As Francis Urqhart in House of Cards
7 April 1934|
|Died||9 February 2007
(1961 – 2007; [his death])
Ian William Richardson, CBE (7 April 1934 – 9 February 2007) was a Scottish actor best known for his portrayal of the Machiavellian Tory politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy. He was also a leading Shakespearean stage actor.
Early life 
Richardson was born in Edinburgh, the son of Margaret (née Drummond) and John Richardson. He was educated in the city, at Balgreen Primary School, Tynecastle High School and George Heriot's School. He first appeared on stage at the age of fourteen, in an amateur production of A Tale of Two Cities. The director encouraged his talent, but warned that he would need to lose his Scottish accent to progress as an actor. His mother arranged elocution lessons and he became a stage manager with the semi-professional Edinburgh People's Theatre. After National Service in the Army (part of which he spent as an announcer and drama director with the British Forces Broadcasting Service) he obtained a place at the College of Dramatic Arts in Glasgow. After a period at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre he appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), of which he was a founding member, from 1960 to 1975. 
Stage work 
Although he later achieved fame in film and television work such as House of Cards (1990), Ian Richardson was primarily a classical stage actor. His first engagement after training was with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where his performance of Hamlet led to an offer of a place with the RSC. He was a versatile member of the company for more than fifteen years, playing villainy, comedy and tragedy to equal effect. He was The Herald in Peter Brook's production of Marat/Sade in London in 1964; in the New York transfer he took the lead role of Marat (and so became the first actor to appear nude on the Broadway stage), a performance he repeated for 1967 film version.
In 1972, he appeared in the musical Trelawney, with which the Bristol Old Vic reopened after its refurbishment. It proved a great success, transferring to London, first to Sadler's Wells and later to The Savoy. Richardson played the hero, Tom Wrench, a small-part player who wants to write about "real people". He had a song, "Walking On", lamenting his lack of scope in the company, in which he explains that as a "walking gentleman" he will be forever "walking on", whilst Rose Trelawney will go on to be a star.
While at the RSC Richardson played many leading roles, several in productions by John Barton. These included the title role in Coriolanus (1967), Cassius in Julius Caesar (1968), Angelo in Measure for Measure (1970) and Iachimo in Cymbeline – all for Barton. Work for other directors at Stratford included the title role in Pericles (1969), directed by Terry Hands; the title role in Richard III (1975), directed by Barry Kyle; and Berowne in David Hugh Jones's production of Love's Labours Lost (1973). The role of Berowne was cited by Richardson as one of his all-time favourite parts. Richardson's Richard II (alternating the parts of the king and Bolingbroke with Richard Pasco) in 1974, and repeated in New York and London in the following year, was hugely celebrated:
A notable Shakespearean cameo role was a brief performance as Hamlet in the gravedigger scene as part of episode six, 'Protest and Communication', of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation television series in 1969. This was performed at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire with Patrick Stewart as Horatio and Ronald Lacey as the gravedigger.
On leaving the RSC, he played Professor Henry Higgins in the 1976 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady and received the Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination. He also appeared on Broadway in 1981 in the original production of Edward Albee's play Lolita, an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's book, but this is not regarded as having been a success.
In 2002 Richardson joined Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Donald Sinden and Dame Diana Rigg in an international tour of The Hollow Crown. A Canadian tour substituted Alan Howard for Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave for Rigg. He also appeared in The Creeper by Pauline Macaulay at the Playhouse Theatre in London, and on tour. His last stage appearance was in 2006 as Sir Epicure Mammon in The Alchemist at the National Theatre in London.
He played one musical role on film - the Priest in Man of La Mancha, the 1972 screen version of the Broadway musical. In 1987, he played a variation on this role, when he portrayed the Bishop of Motopo in the non-musical telefilm Monsignor Quixote, based on Graham Greene's modernized take on the Quixote story.
He made many film appearances, including Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968), Brazil (1985), Dark City (1998), Polonius in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), wine dealer Sir Mason Harwood in The Year Of The Comet (1992), the French ambassador in M. Butterfly (1993), Martin Landau's butler in B*A*P*S (1997), Cruella de Vil's solicitor, Mr. Torte, in the live action film 102 Dalmatians (2000) and From Hell (2001). He also played the Judge in the family-based 2005 film, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby. His final film appearance was as Judge Langlois in Becoming Jane, released shortly after his death.
During his career Richardson gave many memorable television performances. Though he was certainly not unknown before taking the part, his first major role was his appearance as Bill Haydon ("Tailor") in the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). He played the part of Bernard Montgomery in Churchill and the Generals in 1979, a BBC television videotaped play concerning the relationship between Winston Churchill and generals of the Allied forces between 1940 and 1945. In the 1980s he became well known as Major Neuheim in the award-winning Private Schulz, and more notably Sir Godber Evans in Channel 4's adaptation of Porterhouse Blue. He played Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1986 television serial, Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy, and in 1988 he played Edward Spencer, the eccentric and oblivious English landowner in 1920s' Ireland in Troubles, from J. G. Farrell's award-winning novel.
Richardson's most acclaimed television role was as Machiavellian politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC adaptation of Michael Dobbs's House of Cards trilogy. He won the BAFTA Best Television Actor Award for his portrayal in the first series, House of Cards (1990), and was nominated for both of the sequels To Play the King (1993) and The Final Cut (1995). He also received another BAFTA film nomination for his role as Falkland Islands governor Sir Rex Hunt in the 1992 film An Ungentlemanly Act, and played another corrupt politician, Michael Spearpoint, British Director of the European Economic Community in the ambitious satirical series The Gravy Train and The Gravy Train Goes East. He narrated the 1996 BBC docudrama A Royal Scandal.
In 1999, he became known to a young audience as the titular character Stephen Tyler in both series of the family drama The Magician's House (1999–2000). Following this he played Lord Groan in the major BBC production Gormenghast (2000), and later that year he starred in the BBC production Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (2000–2001) (also screened in PBS's Mystery! series in the US), playing Arthur Conan Doyle's mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, a role he welcomed as an opportunity to play a character from his native Edinburgh. He had earlier played Sherlock Holmes in two 1980s television versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. In 2003 he once more returned to fantasy in the recurring role of the villainous Canon Black in the short-lived BBC cult series Strange.
In 2005, he took on the role of a curiously detached Chancellor in the highly successful TV drama Bleak House. In that year he appeared in ITV's main Christmas drama The Booze Cruise 2, playing Marcus Foster, a slimy upper class businessman forced to spend time with "the lower classes". He returned to this role for a sequel the following Easter. In June 2006 he was made an honorary Doctor of the University of Stirling. The honour was conferred on him by the university's chancellor, fellow actor Dame Diana Rigg. In December 2006, Richardson starred in Sky One's two-part adaptation of the Terry Pratchett novel Hogfather. He voiced the main character of the novel, Death, who steps in to take over the role of the Father Christmas-like Hogfather. The DVD of that miniseries, released shortly after his death, opens with a dedication to his memory.
He was also familiar to American television viewers as the man in the Rolls-Royce who asks "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" in commercials for this Dijon mustard. During the last fifteen years of his life Richardson appeared five times on television acting opposite his son, Miles Richardson, though this was usually with one or other in a minor role. In ITV's Marple, an uncredited Miles played Ian Richardson's son.
Ian Richardson died in his sleep of a heart attack on the morning of 9 February 2007, aged 72. According to his agent, he had not been ill and had in fact been due to start filming an episode of Midsomer Murders the following week. He was survived by his wife, Maroussia Frank, an actress, and two sons, one of whom, Miles, is an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His widow and his son Miles placed his ashes in the foundations of the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford during its renovations in 2008.
Dame Helen Mirren dedicated her 2006 Best Actress BAFTA award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen to Ian Richardson. While conducting her acceptance speech, she said that without his support early in her career she might not have been so successful, before breaking down and leaving the stage.
He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989.
Selected filmography 
- Marat/Sade (1968)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)
- Man of La Mancha (1972)
- Brazil (1985)
- King of the Wind (1989)
- The Year Of The Comet (1992)
- Words Upon the Window Pane (1994)
- The Treasure Seekers (1996)
- Dark City (1998)
- The King and I (1999)
- From Hell (2001)
- Jennings, Alex (January 2011). "Richardson, Ian William (1934–2007)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Blackley, Michael (9 February 2007). "Acting Star Ian Richardson Dies". The Scotsman. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
- "House of Cards actor Ian Richardson dies in his sleep". Daily Mail (London). 9 February 2007. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
- Trowbridge, Simon (17 December 2008). "Richardson, Ian". Stratfordians: a Biographical Dictionary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Oxford, England: Editions A. Creed. ISBN 978-0-9559830-1-6.
- Billington, Michael (10 February 2007). "Obituary". Guardian (London)
- Best of British
- Kenneth Clark. Civilisation (Television production). London, UK. date =1969: BBC.
- "House of Cards' Richardson dies". BBC News. 9 February 2007. Retrieved 9 February 2007.
- Chaytor, Rod (22 November 2010). "Richardson has final resting place in row A". The Guardian (UK). p. 9. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
- Mirren dedicates award to late 'mentor' Ian Richardson. Report from "PR insider" retrieved on 12 February 2007.
- Other tributes and reminiscences by Richardson's colleagues are offered in a recent Memoir by Sharon Mail: We Could Possibly Comment: Ian Richardson Remembered, Leicester, Troubadour Publishing, 2009 ISBN 978-1-84876-184-1
- Ian Richardson at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ian Richardson at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview with Ian Richardson at the Theatre Archive Project
- Ian Richardson's performances in the Theatre Archive, University of Bristol
- The Guardian – Actor Ian Richardson dies
- The Guardian – obituary
- BBC – Obituary: Ian Richardson
- Ian Richardson Tribute