A luminary of British film industry

From Gandhi to Jurassic Park, elder Attenborough had a long and successful career.

British actor and director Richard Attenborough. Photo / AP
British actor and director Richard Attenborough. Photo / AP

Richard Attenborough 1923-2014

Taking turns as an actor, producer and director and picking up a cupboard full of awards along the way, Richard Attenborough, 90, was a much-loved and long admired fixture in the British film industry.

From his first acting role in the 1942 war movie In Which We Serve, the acclaimed Brighton Rock, through to the multiple Oscar-winning Gandhi, which he directed, and starring in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, he dominated the British film industry during a hugely successful career.

A member of the House of Lords, he was also tireless in his charity work, including as a goodwill ambassador to Unicef, he was president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and life president of Chelsea football club.

A man with strong family ties, he married Sheila at 21, and lived in the same house for five decades in south-west London, an area that was also home to his younger brother David, the famous naturalist and wildlife presenter.

But tragedy struck in 2004 when one of Attenborough's three children, Jane Holland, and her daughter Lucy died in the Boxing Day tsunami. He said he never quite got over their deaths.

Born in Cambridge in August 1923, he made his big screen debut in 1942 with In Which We Serve, the tribute to the Royal Navy at war, and appeared in more than 60 films over the next 50 years.

The clean-cut young Attenborough became a regular feature in the cheerful, stiff upper lip cinema of the postwar years, but he achieved greater distinction in murkier roles, particularly as the villain Pinkie in the 1947 adaptation of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock.

By the 1960s he had come to the attention of Hollywood and obtained regular character roles in such films as John Sturges' war epic The Great Escape and Robert Aldrich's Flight of the Phoenix.

He had also acquired a taste for production, forming his own company with Bryan Forbes to make The Angry Silence and other social realist films such as Forbes' own The L-Shaped Room.

In 1962, Attenborough was approached by an associate of the family of Mahatma Gandhi about making a film about the life of the founder of independent India. It would take another two decades for the project to be realised - by 1980 Attenborough had secured the money, and Gandhi became his biggest success, winning eight Oscars, five Golden Globes, five Baftas and bringing him world acclaim.

Richard Attenborough holds his two Oscars for his film 'Gandhi'. Photo / AP

By this point Attenborough was an old hand at directing - his first attempt was Oh! What a Lovely War in 1969, a satire set on Brighton Pier, and he later delved further into patriotism with the 1972 Young Winston, the first of what was to become a lengthy series of biopics.

After Gandhi, he tried his hand at something much more light-hearted in A Chorus Line (1985), before turning back to the more weighty, though politically safe, biopic Cry Freedom (1987), about the murdered anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko.

Stars pay tribute

Steven Spielberg
"Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life - family, friends, country and career. He made a gift to the world with his emotional epic Gandhi and he was the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life as John Hammond in Jurassic Park. He was a dear friend."

Sir Ben Kingsley
"Richard Attenborough trusted me with the crucial and central task of bringing to life a dream it took him 20 years to bring to fruition. When he gave me the part of Gandhi it was with great grace and joy. He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him."


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