R.I.P. Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)

Late last night the sad news broke of the death at the age of 90 of Richard Attenborough (lately “Lord Attenborough”). Tributes have since poured in from around the world, both to celebrate his career as actor and director and also to acknowledge the many wider contributions of a warm and kindly human being. There was – and will remain – a very strong connection between Richard Attenborough and the University of Sussex, where I work. His connection with the University spanned four decades and was at its strongest for the period 1998-2008 when he was Chancellor of the University in which role he congratulated countless students during their graduation ceremonies.

It is very sad to lose a person so universally loved and admired, especially since he didn’t live to see the completion of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts scheduled to open on campus next year.

I’m doubly sad in fact because I never had the opportunity to meet him, having arrived here only last year some time after he stood down as Chancellor. Though I never interacted with him personally, I shall of course remember him through his great career on the big screen, first as an actor then as a director. Much has already been said about his contribution to the world of film by people much better qualified to comment than I, so I’ll just say that I’ll remember him best as a superb actor. He was chillingly believable as the real-life serial murderer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place, a film that also included a wonderful performance by John Hurt, but I think his finest screen role was in the classic 1947 film of Graham Greene‘s novel Brighton Rock.

This is a great film, not only because of superb central performance by Richard Attenborough as the young sociopathic gangster, Pinkie, but also and more generally because it is a rare example of an authentic British Film Noir. A nihilistic central character is of course an essential noir element but the expressionistic use of lighting, deep shadows, and strangely disorienting camera angles, exemplified in this clip turn this into a classic of its genre.

In fact, I think I’ll spend this wet Bank Holiday evening watching the whole DVD of Brighton Rock and drink a few glasses of wine to Richard Attenborough’s memory.

R.I.P. Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)

4 Responses to “R.I.P. Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The remake wasn’t bad either.

    I enjoyed his bit part in In Which We Serve, which was actually made during the War (what a thing it is to reach 90 !) And Cry Freedom and Gandhi were fine films which he directed.

  2. Thanks. A fine tribute to an important figure in UK culture. Regards Thom.

  3. There’s an amusing story (which I can’t immediately find online, and which may be apocryphal) that HM the Q was once asked if there was anyone she would like to recommend for an honour, and said something along the lines of “Why don’t we give that nice Mr Attenborough a peerage?” It was only after Dickie had been honoured that she pointed out to her advisor, “I meant the other Mr Attenborough – the one who does one’s Christmas broadcast!”

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