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
Died5 June 2015(2015-06-05) (aged 87)
Years active1950–2014
  • Sheila Sweet
    (m. 1957; div. 1962)
  • (m. 1965; div. 1966)
  • Marie-Louise Norlund
    (m. 1982; div. 1989)
  • Lynne Gurney
    (m. 1989)
Partner(s)Françoise Pascal
Children4, including Jervis

Richard Keith Johnson[1] (30 July 1927 – 5 June 2015)[2] was an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and also had television roles and a distinguished stage career.


Early life and career[edit]

Johnson was born to Frances Louisa Olive (née Tweed) and Keith Holcombe Johnson in Upminster, Essex.[3]

Johnson went to Felsted School, and wanted to act instead of going into the family paint business. He trained at RADA and due to the manpower shortage of wartime made his first professional appearance relatively quickly, on stage in Manchester with John Gielgud's company in a production of Hamlet in 1944.[4]

He served in the Royal Navy from 1945 to 1948.[1]

Early screen appearances[edit]

Johnson made his screen debut in an adaptation of Tusitala for BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. He made his film debut with an uncredited part in Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) and was also uncredited in Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951).

He was at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre from 1952 to 1957. "It was an electric time to be in that company", he later recalled.[5]

Johnson played Mr Wickham in a 1952 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (with Peter Cushing as Darcy) and was D'Artagnan in a TV adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1952). He could be seen in Lady in the Fog (1952), "The Mayor of Torontal" for Wednesday Theatre (1952), The Heir of Skipton (1953), Saadia (1953) for MGM, A Party for Christmas (1954), The Queen Came By (1954), "The Rescue" for ITV Television Playhouse, "The Orderly" for Theatre Royal, and Plaintiff in a Pretty Hat (1955).

In 1955 he was in The Lark, by Jean Anouilh, with Dorothy Tutin.[6]

He was Laertes to Paul Scofield's Hamlet in 1956. That was directed by Peter Brook who also directed Johnson in Heaven and Earth (1957).

In 1958 he and Tutin played Romeo and Juliet at Stratford.[6]

He also appeared in episodes of Assignment Foreign Legion, The Buccaneers, Armchair Theatre, and Four Just Men, and had the lead in Epilogue to Capricorn (1960).

Royal Shakespeare Company[edit]

In 1958 he appeared in Peter Hall's first production at the theatre, Cymbeline, alongside Peggy Ashcroft. Reviews were strong, praising Johnson as "The finest romantic actor of his generation".[7]

Johnson appeared in the title role in Tony Richardson's production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre in 1958. The same year he was in Twelfth Night (as Sir Andrew Aguecheek) for Peter Hall.

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.[7][8]


After Johnson's stage performances had received excellent reviews, MGM offered him a long-term contract in June 1959. His first work for the studio was in Never So Few (1959) with Frank Sinatra.[9]

"I never took myself very seriously as a movie star", said Johnson later. "But it was thrilling to be among the idols I'd worshipped as a kid. I did a test with Gary Cooper, went to a party with Spencer Tracy, made a film with Frank Sinatra."[7]

Johnson was director Terence Young's preferred choice for the role of James Bond in the first film in the series, but he had to turn the role down as he was under contract to MGM. Johnson said later, "Eventually they offered it to Sean Connery, who was completely wrong for the part. But in getting the wrong man they got the right man, because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny. And that's what propelled it to success."[10]

Johnson did Ondine on stage for the RSC with Leslie Caron and director Peter Hall (this was filmed in 1961).[11] Also for TV he did productions of Journey's End, This Happy Breed, Sword of Vengeance and The Sponge Room.

In 1961–62 he portrayed Clive Root on Broadway in Graham Greene's The Complaisant Lover, which ran for 101 performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.[12]

Johnson was second-billed to George Sanders in Cairo (1963) for MGM British.[13] He co-starred with Claire Bloom in 80,000 Suspects (1963) for Val Guest.

He was then in The Haunting (1963) also featuring Claire Bloom and Julie Harris. It was directed by Robert Wise who said Johnson has "the attack of the young Gable" and predicted he would be a big star.[14]

Johnson wrote a play The Golden Age, composed from poems, diaries and speeches from the age of Queen Elizabeth I. It had a short run on Broadway in 1963.[15][16][17]

In 1964 he did a Kingsley Amis script, A Question of Happiness #1: A Question About Hell for TV, followed by A Question of Happiness #2: Another Port, Another Storm.

Johnson had a support role in The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and went to France for The Other Woman (1964). He did episodes of Armchair Mystery Theatre, The Human Jungle, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also portrayed Duncan Sandys in Operation Crossbow (1965).

Film stardom[edit]

Johnson was second billed to Kim Novak in The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), directed by Terence Young. When filming ended, Johnson and Novak were married.[18] Around this time he expressed interest in writing and directing as well as acting.[19]

Johnson was Colonel Stewart in Khartoum (1966) with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier.

He was top billed in the Italian horror film The Witch (1966) then was cast as Bulldog Drummond in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) with Elke Sommer for director Ralph Thomas, a James Bond-style adventure.[4] Johnson said about playing Drummond "I consciously tried to use more of myself than in anything else I've done... I said, all right, if you want me, you'll get me, but this is a braver, more physical version of me."[20]

He supported Anthony Quinn and Rita Hayworth in The Rover (1967), again directed by Young.[21] He starred in another James Bond-type spy film, Danger Route (1967) for director Seth Holt.[22] He announced he had formed his own company and would star in An Alibi for a Playboy but it was not made.[23]

Johnson was Creon in Oedipus the King (1968) with Christopher Plummer, then starred in the spy film A Twist of Sand (1968).[24][25]

He was a Roman officer in Columna (1968) and Horatio Nelson in Emma Hamilton (1968), with Michèle Mercier. He reprised his role as Drummond in Some Girls Do (1969).

Johnson later recalled in 2000 that "It comes as a curious shock to me now to realise that I was making around £1m a year in today's money. And I managed to spend it all having a hell of a good time... I knew it wasn't going to last for ever, but I also knew I had to enjoy it while the time was right.'"[26]

Johnson played Rembrandt for British TV in 1969 and was Cassius in Charlton Heston's version of Julius Caesar (1970).

He did The Fifth Day of Peace (1970) with Franco Nero, Hamlet (1970) with Richard Chamberlain, The Beloved (1971) with Raquel Welch, A Man About a Dog (1972), A Marriage (1972) and I Want to Marry Your Son (1973).

Return to theatre[edit]

Johnson returned to theatre in 1972, going to Stratford to play Antony, opposite Janet Suzman's Cleopatra, in one of Trevor Nunn's season of Roman plays. He continued to act on TV in such shows as Thriller (1973) and Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, and filmed his Antony and Cleopatra (1974) for TV.[7]

He did a horror film Beyond the Door (1974), and Churchill's People, The Night Child (1975), and Hennessy (1975) for director Don Sharp; he provided the original story of the latter.[27]

Johnson was in episodes of Quiller, Space: 1999, and Hart to Hart. He was in the films Aces High (1976), Take All of Me (1976) in Italy, The Four Feathers (1978) for Sharp, The Comeback (1978), Screamers (1979), Zombi 2 (1979), The Flame Is Love (1979), Island of the Fishmen (1979) and The Great Alligator (1979). He had the lead in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979) directed by Thomas.[28]

In the 1980s Johnson could be seen in Spy!, Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger (1980), Haywire (1980), The Marquise (1980), The Monster Club (1981), The Member for Chelsea (1981), The Kenny Everett Television Show, Tales of the Unexpected (several episodes), Cymbeline (1982) in the title role, Magnum, P.I., The Aerodrome (1983), and Mr. Palfrey of Westminster (1984).[29]


In 1982 Johnson helped set up United British Artists, the film and theatre-producing company, along with fellow actors Albert Finney, Maggie Smith and Glenda Jackson. Johnson said, "In this profession it is mighty irritating always to be in the hands of other people, waiting on the end of a telephone, unable to guide your ship. When I propounded the idea that we all get together to do high-quality work on a continuing commercial basis, they were very enthusiastic."[7]

He acted in and was executive producer on The Biko Inquest (1984). Johnson acted in What Waits Below (1985) for Don Sharp, and acted in and produced Turtle Diary (1985). He worked as a producer on Castaway (1986) and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987).

Johnson says however that the company "didn't quite come off. Unfortunately we ran out of money. We didn't have enough to start with... One day I was in Hollywood with my old friend Angela Lansbury and she said, 'Anybody can be a producer. You've got talent and you're wasting it.' I decided to get back to what I've always wanted to do since I was seven: acting. I'd like to be on test. I need challenges."[7]

As an actor only, he was in Lady Jane (1986), Dempsey and Makepeace, Murder, She Wrote, A Man for All Seasons (1988) with Heston, Voice of the Heart (1989), Treasure Island (1990) with Heston as Squire Trelawney, The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (1990), Made in Heaven, Diving In (1990), Duel of Hearts (1991), The Crucifer of Blood (1991) with Heston as Sherlock Holmes and Johnson as Watson, The Camomile Lawn (1992), and Anglo Saxon Attitudes (1992). According to one reviewer, his performance in Anglo Saxon earned him "a sheaf of golden notices and put him at the top of the ratings for mature heart-throbs. The key attraction was his effortless screen technique in saying so little yet conveying so much. There was much virtuoso eyebrow work and a wonderful use of the crinkled tissue around the eyes."[7] He did Antony and Cleopatra on stage again in 1991.

In 1992 Johnson returned to the RSC after a 25-year absence under the direction of Peter Hall, appearing in a production of All's Well that Ends Well.[7] "It would have been nice to be able to afford to go back more often", he said. "Unfortunately, what my agent used to call the 'shit factor' comes into play: the better quality the work, the less the money."[26]

Johnson appeared in Heavy Weather (1995), Kavanagh QC, Murder Most Horrid, Tales from the Crypt, Breaking the Code (1996), The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1996), Supply & Demand, The Echo, Milk (1999), and Happy Days (2000). He did the original story for A Kind of Hush (1999).

A third divorce and the financial failure of a hotel he co owned meant he needed to work. In a 2000 interview he said "Now I'm constantly worried where the next job is coming from. At least at my age the opposition gets less and less because they keep dying."[7]

Later career[edit]

Johnson's later career appearances included doing The Seagull at Stratford in 2000, plus The Whistle-Blower (2001), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), The Royal, The Robinsons, Whatever Love Means (2005) as Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Wallis & Edward (2005) (as Stanley Baldwin), Rebus, Scoop (2006), Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Waking the Dead, The Raven (2007), Two Families (2007), and Jump! (2008) (which he also helped produce).

From 2007, he led the cast of the BBC's radio comedy series Bleak Expectations which ran until 2012.[4] He also had a successful stage show with a revival of On Golden Pond.[28]

Film-wise he was in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), Spooks, Inspector Lewis, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (2011), and Silent Witness. He had a good role in Radiator (2015), saying "Right from the off I felt it was a superior piece of writing for the screen."[5]

He was in The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015).[28]

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.[4]

As well as founding the British production company United British Artists (UBA) in 1981, he also 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 Stephen 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.[30]

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.[31] His second wife was American actress Kim Novak, with whom he appeared in the film The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965); the marriage didn't last long and they had no children, but they remained on friendly terms after the divorce. He also had another daughter, Jennifer Johnson, by his third wife, Marie-Louise Norlund,[1] and a fourth child, Nicholas Johnson, by Françoise Pascal.[32] 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.[33]


Richard Johnson died on 5 June 2015, aged 87, after a short illness at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London.[2]



Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1951 Captain Horatio Hornblower Macrae uncredited
Calling Bulldog Drummond Control Tower Operator uncredited
1952 Lady in the Fog Danny McMara – Hit-and-Run Victim
1953 Saadia Lieutenant Girard
1959 Never So Few Captain Danny De Mortimer [4]
1963 Cairo Ali
80,000 Suspects Dr Steven Monks
The Haunting Dr. John Markway [4]
1964 The Pumpkin Eater Giles
L'autre femme Daniel
1965 Operation Crossbow Duncan Sandys
The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders Jemmy [1]
1966 Khartoum Col. John Stewart [4]
La strega in amore Sergio Logan
1967 Deadlier Than the Male Hugh Drummond [1]
The Rover Real
Danger Route Jonas Wilde [1]
1968 Oedipus the King Creon [4]
A Twist of Sand Geoffrey Peace
The Column Tiberius
Emma Hamilton Horatio Nelson [4]
1969 Some Girls Do Hugh Drummond [1]
1970 Julius Caesar Caius Cassius [4]
The Fifth Day of Peace Captain Miller
1971 The Beloved Orestes
1972 Antony and Cleopatra Lepidus / Alexas / Ventidias Voice, Uncredited
1974 Beyond the Door Dimitri
1975 The Cursed Medallion Michael Williams
Hennessy Inspector Hollis [4]
1976 Aces High Major Lyle
The Message Narrator
Take All of Me Richard Lasky
1978 The Comeback Macauley
1979 Island of the Fishmen Edmund Rackham
Zombi 2 Dr. Menard [4]
The Great Alligator River Prophet Jameson
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square Inspector Watford
1981 The Monster Club Mr. Busotsky (segment "Vampire Story")
1984 What Waits Below Ben Gannon
1985 Turtle Diary Mr Johnson [1]
1986 Lady Jane The Earl of Arundel [4]
1990 Diving In Richard Anthony
1990 Treasure Island Squire Trelawney
1999 Milk John
2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Distinguished Gentleman [4]
2006 Scoop Mr. Quincy
2007 Two Families Don Cataldo
Jump! Judge Larcher
2008 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Grandpa [4]
2014 Radiator Leonard [1]
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
1973–1974 Moses the Lawgiver Narrator Voice
1974 Antony and Cleopatra Mark Antony TV movie [27]
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 [4]
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 Folkes Episode: No need to know
1981–82 The Kenny Everett Television Show Various 3 episodes [27]
1983 Magnum, P.I. Alistair Folkes Episode: Faith and Begorrah
1986 Dempsey and Makepeace Daish Episode: Guardian Angel
1988 A Man for All Seasons Duke of Norfolk TV movie
1992 The Camomile Lawn Oliver (older) one episode
1999 Midsomer Murders James Fitzroy Episode: Death of a Stranger”
2004–2006 Doc Martin Colonel Gilbert Spencer (2004) - “Going Bodmin”

(2006) -. “On The Edge”

2005 The Robinsons Hector Robinson 6 episodes
2007 Midsomer Murders Rex Masters Episode: “The Animal Within”
2007 Waking The Dead Dr. Raymond Parke Episode: “Double Bind”
2008 Spooks Bernard Qualtrough 4 episodes, released as MI-5 in USA
2013 Silent Witness Sir William Embleton Episode: "Legacy" Pts. 1 & 2 [34]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Coveney, Michael (7 June 2015). "Richard Johnson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Richard Johnson, British Actor of Stage, Screen and TV, Dies at 87". The New York Times. 7 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Richard Johnson profile". 30 July 1927. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Richard Johnson, actor – obituary", The Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2015
  5. ^ a b Henderson, Scott (26 February 2015). "GFF interview: Richard Johnson, Radiator". List Film.
  6. ^ a b Pendreigh, Brian (2015)."Obituary: Richard Johnson, actor", The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), 8 June 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lewis, Peter (1992). "Return of an old stage hand; Richard Johnson; Drama", The Times, 28 June 1992.
  8. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (18 October 1960). "Diane Baker Will Co-star With Egan: Wyler's 'Not for Children', Players and Writers Assigned". Los Angeles Times. p. C9.
  9. ^ "FILMLAND EVENTS: Nancy Walters Gets Contract at MGM". Los Angeles Times. 3 June 1959. p. A9.
  10. ^ Cinema Retro magazine issue #10
  11. ^ Crozier, Mary (28 November 1960). "TELEVISION". The Guardian. London (UK). p. 7.
  12. ^ The Complaisant Lover, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Manhattan, 1 November 1961—27 January 1962. Internet Broadway Database (IBDB), The Broadway League, New York, N.Y. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  13. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (28 March 1962). "Sultan and Worth Hit Comedy Jackpot: Brooklyn Boy Wonders Click: Van Johnson Booked in Grove". Los Angeles Times. p. C13.
  14. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (1962). "Julie Harris Seen as 'Haunting' Hit: Director Wise Lauds Cast; Landau on 'Lost Audience'",|work=Los Angeles Times|date=11 December 1962|: E13.
  15. ^ SAM ZOLOTOW (24 September 1963). "BUSINESS LEADER TO PRODUCE PLAY: Fogelson Names Partner for 'Golden Age' at Lyceum British Laughter: on Cue". The New York Times. p. 44.
  16. ^ "The Golden Age, Lyceum Theatre, Manhattan 18 November 1963—23 November 1963". IBDB. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  17. ^ HOWARD TAUBMAN (19 November 1963). "Theater: 'Golden Age': Elizabethan Anthology Opens at the Lyceum". The New York Times. p. 48.
  18. ^ "Kim Novak Wed in Colorado To Richard Johnson, Actor". The New York Times. 16 March 1965. p. 42.
  19. ^ Clifford, Terry (25 July 1965). "Will Marriage Spoil Mrs. Richard Johnson?". Chicago Tribune. p. H48.
  20. ^ Alpert, Don (25 September 1966). "Why Johnson Got into Act". Los Angeles Times. p. M9.
  21. ^ Martin, Betty (8 November 1966). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Richard Johnson in Drama". Los Angeles Times. p. C11.
  22. ^ Bryce, Allan (2000), editor. Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood (Winter Park, Florida: Stray Cat Publishing, 2000): 47-48.
  23. ^ Muir, Florabel Muir (1 May 1967). "Johnson to Do 'Alibi for a Playboy'". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. p. B11.
  24. ^ Martin, Betty (15 May 1967). "'Oedipus' Goes Universal". Los Angeles Times. p. D25.
  25. ^ Martin, Betty (4 February 1967). "Miss Moore, Wagner to Star". Los Angeles Times. p. 16.
  26. ^ a b Arnot, Chris (24 January 2000). "Arts: The return of Dicky Boy Former matinee idol Richard Johnson tells Chris Arnot why he can't resist his old love, the Royal Shakespeare Company". The Guardian. p. 2.10.
  27. ^ 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". The Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  28. ^ a b c "Interview with Richard Johnson". The Consulting Detective. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  29. ^ Obituary at New York Times
  30. ^ Staff. "The Shakespeare Masterclass". The Shakespeare Masterclass. Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  31. ^ "Richard Johnson". IMDb. Retrieved 20 January 2017.[unreliable source?]
  32. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (8 June 2015). "Obituary: Richard Johnson, actor". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016.
  33. ^ "It's a Green Green World". Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  34. ^ "Actor Richard Johnson dies, aged 87". BBC News. 6 June 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

External links[edit]