<center> RICHARD VERNON
<center> Richard Vernon, actor, died on December 4 aged 72.
He was born on March 7, 1925.
IN VIRTUALLY all the roles he played, Richard Vernon typified every
foreigner's idea of an Englishman. Or rather one of those ideas. He
himself remarked ruefully that he seemed to be confined to playing either
intelligent academics or very stupid senior officers. But, of course,
there were many ways of portraying either sort of character and his
performances never suggested that he was being typecast. As soon as the
public set eyes upon
him on a screen, large or small, they could relax, confident that,
whether he was depicting a judge or a prime minister, a peer or a bishop,
a general or a paterfamilias, he would play it with a straight bat and a
stiff upper lip.
Admittedly, from time to time he was called upon to be outraged (as
when John Lennon threw at him "Give us a kiss" in A Hard Day's Night) or
explosive, but his true territory was that in which he was called upon to
personify quiet decency surviving in trying circumstances, or to hint at
the personal suffering behind the mask of authority. That authority he
could assume by a sort of natural right, but he possessed a special gift
for wearing it with human warmth and charm.
From near the beginning of his career he tended to play parts older
than his years: it was thus entirely appropriate that he made his first
appearance before the cameras at the age of 11 in Korda's curious mixture
of drama and
documentary, The Conquest of the Air.
Richard Evelyn Vernon was born in Reading of an old naval family,
educated at the Quaker Leighton Park and at Reading School, and as soon
as he was able, in 1943, he enlisted in the RNVR. At the end of the war
he was stationed in Hong Kong, and celebrated victory by producing,
directing and starring in a production of Shaw's Heartbreak House for the
local Combined Services Club.
His enthusiasm for amateur acting predictably led him to study drama
once he was demobbed, and he entered the Central School of Speech and
Drama. Like many of his generation whose beginnings were shaped by the
war, he was a relatively late starter, first appearing on the
professional stage in Ronald Duncan's play Stratton when he was 25. By
the time he was 28 he had graduated to playing Mr Darling in Peter Pan at
the Scala, with Evelyn Laye as Mrs Darling and Pat Kirkwood as Peter:
already his seeming maturity was ruling his casting.
If he was generally playing older men when scarcely out of his
twenties, at least they were always trim, attractive older men. He
himself was tall and slim, handsome without being flashy, and usually
equipped with a neat, vaguely
military moustache. This suited perfectly his role as Charles Parkin, MP,
in the long-running boardroom drama Any Other Business (1958), but it
him to fit neatly into cinematic contexts as various as Stanley Donen's
sophisticated comedy Indiscreet, the thriller SOS Pacific, the nautical
farce The Navy Lark, the last-ever Ealing film The Siege of Pinchgut,
Dearden's problem drama Sapphire, and the gruesome science fiction
Village of the Damned - all in just over a year, 1959-60.
During the 1960s he continued a busy professional life on stage, screen
and radio. In the theatre he appeared in the West End (The Edwardians and
the memorable 1968 revival of Hay Fever) and at the Royal Court. For the
cinema he decorated the edges of such films as Joseph Losey's The Servant
(1963), The Yellow Rolls-Royce and Goldfinger (both 1964). On radio he
Emsworth in several Wodehouse serialisations. Though all of these roles
were essentially variations on the same theme, he managed to make an
individual effect in each.
But it was with television that he really came into his own and built a
following. With his established qualities it was inevitable that he would
figure in such series as Upstairs, Downstairs, Edward VII, The Duchess of
Duke Street and, later, in Yes, Prime Minister, as well as John
Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey and Paradise Postponed. Less probably,
he played Slartibartfast,
galactic inventor with waist-length hair, in the science-fiction comedy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981), and he seemed enormously to
change of pace - though admittedly he was still, despite the disguise,
playing a discreet intellectual.
His television fame brought him bigger and better roles on stage,
notably when he took over from Laurence Olivier opposite Joan Plowright
in Saturday, Sunday, Monday (1974), and when he played the faceless,
insidious man from MI5 in Hugh Whitemore's Pack of Lies (1983). He also
had substantial roles in a couple of drama-docs for BBC TV, as the judge
in the Lady Chatterley's Lover
trial and as Harold Macmillan in Ian Curteis's study Suez 1956,
transmitted nearly 25 years after the event. He continued to act until
1995, when he fell victim to Parkinson's disease.
In 1955 he married a fellow actor, Benedicta Hoskins,whom he met
playing in rep at Canterbury. The marriage was dissolved in 1989. He is
survived by a son and a daughter.