Richard Griffiths

Richard Thomas Griffiths OBE (31 July 1947 – 28 March 2013)[1][2] was an English actor of film, television, and stage. He received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actor and the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, all for his role in The History Boys. For the 2006 film adaptation, Griffiths was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Richard Griffiths

Griffiths at the BAFTA in 2007
Richard Thomas Griffiths

(1947-07-31)31 July 1947
Died28 March 2013(2013-03-28) (aged 65)
Resting placeSt Mary The Virgin Churchyard, Bearley, Warwickshire
ResidenceStratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
EducationStockton & Billingham College
Alma materManchester Polytechnic School of Drama
Years active1974–2013
Heather Gibson (m. 1980)
AwardsLaurence Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics, Tony Award

He also played Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter film series, Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1987), Dr. Albert Meinheimer in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Henry Crabbe in Pie in the Sky (1994–1997), Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and King George II in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). Earlier in his career, he had a supporting role as British journalist Collins in Richard Attenborough's Academy Award-winning film Gandhi (1982).

Early years

Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire, to Jane (née Denmark) and Thomas Griffiths. His father was a steelworker who also fought in pubs for money, while his mother's occupation was described as "bagger".[3] He and his brother John were raised in the Roman Catholic faith.[1][4]

His parents were both deaf, and he was a native speaker of British Sign Language. During his childhood he attempted to run away from home many times. He dropped out of Our Lady & St Bede School in Stockton-On-Tees at the age of 15 [5] and worked as a porter for Littlewoods for a while, but his boss eventually persuaded him to go back to school. He decided to attend a drama class at Stockton & Billingham College.[5] He continued his education in drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama (present-day Manchester School of Theatre).[6]


After graduating, Griffiths won a contract on BBC Radio with their Radio Drama Company.[7] He also worked in small theatres, sometimes acting and sometimes managing.[8] He built up an early reputation as a Shakespearean clown with portrayals of Pompey in Measure for Measure and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and went on to play the Kings in Love's Labour's Lost and in Henry VIII.[3] He eventually settled in Manchester and began to get lead roles in plays.[3] From there, he began to appear on television and then got his big break in film in It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1976). By the early 1980s, he was selected for the lead role in Bird of Prey, an early computer-conspiracy thriller. His character Henry Jay was reprised in Bird of Prey 2 (1984).[9] In 1981, he also gave a memorable performance as Chilean secret police victim William Beausire in an edition of the BBC Prisoners of Conscience series.[10] Griffiths went on to supporting roles in a number of major films, including The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots of Fire, and Gandhi.[11] On stage, in 1985–86, he performed the role of Verdi in Julian Mitchell's After Aida, in Wales and at the Old Vic Theatre in London. He appeared in The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.

Griffiths' film roles were in both contemporary and period pieces, such as Gorky Park (1983), Withnail and I (1987), King Ralph (1991), The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Guarding Tess (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).[12] Later, he was seen as Harry Potter's cruel uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series, appearing in five of the eight films: Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows – Part 1.[13]

He appeared as Inspector Henry Crabbe, disillusioned policeman and pie chef extraordinaire, in Pie in the Sky, a role which was created specifically for him.[9] He also made an extended appearance in the 2005 version of Charles Dickens' Bleak House.[14] In 2004, he originated the role of Hector (the teacher) in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, directed by Nicholas Hytner, winning the 2005 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor.[3] During the play's subsequent United States run, he added a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Tony Award.[15][3][2] He reprised his role in the film version, which was released in October 2006.[16]

Together with his Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe, he appeared in a stage revival of Peter Shaffer's Equus at the Gielgud Theatre in London, and later from October 2008 in a short run of the play at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, which ended in February 2009.[17][18] Later, in 2009, he replaced Michael Gambon as W.H. Auden prior to the premiere of The Habit of Art at the National Theatre, once again directed by Hytner.[19]

Griffiths was considered for the part of the Doctor in Doctor Who, following Tom Baker's departure in 1981, but was unavailable. He was strongly considered once again to take on the role of the Eighth Doctor, had the series continued past 1989.[20] He performed in adaptations of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, providing the voice for Slartibartfast for the radio adaptation of Life, the Universe and Everything and playing the Vogon Jeltz in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.[21][22] He appeared in Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler and as a special guest in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.[23][24]

In 2005 he asked a member of the audience to leave a performance of Heroes after her phone rang three times.[25] This interruption of a performance because of audience distraction happened three times in his career.[26]

Griffiths appeared as King George II in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.[27] He appeared in the first episode of the television series Episodes as Julian Bullard.[28] In April 2012, Griffiths starred, with Danny DeVito, in a revival of the Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys. The show previewed at the Savoy Theatre from 27 April 2012, opening on 17 May and playing a limited 12-week season until 28 July.[29]

Personal life

Griffiths met Heather Gibson in 1973 and they married in 1980.[30] They had no children.

Griffiths was awarded an honorary degree from Teesside University in 2006[5] and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.[31]


Griffiths died aged 65 at the University Hospital Coventry on 28 March 2013 after complications following heart surgery.[32]



1977It Shouldn't Happen to a VetSam Broadbent
1980Breaking GlassStudio engineer
Superman IITerrorist #3
1981Chariots of FireHead Porter at Caius College
The French Lieutenant's WomanSir Tom
RagtimeDelmas' Assistant No. 1
1982Britannia HospitalCheerful Bernie
1983Gorky ParkAnton
1984Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the ApesCaptain Billings
A Private FunctionHenry Allardyce the Accountant
1986Shanghai SurpriseWillie Tuttle
1987Withnail and IUncle Monty
1991King RalphDuncan Phipps
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of FearDr. Albert S. Meinheimer / Earl Hacker
1992Blame It on the BellboyMaurice Horton
1994Guarding TessFrederick
1995Funny BonesJim Minty
1997The Warrens
1999Sleepy HollowMagistrate Philipse
Casper & Spooky
2000VatelDr. Bourdelot
2001Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneVernon Dursley
2002Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2004Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Stage BeautySir Charles Sedley
2005The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyJeltzVoice
The History BoysHector
2007Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixVernon Dursley
2008Bedtime StoriesBarry Nottingham
2010National Theatre Live: The Habit of ArtFitz / W.H. Auden
Jackboots on WhitehallHermann GöringVoice
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1Vernon Dursley
2011Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesKing George II
HugoMonsieur Frick
2012Private PeacefulThe Colonel
2013About TimeDefense Lawyer in play (Thomas Serwell)Posthumous release, Uncredited, (final film role)


1974Crown CourtInterpreterEpisode 3.31: "Duress: Part 1"
Village HallMr. RidealghEpisode 1.1: "Mr. Ellis Versus the People"
ITV PlayhousePark keeperEpisode 7.2: "Norma"
1976When the Boat Comes InP.C. PriceEpisode 1.1 "A Land Fit for Heroes and Idiots"
Red Letter DayWindow cleanerEpisode 1.3: "Well Thank You, Thursday"
The ExpertRipleyEpisode 4.10: "Tainted Money"
1977Second City FirstsEpisode 8.1: "Twelve Off the Belt"
ITV PlayhouseBoard memberEpisode 9.10: "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll"
1978The Comedy of ErrorsOfficerTV play
The SweeneyRonnie HarriesEpisode 4.14: "Jack or Knave"
1979Afternoon OffMr. TurnbullTV play
1980Nobody's PerfectSam Hooper
1981Prisoners of ConscienceWilliam BeausireEpisode 1.1: "William Beausire"
1982MinderDerek FarrowEpisode 3.5: "Dreamhouse"
Whoops ApocalypsePremier DubienkinEpisode 1.6: "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
Bird of PreyHenry JayTV mini-series; all four episodes
The World Cup: A Captain's TaleSidney BarronTV film
Five-Minute FilmsThe Window CleanerEpisode: "A Light Snack"
The Merry Wives of WindsorSir John FalstaffTV film
1983The CleopatrasPot BellyTV mini-series; three episodes
BergeracJean-PierreEpisode 2.6: "Fall of a Birdman"
1984Bird of Prey 2Henry JayTV mini-series; all four episodes
1985Bleak HouseMr Bayham BadgerBBC TV serial
1986BoonSidney GarbuttEpisode 1.6: "Glasshouse People"
The Raggy DollsHi-Fi
1987CasanovaCardinalTV film
FfizzJack Mowbray
The MarksmanBrownTV mini-series
1988–1990A Kind of LivingTrevor Beasley15 episodes
1989GoldeneyeSecond admiralTV film
1989Bookmark: Plum, A Portrait of P.G. Wodehousevoice of P.G. WodehouseTV documentary[33]
1991Perfect ScoundrelsPhil KirbyEpisode 2.1: "Ssh, You Know Who"
1992El C.I.D.WeatherbyEpisode 3.2: "Nothing Is Forever"
The Good GuysArchie PhillipsEpisode 1.8: "Going West"
Mr. Wakefield's CrusadePorterTV film
1993Inspector MorseCanon Humphrey AppletonEpisode 7.2: "The Day of the Devil"
LovejoyHans KoopmanEpisode 4.9: "They Call Me Midas"
The DreamstoneThe LibrarianStop-motion Television Special: "The Book Worm"; voice
1994A Breed of HeroesBrian BeazelyTV film
1994–1995The World of Peter Rabbit and FriendsMr. Alderman Ptolomy Tortoise
Mr. Jackson
Sir Isaac Newton
Two episodes; voice
1994–1997Pie in the SkyHenry CrabbeAll 40 episodes
1998In the RedGeoffrey Crichton-PotterEpisode 1.3
The Canterbury TalesSaturnEpisode 1.1: "Leaving London"; voice
Oi! Get Off Our TrainElephantTV short; voice
Ted & RalphLandowner at PartyTV film
1998–2000Archibald the KoalaArchibaldAll 52 episodes; voice,[34] (alongside Keith Wickham)
1999The Vicar of DibleyBishop of MulberryEpisode 3.17: "Spring"
2000GormenghastSwelterTV mini-series; two episodes
Hope and GloryLeo WheeldonTwo episodes
2002TLCMr Benedict Ron
Jeffrey Archer: The TruthWillie WhitelawTV film
2003The Brides in the BathSir Edward Marshall HallTV film
2005Princes in the TowerSir Thomas MoreTV film; voice
Bleak HouseMr. Bayham BadgerTV mini-series; two episodes
2007Ballet ShoesGreat Uncle MatthewTV film
2008A Muppets Christmas: Letters to SantaSanta ClausTV film
2010National Theatre LiveFitz / W.H. AudenTV play: The Habit of Art
2011George and Bernard ShawBernardEpisode 1.1: "Pilot"
EpisodesJulian BullardEpisode 1.1: "Episode One"
2012The Hollow Crown – Henry VDuke of BurgundyTV film


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  3. "Richard Griffiths". Telegraph. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
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  6. "Alumni profile". The Manchester Metropolitan University School of Theatre web site.
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  9. "THE FULL MONTY". The Independent. 28 June 1997. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
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  21. 1952-2001., Adams, Douglas, (2005). The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy radio scripts : the tertiary, quandary and quintessential phases. Maggs, Dirk., Hyman, Bruce., Chattwell, Helen., Above the Title (Firm). London: Pan. ISBN 0330435108. OCLC 58831947.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  22. Jem,, Roberts,. The Frood : the authorised and very official history of Douglas Adams & the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. London. ISBN 9780099590767. OCLC 920836076.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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  28. Desk, TV News. "Richard Griffiths Joins LeBlanc & Mangan In Showtime/BBC's 'Episodes'". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
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