Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Obituary: Richard Todd

Richard Todd in the film Dam Busters
Richard Todd broke into films in 1948

Best known for starring in war films such as The Dam Busters and the Yangtse Incident, actor Richard Todd has died aged 90.

Born in Dublin, but educated in England, he had originally wanted to become a playwright and enrolled at the stage school Italia Conti.

He made his first professional appearance at the open air theatre at Regent's Park in 1936 and went on to become a founding member of the Dundee repertory company.

Todd eventually broke into films in 1948 in For Them That Trespass, in which he played a young man punished for a murder he did not commit.

He gained fame in the London stage version of The Hasty Heart, which took him to Broadway.

He then returned to England to appear in the film version of the play, and was nominated for the best actor Oscar in 1949.

Todd also won an acting award from the London Daily Express for the same film.


Actor and war veteran Richard Todd returned to Normandyin 2004 for the 60th anniversary of D-Day

Todd was later voted one of the top ten British box-office attractions in the Motion Picture Herald-Fame Poll in 1952.

However, not all his films were met with as much enthusiasm.

The Interrupted Journey and A Portrait of Claire were given lukewarm reviews and even a starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright in 1950 did little to enhance his reputation.

However, the critics warmed to Todd after he played the hero in three Disney costume dramas in the 1950s, including The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue.

Richard Todd and Marlene Dietrich
Todd starred in Hitchcock's 1950 movie Stage Fright

Todd was also author Ian Fleming's first choice to play James Bond before the role went to Sean Connery.

In the 1960s he starred in several West End productions, including An Ideal Husband at the Strand Theatre (now the Novello) and Dodie Smith's Dear Octopus at the Haymarket.

In 1974 he toured the US with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in the 1980s, he embarked upon an unbroken eight-year run in Richard Harris's Business of Murder at the Mayfair Theatre.

Wartime experiences

As an actor, Todd insisted on performing his own stunts.

These included driving a sports car at breakneck speed along a mountainside road in Chase a Crooked Shadow and performing a near-20 feet leap in Rob Roy.

As an officer in the Parachute Regiment, he was in the first of the main body of troops to parachute into Normandy on D-Day.

"Being first out of the first plane wasn't my idea, I assure you," he told the News of the World newspaper earlier this year.

"I had no experience of dropping under fire. But I remember looking out and seeing the tracer bullets zipping past us.

"I didn't think about the risk to my life, I just jumped."

Although he drew on his wartime experiences throughout his film career, Todd declined to play himself in the 1962 film, The Longest Day.

He insisted his part had not been important and instead ended up playing Major John Howard, who led the airborne assault on Pegasus Bridge, which signalled the start of the operation.

Family tragedy

Having volunteered for the Paras, Todd kept his profession secret throughout the war.

He later recalled how he had been terrified of being put in charge of Ensa, the Services' entertainment section.

"Not even my closest friends knew I was an actor," he said.

"I told them I was reading English at St Andrew's University."

After the war, he returned to acting and starred in several other World War II War movies, notably Wing-Commander Guy Gibson in the 1954 production, The Dam Busters, and in The Longest Day, in 1962.

At the height of his fame, Todd, his first wife and their two children lived in an eleven-bedroom mansion with a team of servants.

Richard Todd
Richard Todd often performed his own stunts

But by the mid-1960s, he was no longer in demand on the big screen and for the remainder of his career devoted most of his time to the stage, where he continued working well into his eighties.

His last TV appearance was on ITV's Heartbeat, but other small screen roles included parts in Holby City, Silent Witness and Murder She Wrote.

In 1993, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Like his first marriage, his second ended in divorce, and his life featured more than its fair share of tragedy.

Todd's mother died when he was 18, apparently having killed herself.

His youngest son Seamus shot himself in 1997 at the age of 20 and just eight years later, Todd's eldest son Peter also took his own life after suffering from depression.

Todd marked his 90th birthday earlier this year, which he celebrated with a quiet gathering near his home in Lincolnshire.

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