Baron Richard Attenborough CBE

The Late, great actor, Producer, Director and entrepreneur Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, CBE sadly passed away 25 August 2014. He was Born 29 August 1923, in Cambridge, the eldest of three sons of Mary Attenborough (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Richard Attenborough was the elder brother of David Attenborough, the naturalist and broadcaster, and the late John Attenborough, who was an executive at Alfa Romeo before his death in 2012.

He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and studied at RADA. In September 1939, the Attenboroughs took in two German Jewish refugee girls, Helga and Irene Bejach (aged 9 and 11 respectively), who lived with them in College House and were adopted by the family after the war when it was discovered that their parents had been killed. The sisters moved to the United States in the 1950s and lived with an uncle, where they married and took American citizenship.

Upon the outbreak of World War II, in 1939 Attenborough joined the Royal Air Force. After initial pilot training he was seconded to the newly formed Royal Air Force Film Production Unit at Pinewood Studios, under the command of Flight Lieutenant John Boulting (whose brother Peter Cotes would later direct Attenborough in the play The Mousetrap) where he appeared with Edward G. Robinson in the propaganda film Journey Together (1943). He then volunteered to fly with the Film Unit and after further training, where he sustained permanent ear damage, qualified as a sergeant, flying on several missions over Europe filming from the rear gunner’s position to record the outcome of RAF Bomber Command sorties.

Richard Attenborough first appeared in shows at Leicester’s Little Theatre, Dover Street, prior to him going to RADA, where he is still Patron. Attenborough’s film career began in 1942 in an uncredited role as a deserting sailor in theNoël Coward/David Lean production In Which We Serve, a role which would help to type-cast him for many years as spivs or cowards in films like London Belongs to Me(1948), Morning Departure (1950) and his breakthrough role as a psychopathic young gangster in the film of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock (1947), a part that he had previously played to great acclaim at the Garrick Theatre in 1942. In 1949 exhibitors voted him the 6th most popular British actor at the box office. Early in his stage career, Attenborough starred in the West End production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which went on to become the world’s longest-running stage production. Both he and his wife were among the original cast members of the production, which openedin 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre and as of 2012 is still running at the St Martins Theatre.

Attenborough worked prolifically in British films for the next thirty years, including roles in The Great Escape as RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (“Big X”), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. In 1965 he played Lew Moran opposite James Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix and in 1967 and 1968, he won Golden Globe Awards for The Sand Pebbles and Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. He played John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971) and the ruthless General Outram, in The Chess Players he also ppeared Otto Preminger’s version of The Human Factor (1979) and as John Hammond in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) and the popular film’s sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). He also starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1994) as Kris Kringle

In the 1950s, Attenborough formed the production company, Beaver Films, with Bryan Forbes and worked as producer on projects including The League of Gentlemen (1959), The Angry Silence (1960) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961).His feature film directorial debut was the all-star screen version of the hit musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and his acting appearances became sporadic as he concentrated more on directing and producing. He later directed two epic period films: Young Winston (1972), based on the early life of Winston Churchill and A Bridge Too Far (1977), an all-star account of Operation Market Garden in World War II. He won the 1982 Academy Award for Best Director and as the film’s producer, the Academy Award for Best Picture for his historical epic, Gandhi and another Golden Globe, this time as Best Director, for the same film in 1983, a project he had been attempting to get made for 18 years. Attenborough also directed the screen version of the musical A Chorus Line (1985) and the anti-apartheid drama Cry Freedom (1987), based on the life and death of the prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the experiences of Donald Woods. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for both films.His most recent films as director and producer include Chaplin (1992) starring Robert Downey, Jr., as Charlie Chaplin and Shadowlands(1993), based on the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham, (the star of the latter was Anthony Hopkins, who had appeared in four previous films for Attenborough: Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far, Magic and Chaplin.

In the late 90’s he appeared as Sir William Cecil in the historical drama Elizabeth (1998), Jacob in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and as “The Narrator” in the film adaptation of Spike Milligan’s comedy book Puckoon (2002). He made his only appearance in a Shakespeare film when he played the British ambassador who announces that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead at the end of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996). Between 2006 and 2007 Attenborough spent time in Belfast, Northern Ireland, working on his last film Closing the Ring, a love story set in Belfast during the Second World War and starring Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and the late great Pete Postlethwaite .He is also he former President of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He won two Academy Awards for Gandhi in 1983 and has also won four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globe Awards. As an actor he is perhaps best known for his roles in Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, 10 Rillington Place, Miracle on 34th Street and Jurassic Park.

After 33 years of dedicated service as President of the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, Attenborough became the charity’s Honorary Life President in 2004 and they also, established the Richard Attenborough Fellowship Fund.Attenborough is also the patron of the United World Colleges movement and frequently visited the United World College of Southern Africa (UWCSA) Waterford Kamhlaba. With his wife, they founded the Richard and Sheila Attenborough Visual Arts Centre. He also founded the Jane Holland Creative Centre for Learning at Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland in memory of his daughter. He passionately believes in education. Waterford was one of his inspirations for directing Cry Freedom. He was elected to the post of Chancellor of the University of Sussex on 20 March 1998, replacing The Duke of Richmond and Gordon. He stood down as Chancellor of the university following Graduation in July 2008. He was also a lifelong supporter of Chelsea Football Club, And served as a director of the club from 1969–1982 and between 1993 and 2008 held the honorary position of Life Vice President. On 30 November 2008 he was honoured with the title of Life President at the club’s stadium, Stamford Bridge. He was also head of the consortium Dragon International Film Studios, which was constructing a film and television studio complex in Llanilid, Wales, nicknamed “Valleywood”.

He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and a Knight Bachelor in 1976 and in 1993 he was made a life peer as Baron Attenborough, of Richmond upon Thames. In 1992 he had been offered a Peerage by Neil Kinnock, then head of the Labour Party, but refused it as he felt unable to commit to the time necessary. In 1983, Attenborough was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolence Peace Prize by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In 1992 he was awarded the Shakespeare Prize for his life’s work by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation in Hamburg.On 13 July 2006, Attenborough, along with his brother David, were awarded the titles of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester “in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the university” on 20 November 2008, Attenborough was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Drama from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow. He was also an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University for his contributions to film making.Pinewood Studios paid tribute to his body of work by naming a purpose-built film and television stage after him. The Richard Attenborough Stage has an area of 30,000 sq ft. In his absence due to illness, Lord Puttnam and Pinewood Chairman Lord Grade officially unveiled the stage on 23 April 2012.

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