Saturday 9 February 2008


The arrival, a few days ago, of a new German edition of my book Shadowlands, brought back memories of the late Ian Richardson who, only a few weeks before his death on the 9 February 2007, had completed a reading of the book for BBC Radio.

How swiftly unbridled time gallops away from us; and yet how strong a grip our frail hands keep on the reigns of memory.

The journalist and writer SHARON MAIL became a friend of Ian and his wife, Maroussia, and (as a result of correspondence following the Shadowlands broadcasts) she has since become a friend of mine.

Sharon is currently working on a book in celebration of Ian's life (with contributions from Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Alex Jennings, Donald Sinden, Peter Hall and other luminaries) and, in today's Guest Blog, Sharon offers this tribute to a great - and greatly-loved - actor...

Ian Richardson’s sudden death, a year ago today, came as a terrible shock to all who knew him. And yet, the fact that he died from heart failure should be no surprise. For Ian put his heart and soul into everything he did. As an actor, he gave his all in every performance, be it on stage or screen, in voice recording or recital.

He always did a vast amount of preparation, so that his performances in roles such as Francis Urquhart in House of Cards (left), Dr Joseph Bell in Murder Rooms, Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Nehru in Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy or Neuheim et al in Private Schulz seemed effortless.

On stage, his Frank Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Berowne in Love’s Labour Lost, Richard and Bolingbroke (alternating with Dickie Pasco) in Richard II and Klestakov in The Government Inspector are but a fraction of the parts he played which remain etched in the memories of those who saw them - commanding, daring and consummate on stage and yet often battling with nerves off it.

When you think of Ian Richardson you think of Francis Urquhart, a ruthless, calculating, heartless monster. And yet Ian’s own persona couldn’t have been more different.
He was a tremendously giving person - to his fellow actors and all those he worked with, to the fans who wrote to him and approached him outside stage doors, to his friends and to the wife and family he adored.

He was the most thoughtful, kind-hearted - and often funny - person many of us had the privilege to meet.
His loss is still keenly felt, but he has left us a tremendous legacy in the shape of his performances over the best part of five decades and fortunately many of his screen and audio recordings remain available today. His final recording, of Brian’s Shadowlands for Radio 2, was a beautiful, moving epitaph.

It will be impossible to forget him.

Ian Richardson
7 April 1934 – 9 February 2007

Tribute and photograph © Sharon Mail, 2008


Anonymous said...

Ever since I saw Ian in "The Last Viceroy" I kept watching for new works of his, and especially for any appearances on stage, which - alas - were too rare. The thing is I'm still watching...and the realization there will be no more is...well..unacceptable.
Sharon, you wrote - as usual - so beautifully, and really there is nothing else to say, except he is sorely missed by his admirers all over the world, and certainly by one here in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Ian Richardson was my Hot New Discovery of 1998, when PBS reran "House of Cards." Four years later, having bought or rented everything of his that I could get my American hands on (what moron came up with this "Region" business?), I decided I'd put off my first trip to England for far too long and went to see him in "The Hollow Crown."

Ian's F.U. was so compelling - well, for all that I knew better from fans and friends of his that I'd met online, as our first encounter approached (Sharon to thank for the invitation) I still half-expected to meet the intimidating Mr. Urquhart in Mr. Richardson's dressing room after the show. And what a sweet, gracious, friendly, funny, unpretentious, altogether lovely man Mr. Richardson turned out to be.

I've never written for a blog before, and at first I thought I'd try cannibalizing an old email or two - I've got some good Ian stories, though I barely knew him - but decided to fall back on a much better writer with an excerpt from the letter I sent him after that first "Hollow Crown": "[One of my favorite quotes], from 'Madame Bovary': 'And human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.' Most acting, like most writing, is kettle-tapping and dancing bears. But I heard some star-melting music in Stratford in July. Thank you so much, for everything."

Bela said...

Brian, I was hoping you would commemorate this sad anniversary on your blog. Thank you!

And thank you, too, to Sharon Mail for this lovely tribute. Can't wait to read her book.

I cherish my memories of Ian - the public and the personal ones. 'When you think of Ian Richardson you think of Francis Urquhart'. Not me. I think of Pericles, looking with frail on that big stage; I think of Richard II, looking like a beautiful golden bird ready to take flight; I think of Berowne and his breakneck and hilarious delivery; I think of Angelo pulling Isabella's hair in that terrible scene; I think of.... oh, too many memories...

I’m sure we all have stories of how he could mesmerize the audience and stories of his brilliant ad libbing. I once heard him, in Cymbeline, graciously thank the woman in the front row of the RST who had picked up Iachimo’s ring (essential to the plot), which he had accidentally dropped, and had placed it carefully – and rapidly – on the edge of the stage, without missing a beat in his long speech. It was a veritable tour de force that won him a round of applause. There were so many similar moments that took one’s breath away.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe it has already been a year since that terrible day. Ian was a brilliant actor and he had so much more to give. Thankfully there are recordings of some of the wonderful productions he did and of most of his work in film and television. He is badly missed - as an actor and as a friend.

Boll Weavil said...

As I'm not a great TV viewer, its hardly suprising that my memories of Ian Richardson come from a fantastic audiobook of 'Treasure Island' where he played every part.That recording was solely responsible for introducing me to something I would not have read and I have never come across a better version since.