Classical stage veteran Ian Richardson (pictured) passed away in his sleep in the early hours of this morning (9 February 2007). The actor’s death came as a shock as he had not been ill and was due to film episodes of ITV’s Midsomer Murders later this month. He was 72.

Born in Edinburgh on 7 April 1934, Richardson trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and began his acting career in 1958 at Birmingham Rep, where his Hamlet made an impression. In 1960, he became a founder member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he met his wife, fellow member Maroussia Frank (married in 1961) and appeared regularly until 1975.

His many Shakespeare roles with the company included Cassius, Coriolanus, Prospero, Oberon, Pericles, Richard II and Richard III, while his other notable credits included Vendice in Trevor Nunn's The Revenger's Tragedy and Marat in Peter Brook's Marat/Sade. He recreated the last role on Broadway in 1965 and in a film version two years later.

Sir Peter Hall, founding artistic director of the RSC, commented: “Ian Richardson was a classical actor of grace and elegance couple with brilliant comic timing. He was one of the first actors to sing on when I founded the RSC in 1960 and he remained with the company for many years, giving an array of outstanding performances. He was a perfectionist, with a gift for verse speaking which inspired a generation.”

After his 15 years of concentrated theatre with the RSC, Richardson found fame on television, most particularly playing, with a Shakespearean zeal, the scheming parliamentary villain Francis Urquhart in the 1990 BBC series House of Cards, for which he won a Best Actor BAFTA.

Richardson’s many other screen credits included: Danton’s Death, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Passing Through, Beauty and the Beast, Salad Days, The Woman in White, Star Quality, An Ungentlemanly Act, The Winslow Boy, The Phantom of the Opera, The Plot to Kill Hitler, To Play the Cut, The Final Cut, Gormenghast, Strange and Bleak House on TV; and Man of La Mancha, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Brazil, The Fourth Protocol, Cry Freedom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Incognito, Dark City and 102 Dalmations.

Amongst Richardson’s post-RSC theatre credits were The Government Inspector and Romeo and Juliet (1979) at the Old Vic, and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady (1976) and Lolita (1981) on Broadway. In 2002, Richardson returned to the RSC to perform John Barton’s The Hollow Crown, alongside Derek Jacobi, Donald Sinden and Janet Suzman on an international tour (See News, 15 Apr 2002).

He followed that with a revival of Pauline Macauley’s 1964 psychological drama The Creeper, which had regional tour in autumn 2005 before transferring to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre last February (See News, 12 Jan 2006). He subsequently won rave reviews for his comic turn as Sir Epicure Mammon in Nicholas Hytner’s revival of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist at the National Theatre, in a cast led by Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale.

- by Terri Paddock