Richard Attenborough

Actor, Director
Richard Attenborough


Also Known As
Lord Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, Lord Richard Attenborough, Richard Samuel Attenborough
Birth Place
Cambridge, England, GB
August 29, 1923
August 24, 2014


Prior to becoming the acclaimed director of epic features, Lord Richard Attenborough was noted for being a diversified actor whose roles ranged from unrepentant misfits to respected military men in both comedies and dramas. After making his mark as the sociopathic Pinky Brown in "Brighton Rock" (1943), Attenborough settled into a long onscreen career that spanned several decades and earn...

Photos & Videos

Brighton Rock - Movie Poster
The Great Escape - Movie Poster
In Which We Serve - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Sheila Sim
Magistrate, former actor. Married in January 1945; born on June 5, 1922; met at RADA; best remembered as the Women's Land Army recruit in the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film, "A Canterbury Tale" (1944); appeared in such films with husband as "The Guinea Pig" (1948); co-starred together in original West End production of the "Mousetrap" (1952); mother of their son and two daughters.


He was named Commander of the British Empire in 1967.

Awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize (1983)


Prior to becoming the acclaimed director of epic features, Lord Richard Attenborough was noted for being a diversified actor whose roles ranged from unrepentant misfits to respected military men in both comedies and dramas. After making his mark as the sociopathic Pinky Brown in "Brighton Rock" (1943), Attenborough settled into a long onscreen career that spanned several decades and earned him numerous awards. Up until the early 1960s, he was famous in his native England, while remaining largely unknown across the Atlantic. But that all changed with a standout performance in the ensemble epic, "The Great Escape" (1963), a large scale Hollywood blockbuster that introduced Attenborough to a wider audience. From there, he branched out into directing, helming the antiwar musical, "Oh! What A Lovely War" (1969). Socially conscious, Attenborough began focusing his creative energies on subjects about larger-than-life figures who changed the world, which culminated in directing one of the last true epics, "Gandhi" (1982). A stunning achievement in both scale and intimacy, "Gandhi" was a high watermark in Attenborough's career. Though later efforts like "Chaplin" (1992) and "Shadowlands" (1993) failed to live up to the measure of "Gandhi," Attenborough nonetheless remained a cinematic legend well into the new millennium. His death, following a lengthy illness, on August 24, 2014, brought international mourning for a major figure in British cinema.

Born Aug. 29, 1923 in Cambridge, England, Attenborough was raised in an academic home headed by his father, Frederick, a scholar and don at Emmanuel College who authored a textbook on Anglo-Saxon law, and his mother, Mary, a writer and founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, a charity that provided relationship support throughout the United Kingdom. Glimmers of the actor-to-be surfaced at 12 years old when Attenborough rented a public hall in Leicester and performed various acts that included sketches, harmonica solos and comic songs. He segued to Leicester's Little Theatre, where he performed on stage in small roles, thanks to his mother, who at the time was the theatre's president. After attending the Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, Attenborough studied drama at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met Sheila Sim, an actress and later magistrate with whom he remained married for over 60 years. While at RADA, he earned the Leverhulme Scholarship and won the Bancroft Silver Medal in 1942. Also while still in school, Attenborough made his professional stage debut in "Ah, Wilderness!" (1941), which he followed with his first West End performance in "Awake and Sing" (1942) and his first feature, "In Which We Serve" (1942).

After making a splash on stage as the manipulative young hoodlum, Pinky Brown, in a major production of "Brighton Rock" (1943), Attenborough did his duty and joined the Royal Air Force, serving as an air gunner cameraman during World War II. After the war, he reprised the sociopathic gangster for the film version, "Brighton Rock" (1947), which earned the young actor his first serious acclaim and widespread notoriety. For the next few decades, Attenborough acted primarily in British-made films, though he did on occasion appear in several high-profile American productions. He starred in the soaring tale of betrayal and redemption, "The Man Within" (1947), then played a tobacconist's son who becomes a poster child for affirmative action after winning a spot at a posh school in "The Guinea Pig" (1948). Following a co-starring turn in the seafaring World War II adventure, "Morning Departure" (1950), Attenborough appeared in a series of smaller roles until he starred as a taxi driver falsely accused of murdering a little girl in "Eight O'Clock Walk" (1954), a British-made courtroom drama based on real life events.

While Attenborough played a diversity of characters throughout the fertile 1950s and 1960s, he was mainly recognized for his numerous roles in military-themed features. In "The Ship That Died of Shame" (1955), he was a former crew member on a British gunboat who uses the ship to run his smuggling operation. After a comedic turn as a crude soldier in "A Private's Progress" (1956), he was an upstart lawyer in "The Brothers in Law" (1957), which he followed with a psychological profile of a scientist who mentally breaks down after accidentally killing the brother of his fiancée in "The Man Upstairs" (1958). Attenborough took a backseat to Peter Sellers in the biting workplace satire, "I'm All Right Jack" (1959), then joined an ensemble cast for "The League of Gentlemen" (1960), a crime thriller about a group of highly-trained military men who turn to robbing banks after an officer gets dishonorably discharged from the service. The actor turned to producing with "The Angry Silence" (1960), a social drama about a union worker (Attenborough) selected by the bosses to lead a strike, who later finds resentment against him and growing alienation from his family.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Attenborough appeared more comfortable in supporting roles and ensemble casts. After starring again alongside scene-stealer Peter Sellers in both "Only Two Can Play" (1962) and "The Dock Brief" (1962), he was an integral part in his first Hollywood feature, "The Great Escape" (1963), one of the most revered and enjoyable World War II films ever made. Attenborough played a British officer, Roger "Big X" Bartlett, who masterminds a complicated plan to escape from a German POW camp built specifically to prevent a group of notorious Allied prisoners famous for engineering several unsuccessful breakouts. Though the film's star was undoubtedly action hero Steve McQueen, who played a rebellious American forever the scourge of his captors, Attenborough stood out among a giant cast that included James Garner, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. He achieved another critical height with "Séance On a Wet Afternoon" (1964), playing the weak-willed husband of a crooked medium (Kim Stanley) who participates in a scheme to kidnap a wealthy young girl, hold her for ransom and use his wife's powers to locate the abducted girl. Attenborough earned awards recognition beyond the critical acclaim and won a British Film Academy Award for Best Actor.

Attenborough continued to earn wide critical praise while receiving several awards for his performances. After playing the navigator in "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965), he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), playing the shipmate of a crew member (Steve McQueen) who makes enemies for his fair treatment of the Chinese during a patrol of the Yangtze River during the country's turbulent civil war in the 1920s. The following year, he earned another Golden Globe Award in the same category for his performance in "Doctor Dolittle" (1967), then joined David Hemmings and Alexandra Stewart as a trio of con artists planning a big scam in the slapstick comedy "Only When I Larf" (1968). In 1969, Attenborough made his first foray into directing with "Oh! What a Lovely War," a war-time musical that satirized England's involvement in World War I, as seen through the eyes and experiences of a working-class family. With an all-star cast that included Ian Holm, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave, Attenborough directed a biting film that earned him another Golden Globe; this time for Best English Language Foreign Film.

Attenborough's venture into directing soon led to less frequent appearances in front of the camera, though he did manage to appear in four films the year following his filmmaking debut - "The Magic Christian" (1970), "A Severed Head" (1970), "Loot" (1970) and "10 Rillington Place" (1970). Getting back behind the camera, he helmed his second film, "Young Winston" (1972), an historical biopic that focused on the early life of Winston Churchill (Simon Ward), including his childhood, time spent in Africa as a war correspondent and his first election to Parliament. In the midst of a brief return to acting, which included turns in Otto Preminger's final two films, "Rosebud" (1975) and "The Human Factor" (1979), Attenborough directed "A Bridge Too Far" (1977), a sprawling World War II epic that detailed the disastrous Allied strike at Arnhem, the Netherlands in 1994, which led to a humiliating defeat. With another all-star cast to work with, including James Caan, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford and Sir Laurence Olivier, Attenborough made a dark, somber film that dispensed of jingoistic fervor in order to tell an engrossing cautionary tale.

In perhaps his greatest triumph, Attenborough brought to the screen a life-long dream project, "Gandhi" (1982), the most epic, but ultimately intimate historical biographies ever filmed. Starring Ben Kingsley as the non-violent revolutionary, "Gandhi" began with his life as a lawyer who sees his country in the grips of oppression and soon forsakes his life and possession in order to lead India's fight for independence through his policy of passive resistance, which ended in the leader's assassination. Both sweeping and personal, "Gandhi" was a landmark in cinematic history, earning Attenborough Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture. By the time he made "Gandhi," Attenborough had largely left acting behind. Meanwhile, he directed his next film, "A Chorus Line" (1985), which proved to be as much of a misfire as his previous effort had been a stunning achievement. Though faithful to the Broadway production, "A Chorus Line" suffered from an uneasy translation from stage musical to film. After narrating the documentary "Mother Theresa"(1986), he directed "Cry Freedom" (1987), a stirring look at the friendship between two men (Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington) struggling against Apartheid in South Africa during the 1970s.

After a five year hiatus from filmmaking, Attenborough returned with what was largely considered to be his biggest flop, "Chaplin" (1992), a long, sprawling biography about silent film star Charlie Chaplin (Robert Downey, Jr.). Despite a spot-on performance from Downey, Jr. and a potent mix of both drama and slapstick humor, "Chaplin" ultimately failed to catch on with audiences, resulting in an astoundingly poor box office performance. Attenborough soon returned to the director's chair, however, helming "Shadowlands" (1993), a lavish telling of the real-life love affair between C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) and a brash American divorcee (Debra Winger). Back in front of the camera for the first time in a while, Attenborough played an eccentric millionaire who builds an amusement park populated with dinosaurs cloned from the DNA of prehistoric fossils in "Jurassic Park" (1993). Also that year, he earned the rank of Baron Attenborough - he was knighted Sir Richard Attenborough in 1976 - which entitled him a seat in the House of Lords. With rejuvenated purpose, Attenborough tackled the role of Kriss Kringle for the contemporary remake of "Miracle on 34th Street" (1994). Attenborough then stepped back behind the camera for "In Love and War" (1996), the true story behind a young Ernest Hemingway (Chris O'Donnell) and his romance with a Red Cross nurse (Sandra Bullock) during World War I, which later proved to be the inspiration for A Farewell to Arms.

With his feet firmly replanted in the acting world, Attenborough played the English Ambassador in Kenneth Branagh's four-hour version of "Hamlet" (1996), then revived the eccentric millionaire John Hammond for "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). In "Elizabeth" (1998), he played Sir William Cecil, the chief advisor of Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) who warns the young queen to focus on domestic matters rather than personal relations. He next directed "Grey Owl" (1999), a true story about Archibald Belaney (Pierce Brosnan), an Englishman who emigrates to Canada and reinvents himself as a Native American who becomes a famous writer and conservationist. Once the new millennium came around, Attenborough had largely removed himself from both acting and directing, only to occasionally re-emerge.

In fact, after playing Magog in "Jim Henson's Jack And The Beanstalk: The Real Story" (2001), Attenborough retreated to an unannounced semi-retirement that allowed him to delve into his role as Chancellor of the University of Sussex, an honor he earned in 1998 and left following graduation in July 2008. On Dec. 26, 2004, tragedy struck the Attenborough clan - his daughter, Jane Holland, and his granddaughter, Lucy, were killed along with 225,000 others in the devastating tsunami that engulfed the landmasses around the Indian Ocean. Then after almost a decade removed from directing, he helmed "Closing the Ring" (2007), a romantic drama about a woman (Shirley MacLaine) who learns that her old boyfriend - who died in World War II - had tasked a Belfast local to give her a ring, which she receives 50 years after the fact. It proved to be Attenborough's swan song. Injuries sustained during a fall at his home in 2008 led him to use a wheelchair for mobility, and along with his wife, he spent his final years in a nursing home. Richard Attenborough died on August 24, 2014.



Director (Feature Film)

Closing the Ring (2007)
Grey Owl (1999)
In Love and War (1996)
Shadowlands (1993)
Chaplin (1992)
Cry Freedom (1987)
A Chorus Line (1985)
Gandhi (1982)
Magic (1978)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Young Winston (1972)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

Cast (Feature Film)

The Snow Prince (2007)
Ljuset Haller Mig Sallskap (2000)
Elizabeth (1998)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Hamlet (1996)
Wavelength (1995)
The Visitor
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Mother Teresa (1986)
The Human Factor (1980)
Colonel John Daintry
The Chess Players (1977)
General Outram
Rosebud (1975)
Brannigan (1975)
Commander Swann
Ten Little Indians (1975)
Conduct Unbecoming (1975)
Major Lionel Roach
10 Rillington Place (1971)
[John Reginald] Christie
A Severed Head (1971)
Palmer Anderson
The Magic Christian (1970)
Oxford coach
The Last Grenade (1970)
Gen. Charles Whitely
Loot (1970)
David Copperfield (1970)
Mr Tungay
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968)
Robert Blossom
Only When I Larf (1968)
Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Albert Blossom
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Frenchy Burgoyne
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Lew Moran
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
Billy Savage
Guns at Batasi (1964)
R. S. M. Lauderdale
The Third Secret (1964)
Alfred Price-Gorham
All Night Long (1963)
Rod Hamilton
The Great Escape (1963)
[Squadron Leader Roger] Bartlett "Big X"
Desert Patrol (1962)
Trooper Brody
Trial and Error (1962)
Fowle/judge/foreman of the jury/member of the public/character witness
Only Two Can Play (1962)
Gareth Probert
Jet Storm (1961)
Ernest Tilley
The League of Gentlemen (1961)
Edward Lexy
The Angry Silence (1960)
I'm All Right Jack (1960)
Sidney De Vere Cox
S.O.S. Pacific (1960)
Breakout (1959)
The Man Upstairs (1959)
Dunkirk (1958)
[John] Holden
The Scamp (1957)
Brothers in Law (1957)
Henry Marshall
Private's Progress (1956)
The Ship That Died Of Shame (1956)
The Baby And The Battleship (1956)
Knocker White
Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)
The Gift Horse (1953)
Father's Doing Fine (1952)
Hell Is Sold Out (1951)
The Magic Box (1951)
Morning Departure (1950)
The Lost People (1949)
Boys in Brown (1949)
London Belongs to Me (1948)
The Guinea Pig (1948)
Jack Read
Dancing With Crime (1947)
The Man Within (1947)
Brighton Rock (1947)
Pinky Brown
A Matter of Life and Death (1947)
School For Secrets (1946)
Journey Together (1945)
Hundred Pound Window (1944)
In Which We Serve (1942)

Producer (Feature Film)

Closing the Ring (2007)
Grey Owl (1999)
In Love and War (1996)
Shadowlands (1993)
Chaplin (1992)
Cry Freedom (1987)
Gandhi (1982)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
The L-Shaped Room (1963)
Whistle Down the Wind (1962)
The Angry Silence (1960)

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)
Whistle Down the Wind (1962)

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Mother Teresa (1986)

Cast (Special)

Forever Ealing (2002)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2000)
The Noel Coward Story (1999)
Frank Sinatra: The Voice (1998)
Diana: Queen of Hearts (1998)
Killer Whales: Wolves of the Sea (1993)
John Barry's Moviola (1993)
Freedomfest: Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Celebration (1988)
Clue: Movies, Murder and Mystery (1986)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Jim Henson's Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001)
The Railway Children (2000)

Life Events


Professional stage debut in "Ah, Wilderness!" at Palmers Green


West End debut, "Awake and Sing"


Played a deserting sailor in film debut "In Which We Serve"


Had first major stage success as Pinkie in "Brighton Rock"


Joined the Royal Air Force during World War II


Cast opposite Edward G. Robinson in John Boulting's propaganda drama "Journey Together"


Achieved star status when he reprised his role as Pinkie in the film version of "Brighton Rock"


Acted with Bryan Forbes in "The Baby and the Battleship"


Co-produced (with Forbes) first film "The Angry Silence"


Formed the production company Beaver Films with Bryan Forbes


Made first Hollywood film "The Great Escape"


Beaver Films dissolved after the making of "Seance on a Wet Afternoon"


Made film directing debut with "Oh! What a Lovely War"


Portrayed serial killer John Christie in "10 Rillington Place"


Directed the epic war film "A Bridge Too Far"


Last screen appearance for 14 years, Otto Preminger's "The Human Factor"


Won two Academy Awards for directing and producing the historical epic "Gandhi"


Directed the screen version of the musical "A Chorus Line"; earned a Best Director Golden Globe nomination


Served as a consultant for and provided the narration to the feature-length documentary "Mother Teresa"


Directed the Apartheid drama "Cry Freedom," based on the life and tragic death in police custody of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko; earned a Best Director Golden Globe nomination


Produced and directed "Chaplin," starring Robert Downey Jr. in title role


Directed the biographical drama "Shadowlands," about the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham


Returned to acting in features for Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park"


Played Kris Kringle in the remake of "Miracle on 34th Street"


Reprised role for Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park"


Portrayed Sir William Cecil, an advisor to the monarch in "Elizabeth"


Directed Pierce Brosnan as conservationist "Grey Owl"


Lent his voice to the CBS miniseries "Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story"


Named President of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)


Helmed romantic drama "Closing the Ring," Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer; also produced


Published in association with long-standing associate Diana Hawkins, his autobiography <i>Entirely Up to You, Darling</i>

Photo Collections

Brighton Rock - Movie Poster
Brighton Rock - Movie Poster
The Great Escape - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Great Escape (1963), starring Steve McQueen and James Garner. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
In Which We Serve - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for the British film In Which We Serve (1942), starring Noel Coward. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.


Movie Clip

League Of Gentlemen, The (1960) - The Liquor IS Genuine Assembling in London's famous Cafe Royal after getting mysterious invitations promising profits, Bryan Forbes (who wrote the screenplay), Terence Alexander, Richard Attenborough, Roger Livesey, Kieron Moore and Norman Bird begin appraising each other, before Jack Hawkins begins to explain, Nigel Patrick arriving late, in the celebrated heist yarn The League Of Gentlemen, 1960.
All Night Long (1963) - Pretty Chummy Charles Mingus on bass and Tubby Hayes on vibes provide background as London club owner Rod (Richard Attenborough) and manager Cass (Keith Michell) talk shop in All Night Long, 1963.
All Night Long (1963) - Margolis on Jazz Stoned Cass (Keith Michell) uses jazz theory to insult impresario Berger (Bernard Braden) who spurns apologies from Rod (Richard Attenborough), Johnny (Patrick McGoohan and Rex (Paul Harris) in All Night Long, 1963.
League Of Gentlemen, The (1960) - You're All Crooks Upon assembly of the band, mastermind Hyde (Jack Hawkins) reveals the military and criminal backgrounds of Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes (also the screenwriter), Nigel Patrick, Kieron Moore and Terence Alexander, in The League Of Gentlemen, 1960, directed by Basil Dearden.
League Of Gentlemen, The (1960) - People Are Greedy By way of introducing Richard Attenborough, as mechanic-type Lexy, at a shop in Queens’ Gate Place Mews, visited by his (uncredited) dad and a bird, confirmed as part of the scheme by the paperback in his drawer, in director Basil Dearden’s beloved caper The League Of Gentlemen, 1960.
All Night Long (1963) - It's A Raggy Waltz, Dave Brubeck Dave Brubeck (making his only feature film appearance) leads Brits Bert Courtley and Johnny Scott (trumpet, alto, who both later played on Beatles recordings!) in his own composition It's A Raggy Waltz, actors (Patrick McGoohan et al), spectating, in director Basil Dearden's All Night Long, 1963.
Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) - Last Minute Doubts Cryptic conversation, deranged medium Myra (Kim Stanley) with husband Billy (Richard Attenborough, who also produced) involving their dead son and a barely revealed scheme to enhance their circumstances, early in director Bryan Forbes' Seance On A Wet Afternoon, 1964.
Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) - See You In A Tick Director Bryan Forbes looks to be having a good time, shooting and editing his producer and star Richard Attenborough, as Londoner Billy, manipulated by his mentally ill wife into kidnapping affluent Amanda (Judith Donner) in a scheme to prove her powers as a psychic, in Seance On A Wet Afternoon, 1964.
Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) - It's A Young Face Opening sequence, director Bryan Forbes presents medium Myra (Kim Stanley) at work, her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough, also the producer) not seen, camera by Gerry Turpin, on location in London's Wimbledon district, in Seance On A Wet Afternoon, 1964.
Dunkirk (1958) - Be Like Dad -- Keep Mum! In London, March 1940, irritated with sketchy news from the Ministry Of Information, journalist Foreman (Bernard Lee) at his local, joined by his wife (Maxine Audley), tangling with machine shop owner Holden (Richard Attenborough), whom he considers a profiteer, a merchant seaman (Victor Maddern) joining in, early in Dunkirk, 1958.
Dunkirk (1958) - You're Under Orders Now Now in Sheerness, Kent, having sailed their commandeered boats from London, journalist Foreman (Bernard Lee) realizes British forces in France are being routed, tells the naval officer (Michael Gwynn) he’s willing to sail across himself, inspiring young Frankie (Sean Barrett) and previously timid Holden (Richard Attenborough) to volunteer as well, in Dunkirk, 1958.
Gandhi (1982) - Day Of Prayer And Fasting Spring, 1919, Jinnah (Alyque Padamsee) introduces Ben Kingsley (title character) to fellow Muslim leader Patel (Saeed Jaffrey) and friends, Nehru (Roshan Seth) joining, in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, 1982.




Frederick Levi Attenborough
Teacher. Don at Emmanuel College; author of a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law.
Mary Attenborough
Writer. Founding member of Marriage Guidance Council.
David Attenborough
Writer, executive. Known for books and TV documentaries on wildlife, evolution and travel; head of BBC Television's Channel Two; born on May 7, 1927.
Michael Attenborough
Theater executive. Born on February 13, 1950; associate director, Royal Shakespeare Company; mother, Sheila Sim.
Jane Attenborough
Mother, Sheila Sim.
Charlotte Attenborough
Mother, Sheila Sim.


Sheila Sim
Magistrate, former actor. Married in January 1945; born on June 5, 1922; met at RADA; best remembered as the Women's Land Army recruit in the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film, "A Canterbury Tale" (1944); appeared in such films with husband as "The Guinea Pig" (1948); co-starred together in original West End production of the "Mousetrap" (1952); mother of their son and two daughters.



He was named Commander of the British Empire in 1967.

Awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize (1983)

Received India's Padma Bhusan (1983)

Worked as pro-chancelllor of Sussex University.

He was honored with a BBC/BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Tribute on December 19, 1999