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I. Richardson, 72; made evil an art form in 3 miniseries

February 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

Ian Richardson, who brought Shakespearean depth to his portrayal of a thoroughly immoral politician in the hugely popular satirical TV drama "House of Cards," died Friday at age 72, his agent said.

Besides his many stage, screen and TV roles, Richardson appeared in mustard commercials as the man in the Rolls-Royce who asked: "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"

He died in his sleep at his London home, said the agent, Jean Diamond.

Richardson played the silkily evil Francis Urquhart in three miniseries: "House of Cards" in 1990, "To Play the King" in 1993 and "The Final Cut" in 1995.

Urquhart's smooth riposte to any slur against another character -- "You may think that; I couldn't possibly comment" -- was picked up by British politicians and heard repeatedly in the House of Commons.

His other TV roles included Bill Haydon in John Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"; Sir Godber Evans in "Porterhouse Blue"; and Sherlock Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

In 2001, he played Dr. Joseph Bell, the mentor of Arthur Conan Doyle, in the miniseries "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes," which was broadcast in the United States on PBS' "Mystery."

On Broadway, he played Jean-Paul Marat in "Marat/Sade" in 1965, reprising the role in the United Artists film the following year, and Henry Higgins in a 1976 revival of "My Fair Lady," for which he was nominated for a Tony Award as best actor in a musical.

Other film credits included "Brazil" in 1985, "The Fourth Protocol" in 1987, "B*A*P*S" in 1997 and "102 Dalmatians" in 2000.

"House of Cards" was brilliantly, if accidentally, timed. It appeared in Britain in the same year Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was brought down by feuding in her Conservative Party.

The miniseries was shown in the United States as part of PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre."

"Urquhart was a wicked character, but Richardson portrayed him in such a way that everybody loved it. In anybody else's hands, that role could have fallen flat on his face," said Michael Dobbs, who wrote the book on which "House of Cards" was based.

In the feverish atmosphere of Thatcher's downfall, "even John Major's leadership campaign in 1990 came to a halt at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night so that the whole campaign team could sit down and see what was happening," Dobbs said.

Richardson, born in Edinburgh in 1934, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

He is survived by his wife, Maroussia, and two sons.

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