Ian William Richardson CBE (7 April 1934 – 9 February 2007) was a Scottish actor best known for playing the machiavellian conservative politician Francis Urquhart in the House of Cards trilogy for the BBC. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989.
In 1972, he appeared in the musical Trelawney, with which the Bristol Old Vic reopened after its refurbishment, and which, having proved a great success, transferred 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. In 1974, he played Iachimo in John Barton's RSC production of Cymbeline.
It was, however, for Shakespeare's great historical roles that Richardson is chiefly remembered. His 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, set a standard unequalled for a generation: more than thirty years later notable performances of King Richard were still being compared with the production.
On leaving the RSC he played Professor Henry Higgins in the 1976 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady and received 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 the early 2000s 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.
He made many film appearances, including Brazil (1985), Dark City (1998), Polonius in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), Martin Landau's butler in the Halle Berry film B*A*P*S (1997), Cruella de Vil's solicitor, Mr. Torte, in the live action movie 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.
Richardson's most famous and most acclaimed role was as macchiavellian politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC adaptation of Michael Dobbs' 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 the commercials for Grey Poupon 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.
Dame Helen Mirren dedicated her 2007 Best Actress BAFTA award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen to Ian Richardson. In her acceptance speech, she said Richardson was very supportive towards her when she started out acting, and without him she might not have been so successful.
House of Cards actor dies at age of 72 A fine entertainer and true patrician of the stage: tributes to Ian Richardson
Feb 10, 2007; IAN Richardson, the Scottish actor best known for his role as the scheming Francis Urquhart in House of Cards, died yesterday,...
IAN RICHARDSON ; RSC Actor of Clarity and Brilliance Who Starred as Urquhart in the Television Drama 'House of Cards'
Feb 10, 2007; In a distinguished, 50-year stage and screen career, Ian Richardson will be best remembered on television as Francis Urquhart,...