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Richard Griffiths

BAFTA 2007 (387023768).jpg
Griffiths at the 61st British Academy Film Awards in 2007
Born (1947-07-31)31 July 1947
Died 28 March 2013(2013-03-28) (aged 65)
Resting place St Mary The Virgin Churchyard, Bearley, Warwickshire
Education Stockton & Billingham College
Alma mater Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama
Occupation Actor
Years active 1974–2013
Heather Gibson
(m. 1980)
Awards Tony Award, Laurence Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics

Richard Thomas Griffiths OBE (31 July 1947 – 28 March 2013) was an English actor of film, television, and stage. For his performance in the stage play The History Boys, Griffiths won a Tony Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. For the 2006 film adaptation, Griffiths was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

He played Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films (2001-2010) and Great Uncle Matthew Brown "Gum" in the BBC film Ballet Shoes (2007). He also portrayed Uncle Monty in Withnail and I (1987), and Henry Crabbe in Pie in the Sky (1994–1997). Earlier in his career, he had supporting roles in such critically acclaimed films as Chariots of Fire (1981), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Gandhi (1982), and The Naked Gun 2+12: The Smell of Fear (1991). In his later career he appeared in Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and in Martin Scorsese's Hugo (2011).

Early years

Richard Thomas Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire, to Jane (née Denmark, 1923–1969) and Thomas Griffiths (1915–1976). His father was a steelworker who also fought in pubs for money, while his mother's occupation was described as "bagger". He had an elder sister and two elder brothers, all of whom died in infancy before he was born. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic.

As a boy he was so skinny that he was given radiation therapy on his pituitary gland when he was eight years old. This permanently slowed his metabolism, making him struggle with obesity for the rest of his life.

His parents were both deaf and he became fluent in British Sign Language at an early age. 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 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. He continued his education in drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre (now Manchester School of Theatre) at the same time as Bernard Hill.


After graduating, Griffiths won a contract on BBC Radio with their Radio Drama Company. He also worked in small theatres, sometimes acting and sometimes managing. 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. He eventually settled in Manchester and began to get lead roles in plays. 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). 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. Griffiths went on to supporting roles in a number of major films, including The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots of Fire and Gandhi. On stage, in 1985–1986, 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 2+12: The Smell of Fear (1991), Guarding Tess (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999). Later, he was seen as Harry Potter's bitter 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.

He appeared as Inspector Henry Crabbe, disillusioned policeman and pie chef extraordinaire, in Pie in the Sky, a role which was created for him. He also made an extended appearance in the 2005 version of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. 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. During the play's United States run, he added a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award. He reprised his role in the film version, which was released in October 2006. In 2007 he starred in Ballet Shoes with his Harry Potter co-stars Emma Watson and Gemma Jones.

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. 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.

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. 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. He appeared in Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler and as a special guest in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.

In 2005 he asked a member of the audience to leave a performance of Heroes after her phone rang three times. Such interruptions due to audience distractions happened three times in his career.

Griffiths appeared as George II in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He appeared in the first episode of the television series Episodes as Julian Bullard. 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.

Personal life

Griffiths met Heather Gibson in 1973 and they married in 1980. They had no children. Griffiths was awarded an honorary degree from Teesside University in 2006 and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.

He was the godfather of comedian Jack Whitehall.


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



Year Title Role Notes
1977 It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet Sam Broadbent
1980 Breaking Glass Studio engineer
Superman II Terrorist #3
1981 Chariots of Fire Head Porter at Caius College
The French Lieutenant's Woman Sir Tom
Ragtime Delmas' Assistant No. 1
1982 Britannia Hospital Cheerful Bernie
Gandhi Collins
1983 Gorky Park Anton
1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Captain Billings
A Private Function Henry Allardyce the Accountant
1986 Shanghai Surprise Willie Tuttle
1987 Withnail and I Uncle Monty
1991 King Ralph Duncan Phipps
The Naked Gun 2+12: The Smell of Fear Dr. Albert S. Meinheimer / Earl Hacker
1992 Blame It on the Bellboy Maurice Horton
1994 Guarding Tess Frederick
1995 Funny Bones Jim Minty
1997 The Warrens
1999 Sleepy Hollow Magistrate Philipse
Casper & Spooky
2000 Vatel Dr. Bourdelot
2001 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Vernon Dursley
2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Stage Beauty Sir Charles Sedley
2005 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Jeltz Voice
Opa! Tierrney
2006 Venus Donald
The History Boys Hector
2007 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Vernon Dursley
2008 Bedtime Stories Barry Nottingham
2010 National Theatre Live: The Habit of Art Fitz / W.H. Auden
Jackboots on Whitehall Hermann Göring Voice
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Vernon Dursley
2011 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides King George II
Hugo Monsieur Frick
2012 Private Peaceful The Colonel
2013 About Time Defence Lawyer in play (uncredited) Posthumous release
Final film role


Year Title Role Notes
1974 Crown Court Interpreter Episode 3.31: "Duress: Part 1"
Village Hall Mr. Ridealgh Episode 1.1: "Mr. Ellis Versus the People"
ITV Playhouse Park keeper Episode 7.2: "Norma"
1976 When the Boat Comes In P.C. Price Episode 1.1 "A Land Fit for Heroes and Idiots"
Red Letter Day Window cleaner Episode 1.3: "Well Thank You, Thursday"
The Expert Ripley Episode 4.10: "Tainted Money"
1977 Second City Firsts Episode 8.1: "Twelve Off the Belt"
ITV Playhouse Board member Episode 9.10: "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll"
1978 The Comedy of Errors Officer TV play
The Sweeney Ronnie Harries Episode 4.14: "Jack or Knave"
1979 Afternoon Off Mr. Turnbull TV play
1980 Nobody's Perfect Sam Hooper 14 episodes
1981 Prisoners of Conscience William Beausire Episode 1.1: "William Beausire"
1982 Minder Derek Farrow Episode: "Dreamhouse"
Whoops Apocalypse Premier Dubienkin Episode: "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
Bird of Prey Henry Jay 4 episodes
The World Cup: A Captain's Tale Sidney Barron TV film
Five-Minute Films The Window Cleaner Episode: "A Light Snack"
The Merry Wives of Windsor Sir John Falstaff Part of the BBC Television Shakespeare series
1983 The Cleopatras Pot Belly 3 episodes
Bergerac Jean-Pierre Episode 2.6: "Fall of a Birdman"
1984 Bird of Prey 2 Henry Jay 4 episodes
1985 Bleak House Mr Bayham Badger BBC TV serial
1986 Boon Sidney Garbutt Episode: "Glasshouse People"
1987 Casanova Cardinal TV film
Ffizz Jack Mowbray 12 episodes
The Marksman Brown TV mini-series
1988–90 A Kind of Living Trevor Beasley 15 episodes
1989 Goldeneye Second admiral TV film
1989 Plum, A Portrait of P.G. Wodehouse P.G. Wodehouse (voice) BBC documentary
1991 Perfect Scoundrels Phil Kirby Episode: "Ssh, You Know Who"
1992 El C.I.D. Weatherby Episode: "Nothing Is Forever"
The Good Guys Archie Phillips Episode: "Going West"
Mr. Wakefield's Crusade Porter TV film
1993 Inspector Morse Canon Humphrey Appleton Episode: "The Day of the Devil"
Lovejoy Hans Koopman Episode: "They Call Me Midas"
1994 A Breed of Heroes Brian Beazely TV film
1993–95 The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends Various (voice) 3 episodes
1994–97 Pie in the Sky Henry Crabbe All 40 episodes
1998 In the Red Geoffrey Crichton-Potter Episode 1.3
The Canterbury Tales Saturn (voice) Episode: "Leaving London"
Oi! Get Off Our Train Elephant (voice) TV short
Ted & Ralph Landowner at Party TV film
1998–00 Archibald the Koala Archibald (voice) Episode: The Dragon
1999 The Vicar of Dibley Bishop of Mulberry Episode: "Spring"
2000 Gormenghast Swelter TV mini-series; 2 episodes
Hope and Glory Leo Wheeldon 10 episodes
2002 TLC Mr Benedict Ron 6 episodes
Jeffrey Archer: The Truth Willie Whitelaw TV film
2003 The Brides in the Bath Sir Edward Marshall Hall TV film
2005 Princes in the Tower Sir Thomas More (voice) TV film
Bleak House Mr. Bayham Badger 2 episodes
2007 Ballet Shoes Great Uncle Matthew Brown "Gum" TV film
2008 A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa Santa Claus TV film
2010 National Theatre Live Fitz / W.H. Auden TV play: The Habit of Art
2011 George and Bernard Shaw Bernard Episode: "Pilot"
Episodes Julian Bullard Episode: "Episode One"
2012 The Hollow Crown – Henry V Duke of Burgundy TV film


Year Production Role Venue Ref.
1974 Measure for Measure Abhorson/Guard The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Tempest Gonzalo The Other Palace, London
1976–77 The Comedy of Errors Officer The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1976–77 Romeo and Juliet Peter The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1977 The Days of the Commune Thiers Aldwych Theatre, London
1978 The Tempest Trinculo The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1978–79 Measure for Measure Pompey The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1978 A Miserable and Lonely Death Dr. Gordon Donmar Warehouse, London
1983–84 Volpone Volpone The Other Place, London
2004–2005 The History Boys Hector Lyttelton Theatre, London
2006 Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway
2008–09 Equus Martin Dysart
2010 The Habit of Art Fitz/W. H. Auden Lyttelton Theatre, London
2012 The Sunshine Boys Al Savoy Theatre, London

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1981 Clarence Derwent Awards Best Supporting Male N/A Won
2003 Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Acting Ensemble Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Nominated
2005 Laurence Olivier Awards Best Actor The History Boys Won
2006 Tony Award Best Actor in a Play Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Best Actor in a Play Won
Theatre World Award N/A Won
2007 British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role The History Boys Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Best Actor of the Year Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
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