Richard Attenborough

Richard Attenborough
The Right Honourable
The Lord Attenborough

Attenborough at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
Born Richard Samuel Attenborough
29 August 1923 (1923-08-29) (age 88)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor, director, producer
Years active 1942–2007
Title President of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts
Term 2001–2010
Predecessor HRH The Princess Royal
Successor HRH The Duke of Cambridge
Spouse Sheila Sim (m. 1945–present)
Children Michael
Jane (deceased)
Relatives David Attenborough (brother)
Gerald Sim (brother-in-law)
Jane Seymour (former daughter-in-law)
Awards Academy Award for Best Director
1982 Gandhi
Academy Award for Best Picture
1982 Gandhi

Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough (pronounced /ˈætənbərə/), CBE (born 29 August 1923) is a British actor, director, producer and entrepreneur. As director and producer he won two Academy Awards for the 1982 film Gandhi. He has also won four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes. As an actor, he is perhaps best known for his roles in Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, 10 Rillington Place, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Jurassic Park and its 1997 sequel.[1]

He is the elder brother of prominent naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough.


Early life

Attenborough was born in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, 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 don at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law.[2][3] Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). During the Second World War Attenborough served in the Royal Air Force.

Acting career

Attenborough's acting career also was on stage and he 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 as a deserting sailor in 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). Attenborough worked prolifically in British films for the next thirty years, and in the 1950s appeared in several successful comedies for John and Roy Boulting, including Private's Progress (1956) and I'm All Right Jack (1959). Early in his stage career, Attenborough starred in the London 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 opened in 1952 and as of 2011 is still running.

In the 1960s, he expanded his range of character roles in films such as Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). In 1963 he appeared in the ensemble cast of The Great Escape as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett ("Big X"), the head of the escape committee. It was his first appearance in a major Hollywood film blockbuster and his most successful film up to that time.

In 1967 and 1968, he won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor, the first time for The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen and the second time for Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. He won another Golden Globe, for Best Director, for Gandhi in 1983. Six years prior to Gandhi he played the ruthless General Outram, in Indian director Satyajit Ray's period piece The Chess Players. He has never been nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category.

He took no acting roles following his appearance in Otto Preminger's version of The Human Factor in 1979 until his appearance as the eccentric developer John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park in 1993 and the popular film's 1997 sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The following year, he starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street as Kris Kringle. Since then he has made occasional appearances in supporting roles, including as Sir William Cecil in the 1998 historical drama Elizabeth. He was also cast as Jacob in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".

Producer and director

Attenborough, photographed in 1983.

In the late 1950s, Attenborough formed a production company, Beaver Films, with Bryan Forbes and began to build a profile as a producer on projects including The League of Gentlemen (1959), The Angry Silence (1960) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961), also appearing in the first two of these as an actor.

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 more sporadic—the most notable being his portrayal of serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971). 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 for his historical epic, Gandhi, a project he had been attempting to get made for many years. As the film's producer, he also won the Academy Award for Best Picture. 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 also appeared in three other films for Attenborough: Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far and the thriller Magic (1978).

Attenborough also directed the screen version of the musical A Chorus Line (1985), and the apartheid drama Cry Freedom, based on the life and death of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the experiences of Donald Woods. Attenborough was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for both films.

Corporate appointments

Attenborough also heads a committee awarding the eponymous Attenborough Prize, a £2000 annual arts prize celebrating creativity by emerging artists. The Attenborough Prize is awarded to the best contemporary visual artist among a shortlist of six artists presented to Lord Attenborough. The most recent (2009) Prize was awarded to Neill Raitt.

Current projects

Chancellor of the University of Sussex

Attenborough spent time in Belfast, Northern Ireland, working on his film, Closing the Ring, set in Belfast during the Second World War. The movie was released in October, 2007.

Attenborough is also the patron of the UWC movement (United World Colleges) whereby he continually contributes greatly to the colleges that are part of the organisation. He has frequented the United World College of Southern Africa (UWCSA) Waterford Kamhlaba. His wife and he 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 who died in the tsunami on 26 December 2004. He passionately believes in education, primarily education that does not judge upon colour, race, creed or religion. His attachment to Waterford is his passion for non-racial education, which were the grounds on which Waterford Kamhlaba was founded. Waterford was one of his inspirations for directing the Cry Freedom motion picture based on the life of Steve Biko.

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.[4] There now hangs a 42 inch by 46 inch portrait of him in the University's library.[5]

A lifelong supporter of Chelsea Football Club, Attenborough served as a director of the club from 1969–1982 and between 1993 and 2008 held the honorary position of Life Vice President. On the 30 November 2008 he was honoured with the title of Life President at the club's stadium, Stamford Bridge.[6]

He is also the head of the consortium "Dragon International", which are currently constructing a film and television studio complex in Llanilid, Wales, often referred to as "Valleywood."


In 1967, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was knighted in 1976 and in 1993 he was made a life peer as Baron Attenborough, of Richmond upon Thames in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.[7]

In 1983, Attenborough was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolence Peace Prize by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.[8]

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".[9][10]

On 20 November 2008, Attenborough was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Drama from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow.[citation needed]

Attenborough is also listed as an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University for his continued efforts to film making.[11]

Personal life

Attenborough's father was the principal of University College, Leicester, now the city's university. This has resulted in a long association with the university, with Lord Attenborough a patron. The university's Embrace Arts at the RA centre[1], which opened in 1997, is named in his honour. He has two younger brothers, the world famous naturalist Sir David Attenborough; and John Attenborough, who has made a career in the motor trade.

Attenborough has been married to English actress Sheila Sim since 1945. Since 1951 he has lived in a house on Richmond Green. On 26 December 2004, his elder daughter, Jane Holland, as well as her daughter, Lucy, and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.[12] A memorial service was held on 8 March 2005, and Attenborough read a lesson at the national memorial service on 11 May 2005. His grandson Samuel Holland and granddaughter Alice Holland also read in the service. A commemorative plaque has been placed in the floor of St Mary Magdalen's Parish church in Richmond.

Attenborough has two other children, Michael John and Charlotte, an actress. Michael John Attenborough is Creative Director of the Almeida Theatre, London, and is also a director; he is married to actress Karen Lewis and has two sons. Attenborough has five grandsons and a surviving granddaughter.[citation needed]

Attenborough has collected Picasso ceramics since the 1950s. More than 100 items went on display at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester in 2007; the exhibition is dedicated to his family members lost in the tsunami.[13][14]

In 2008 he published, in association with his long standing associate, Diana Hawkins, an informal autobiography, Entirely Up to You, Darling.

In August 2008 Attenborough was hospitalised with heart problems, and was fitted with a pacemaker. In December 2008 he suffered a fall at his home and was admitted to St. George's Hospital in Tooting, South West London. He went into a coma, but came out of it within a few days.[15]

In May 2011, David Attenborough revealed that his brother was now in a wheelchair but is still capable of holding a conversation and talking about old times. But added, “He (Richard) probably won’t be making any more films.” [16]


Year Title Credited as
Producer Director Actor Role
1942 In Which We Serve Yes Young Stoker
1943 Schweik's New Adventures Yes Railway worker
1944 The Hundred Pound Window Yes Tommy Draper
1946 Journey Together Yes David Wilton
A Matter of Life and Death Yes An English pilot
School for Secrets Yes Jack Arnold
1947 Brighton Rock Yes Pinkie Brown
The Man Within Yes Francis Andrews
Dancing with Crime Yes Ted Peters
1948 London Belongs to Me Yes Percy Boon
The Guinea Pig Yes Jack Read
1949 The Lost People Yes Jan
Boys in Brown Yes Jackie Knowles
1950 Morning Departure Yes Stoker Snipe
1951 The Magic Box Yes Jack Carter
Hell is Sold Out Yes Pierre Bonnet
1952 Father's Doing Fine Yes Dougall
Eight O’Clock Walk Yes Thomas "Tom" Leslie Manning
Gift Horse Yes Dripper Daniels
1955 The Ship That Died of Shame Yes George Hoskins
1956 Private's Progress Yes Pvt. Percival Henry Cox
The Baby and the Battleship Yes Knocker White
1957 The Scamp Yes Stephen Leigh
Brothers in Law Yes Henry Marshall
1958 Dunkirk Yes John Holden
The Man Upstairs Yes Peter Watson
Sea of Sand Yes Brody
1959 The League of Gentlemen Yes Lexy
I'm All Right Jack Yes Sidney De Vere Cox
Danger Within Yes Capt. "Bunter" Phillips
Jet Storm Yes Ernest Tiller
SOS Pacific Yes Whitney Mullen
1960 The Angry Silence Yes Yes Tom Curtis
1961 Whistle Down the Wind Yes
1962 Only Two Can Play Yes Probert
The L-Shaped Room Yes
Trial and Error Yes Herbert Fowle
1963 The Great Escape Yes Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett
1964 The Third Secret Yes Alfred Price-Gorham
Séance on a Wet Afternoon Yes Yes Billy Savage
Guns at Batasi Yes Regimental Sgt. Major Lauderdale
1965 The Flight of the Phoenix Yes Lew Moran
1966 The Sand Pebbles Yes Frenchy Burgoyne
1967 Doctor Dolittle Yes Albert Blossom
1968 Only When I Larf Yes Silas
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Yes Robert Blossom
1969 The Magic Christian Yes Oxford coach
Oh! What A Lovely War Yes Yes
1970 Loot Yes Inspector Truscott
The Last Grenade Yes Gen. Charles Whiteley
A Severed Head Yes Palmer Anderson
1971 10 Rillington Place Yes John Reginald Christie
1972 Cup Glory Yes Narrator
Young Winston Yes Yes
1974 And Then There Were None Yes Judge Arthur Cannon
1975 Rosebud Yes Edward Sloat
Brannigan Yes Cmdr. Sir Charles Swann
Conduct Unbecoming Yes Maj. Lionel E. Roach
1977 Shatranj Ke Khiladi Yes General Outram
A Bridge Too Far Yes Yes Lunatic wearing glasses
1978 Magic Yes
1979 The Human Factor Yes Col. John Daintry
1982 Gandhi Yes Yes
1985 A Chorus Line Yes
1987 Cry Freedom Yes Yes
1992 Chaplin Yes Yes
1993 Jurassic Park Yes John Hammond
Shadowlands Yes Yes
1994 Miracle on 34th Street Yes Kris Kringle
1996 Hamlet Yes English Ambassador to Denmark
In Love and War Yes Yes
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Yes John Hammond
1998 Elizabeth Yes William Cecil
1999 Grey Owl Yes Yes
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Yes Jacob
2002 Puckoon Yes narrator
2007 Closing the Ring Yes Yes


  • Richard Attenborough, Esq. (1923–1967)
  • Richard Attenborough, Esq., CBE (1967–1976)
  • Sir Richard Attenborough, CBE (1976–1993)
  • The Rt Hon. The Lord Attenborough, CBE (1993–)


  1. ^ "Filmography by votes for Richard Attenborough", IMDb. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  2. ^ "Richard Attenborough Biography (1923–)". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "Richard Attenborough Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Lord Attenborough steps down as Sussex University chancellor". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Bulletin – 31 October 2008". 31 October 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "LIFE PRESIDENT ATTENBOROUGH | Latest Chelsea News | Team & Transfer News | Chelsea FC | Chelsea". Chelsea FC.,,10268~1472484,00.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  7. ^ "Burke's Peerage – Preview Family Record". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "Commemorative Service | The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change". Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  9. ^ "University of Leicester – Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Honorary Fellowships Announced by University of Leicester". 9 June 2006. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "News from India". 16 December 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  11. ^ "Lord Attenborough, Honorary Fellow, Bangor University". Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  12. ^ Pook, Sally (8 December 2005). "Attenborough family's fatal tsunami decision". The Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  13. ^ Leicester City Council[dead link]
  14. ^ "Richard Attenborough's Picasso ceramics". Times Online. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  15. ^ Clements, Jo (24 March 2009). "Frail but fighting, Richard Attenborough is on course for his 74th film role". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  16. ^ Walker, Tim (12 May 2011). "Lord Attenborough takes a final bow". Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 5 June 2011. 

External links

Preceded by
NFTS Honorary Fellowship Succeeded by
David Lean, CBE

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