Friday 15 May 2009


It's two years ago, today, since I attended the memorial service for Ian Richardson which makes it a good day to announce the forthcoming publication of a wonderfully engaging tribute to the life and work of this brilliantly talented and superbly entertaining actor.

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Drawing on a lengthy, previously unpublished, interview with Richardson and the reminiscences of more than fifty colleagues, friends and admirers, Sharon Mail's book paints a portrait of an actor who was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...


Arts and Crafts said...

One of the best of course. I usually remember him for Tinker Taylor, The man of la Mancha, House Cards... mainly his tv works of course, unfortunately the english theater is far for me.

Oh Brian, have patience, with this matters of health, prescriptions and doctor's opinions.. what can we do?, patience.

SharonM said...

Many thanks for that, Brian - great choice of clips too. I'll need to update my own blogsite, Storm in a G Cup to return the favour.
What Brian modestly hasn't mentioned is that as well as being a contributor, he has also provided invaluable support in coming up with ideas for re-shaping the book, copy editing and generally acting as a sounding board.
I wonder, when I get the final proof if I can add after his name, 'author, saint and owner of a very vulnerable groin'.

Brian Sibley said...

EUDORA - One of the great boons of film and TV is that they have preserved the performances of some of the greatest actors and actresses (as well as many other types of performer) of the 20th Century.

Often, sadly, their finest roles only exist in the memories of those who saw them on stage, but we are lucky to have anything surviving of their work. If only we could browse YouTube for clips of Henry Irving or Edmund Kean...

SHARON - * Oh, gawsh *

Good Dog said...

Has it been two years already? My goodness. It’s strange because I’ve seen him so many times since, whether it was rewatching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or the joyful Private Schultz.

Amongst the DVDs that came free with newspapers was The Fourth Protocol. It’s not a particularly brilliant movie, but entertaining nonetheless. When I’m at a loose I’ll put it on simply for the scene where Mr Richardson, backed by Michael Caine, confronts Anton Rodgers (who has been passing secrets to the Russians) with that wonderful mix of malevolence and charm. Proof once again that Mr Richardson never coasted in any role and helped improve even the slightest material considerably.

If there’s one thing that needs doing, 2 Entertain should really get their act together and bring out a respectable box set of Murder Rooms. (They are finally bringing out John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti in a few months so there’s always hope. Maybe they’ve realised people want the best of BBC drama rather than rancid old Doctor Who episodes).

SharonM said...

Yes, it would be good to have Murder Rooms re-released. I bought it at the time and you can buy the copy available on Amazon UK currently... for a mere £69.95!
I don't know why the title has been changed so often. I was fortunate to watch a day's filming of the pilot story in 1999(which had Robin Laing as Doyle)and the working title then was Blood Lines.
That was changed to Murder Rooms:The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes. Then in America it was 'Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes', and now it's 'Dr Bell and Mr Doyle'.
Joseph Bell is certainly one of my all-time favourite Ian roles, partly because Bell's own innate goodness mirrored Ian's true character.

PieterDho said...

Brian, thank you yet again for this wonderful blog post. As an avid viewer of British television I have always admired Ian and he can't get enough credit for what he did in my opinion.

And to you Sharon, I am grateful too for remembering this extraordinary person. The man was a true legend and he probably didn't know himself. May he rest in piece.