Richard Johnson (actor)

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Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson (actor).jpg
Richard Johnson, c. 2008
Born (1927-07-30)30 July 1927
Upminster, Essex, England, United Kingdom
Died 5 June 2015(2015-06-05) (aged 87)
Chelsea, London, England, United Kingdom
Years active 1950–2014
Sheila Sweet
(m. 1957; div. 1962)

Kim Novak
(m. 1965; div. 1966)

Marie-Louise Norlund
(m. 1982; div. 1989)

Lynne Gurney
(m. 2004; his death 2015)
Partner(s) Françoise Pascal[1]
Children 4

Richard Keith Johnson[2] (30 July 1927 – 5 June 2015)[3] was an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and also had TV roles and a distinguished stage career.

Early life and acting career[edit]

Johnson was born in Upminster, Essex, the son of Frances Louisa Olive (née Tweed) and Keith Holcombe Johnson.[4] Johnson went to Felsted School, then trained at RADA and made his first professional appearances on stage in Manchester with John Gielgud's company in a production of Hamlet in 1944.[5]

He served in the Royal Navy from 1945 to 1948,[2] and made his film debut in 1951, when he appeared in Captain Horatio Hornblower. He was contracted by MGM to appear in one film per year over six years. His biggest successes as a film actor came with The Haunting (1963) also featuring Claire Bloom and Julie Harris, Khartoum (1966) with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier, and the spy film Danger Route (1967). Johnson was director Terence Young's preferred choice for the role of James Bond in the first film in the series, but Johnson turned the role down.[6] A few years later, Bulldog Drummond was reimagined as a 007-type hero in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and its sequel Some Girls Do (1969).[5]

He also appeared in several Italian films, including Lucio Fulci's cult classic, Zombi 2 and Sergio Martino's L'isola degli uomini pesce (aka Island of the Fishmen). At the same time, he was a stage actor, appearing in the title role in Tony Richardson's production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre in 1958. His stage career was extensive and distinguished. His early work in the London theatre attracted the attention of the director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. He appeared in many important productions at that theatre in the late 1950s and early 1960s, making notable successes as Romeo, Orlando in As You Like It, Pericles and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.[5]

In 1958 he appeared in Peter Hall's first production at the theatre, Cymbeline, and the following year in Twelfth Night (as Sir Andrew Aguecheek). Hall took over the direction of the company in 1959 - it was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and he invited Johnson to be part of the first group of actors to be named an Associate Artist of the RSC, a position he retained until he died. He continued to act with the RSC from time to time, including as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, which he played on two occasions (in 1971–72, with Janet Suzman, and in 1991–92). He played the role in ITV's production in 1974.[7]

He continued to appear on film and television in the first decade of the 21st century. His films during this period included Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. He also appeared in several TV films: in 2005 he appeared as Stanley Baldwin in Wallis & Edward, in 2007 as Earl Mountbatten in Whatever Love Means, and in 2009 in Lewis. He contributed to British episodic TV, including Spooks, Waking the Dead, twice in Midsomer Murders, and twice in Doc Martin (as Colonel Gilbert Spencer). From 2007, he led the cast of the BBC's radio comedy series Bleak Expectations which ran until 2012.[5]

Other work[edit]

Throughout his career Johnson continued to teach young actors and students. He toured American universities and taught summer schools at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He was appointed to the Council of RADA in 2000, and served as a Council Member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in the 1970s. Johnson wrote the original story for the 1975 thriller, Hennessy.[5]

Johnson founded the British production company United British Artists (UBA) in 1981, and served as the company's CEO until 1990, when he resigned in order to resume his acting career. During his tenure at UBA he produced the films Turtle Diary (starring Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley, with a screenplay commissioned from Harold Pinter), and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. In London, he produced Pinter's Old Times, a revival of Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (Old Vic), and for theatre and television, the docudrama Biko, about the death of Steven Biko.

Johnson wrote travel articles regularly for the London mass-circulation newspaper The Mail on Sunday. He kept a blog and teaching website called The Shakespeare Masterclass.[8]

Personal life[edit]

By his first marriage, to Sheila Sweet, Johnson had two children, tabletop games designer Jervis Johnson (b. 1959) and actress Sorel Johnson.[9] His second wife was American actress Kim Novak, with whom he appeared in the film The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965); they had no children. He also had another daughter, Jennifer Johnson, by his third wife, Marie-Louise Norlund,[2] and a fourth child, Nicholas Johnson, by Françoise Pascal.[1] Johnson then married Lynne Gurney on a beach in Goa, India, in 1989, following this with a discreet civil wedding at Kings Road, Chelsea in 2004.

Johnson was the founder of It's a Green Green World, a global listing of environmentally friendly hotels.[10]


Johnson died on 5 June 2015, aged 87, after a short illness at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London.[3]

Selected filmography[edit]


Year Title Role Ref.
1951 Captain Horatio Hornblower Macrae
Calling Bulldog Drummond Control Tower Operator
1953 Saadia Lieutenant Girard
1959 Never So Few Captain Danny De Mortimer [5]
1963 Cairo Ali
80,000 Suspects Dr Steven Monks
The Haunting Dr. John Markway [5]
1964 The Pumpkin Eater Giles
1965 Operation Crossbow Duncan Sandys
The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders Jemmy [2]
1966 Khartoum Col. John Stewart [5]
1967 Deadlier Than the Male Hugh Drummond [2]
Danger Route Jonas Wilde [2]
The Rover Real
1968 The Column Tiberius
Oedipus the King Creon [5]
A Twist of Sand Geoffrey Peace
Emma Hamilton Horatio Nelson [5]
1969 Some Girls Do Hugh Drummond [2]
1970 Julius Caesar Caius Cassius [5]
The Fifth Day of Peace Captain Miller
The Beloved Orestes
1974 Beyond the Door Dimitri
1975 Hennessy Inspector Hollis [5]
1976 Aces High Major Lyle
Take All of Me Richard Lasky
1978 The Comeback Macauley
1979 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square Inspector Watford
Island of the Fishmen Edmund Rackham
The Great Alligator River Prophet Jameson
Zombi 2 Dr. Menard [5]
1981 The Monster Club Busotsky's Father
1984 What Waits Below Ben Gannon
1985 Turtle Diary Mr Johnson [2]
1986 Lady Jane The Earl of Arundel [5]
2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Distinguished Gentleman [5]
2006 Scoop Mr. Quincy
2008 Jump! Judge Larcher
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Grandpa [5]
2014 Radiator Leonard [2]
2015 The Man Who Knew Infinity Vice Master Trinity College


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1952 Pride and Prejudice Mr Wickham 3 episodes
1953 The Heir of Skipton John Lord Clifford/ Henry Clifford 3 episodes
1973-74 Moses the Lawgiver Narrator Voice
1974 Antony and Cleopatra Mark Antony TV movie [7]
1975 Churchill's People Claudius Episode: The Lost Island
Space: 1999 Lee Russell Episode: Matter of Life and Death
1978 The Four Feathers Abou Fatma TV movie [5]
1979 Hart to Hart Alex Constantine Episode: With This Gun, I Thee Wed
1980 Tales of the Unexpected Dr James Carpenter Episode: Back for Christmas
1981 Tales of the Unexpected Archaeologist, Tanner Episode: Would you believe it?
Magnum, P.I. Alistair Ffolkes Episode: No need to know
1981-82 The Kenny Everett Television Show Various 3 episodes [7]
1988 A Man for All Seasons Duke of Norfolk TV movie
1992 The Camomile Lawn Oliver (older) one episode
1999 Midsomer Murders - Death of a Stranger James Fitzroy 1 episode
2005 The Robinsons Hector Robinson 6 episodes
2007 Midsomer Murders - The Animal Within Rex Masters 1 episode
2008 Spooks Bernard Qualtrough 4 episodes, released as MI-5 in USA
2013 Silent Witness Sir William Embleton Episodes: The Legacy Pts. 1 & 2 [11]


  1. ^ a b Pendreigh, Brian (8 June 2015). "Obituary: Richard Johnson, actor". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Coveney, Michael (7 June 2015). "Richard Johnson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Richard Johnson, British Actor of Stage, Screen and TV, Dies at 87". New York Times. 7 June 2015.
  4. ^ "Richard Johnson profile". 30 July 1927. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Richard Johnson, actor - obituary", Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2015, accessed 9 June 2015
  6. ^ Cinema Retro magazine issue #10
  7. ^ a b c Farquhar, Simon (8 June 2015). "Richard Johnson: Leading light of the Royal Shakespeare Company and stalwart of the National who refused to play James Bond". Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  8. ^ Staff. "The Shakespeare Masterclass". The Shakespeare Masterclass. Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  9. ^ "Richard Johnson". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-01-20.
  10. ^ "It's a Green Green World". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Actor Richard Johnson dies, aged 87". BBC News. 6 June 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

External links[edit]