my book, Shadowlands.
You can order a copy of the book here.
And here's a final reminder of the extent to which Francis Urquhart and Ian Richardson became part of the great British Public Conciousness...