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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 13:44 GMT
Obituary: Ian Richardson
Ian Richardson in his most famous role as Francis Urquart
Ian Richardson in his most famous role as Francis Urquart
With his threatening, sardonic look and his cut-glass accent, Ian Richardson became a household name in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy.

As the Machiavellian Prime Minister, Francis Urquart, his line "You might well say that but I couldn't possibly comment", became something of a catchphrase when the series was broadcast in the 1990s.

By now, Richardson had become well-known for playing upper-crust types, most notably as Bill Haydon in the BBC adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Yet, he was born in Scotland to a working-class family with no acting tradition.

His father, John Richardson, worked for the biscuit company, McVitie and Price, and when Ian was growing up in Edinburgh in the 1930s, John was loading biscuits on to a horse and cart.

His father was a strict Scottish Presbyterian with very fixed views on life. His mother, however, was the instigator of his career on the boards by encouraging him to join a local amateur dramatic group while his father was serving abroad at the start of World War II.

It was during Richardson's own National Service in the 1950s that his now familiar delivery was first honed. After a spell with the Army's Special Investigations Branch, the military equivalent of the CID, he transferred to Forces radio where he became an announcer.

Ian Richardson playing Sherlock Holmes
Another establishment figure: as Sherlock Holmes

When he returned to Edinburgh with his plummy accent, he found it difficult to fit in. He once said: "You were alright in Edinburgh so long as you stayed within the bounds of your own social status."

A chance encounter with an actress, Nancy Mitchell, led to a successful audition at Glasgow's College of Dramatic Art. Asked why he wanted to become an actor, he replied "Because I can conceive of no other career I could possibly exist in."

By 1958, Richardson had joined the Birmingham Repertory Company where he was chosen to replace Albert Finney.

Two years later, he was recruited by Peter Hall for the company that was to become the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

It was the start of a 15-year association with the RSC at Stratford and the Aldwych Theatre in London, appearing in all its major productions including the title roles in Hamlet, Richard I and Richard II.

Wider repertoire

He once said: "If you have been on stage playing Hamlet at 24, as I did, that experience is so traumatic and scary that nothing you encounter again can ever equal it."

In 1960, Richardson met his wife-to-be Maroussia - another actor with whom he had two sons.

One of their sons, Miles, followed in his parents' footsteps into the acting profession.

After 20 years playing the classics, Richardson began to broaden his repertoire, appearing in theatre musicals such as the 1976 revival of My Fair Lady in which he played Professor Higgins both on Broadway and the West End.

Richardson as Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Richardson as Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

He also began a long career in film and television. His most notable performances came as Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor..., Sir Godber Evans in Porterhouse Blue and Sherlock Holmes in the Hounds of the Baskervilles.

For his defining role as Francis Urquart, he received a best actor Bafta in 1991 and he reprised the role in the follow-ups, To Play the King and The Final Cut.

Richardson based the character on Richard III, the last role he played for the RSC.

In 2005 he said: Francis Urquart has been the best opportunity for my reputation. The only trouble is getting rid of it. So many people seem to think that I am like him."

Richardson's other notable parts included Lord Groan in the BBC's adaptation of Gormenghast, and the movie From Hell with Johnny Depp.

He was last seen on TV at Christmas on Sky One as the narrator, the Voice of Death, in Hogfather, the Terry Pratchett work.

The actor was awarded a CBE in the 1989 New Year's Honours List.

House of Cards' Richardson dies
09 Feb 07 |  Entertainment

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