Saturday, December 5, 2009

Godspeed Richard Todd, British Actor & War Hero

Actor and war hero Richard Todd OBE passed on Thursday at the age of 90. He had been suffering from cancer. Mr. Todd starred in such films as The Dam Busters, The Longest Day, and Asylum. During World War II he was one of the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

Richard Todd was born in Dublin to Andrew Todd, a British army physician and international rugby player. He spent a few years of his childhood in India while his father served there. Eventually the family settled in West Devon, where Mr. Todd attended Shrewsbury School. While in school he decided he wanted to be a playwright. Todd underwent training for potential military career at Sandhurst before attending the Italia Conti Academy to learn about the theatre. It was in 1936 that he made his professional acting debut in a production of Twelfth Night at he Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park. Mr. Todd would go onto become a founding member of the Dundee repertory company. Mr. Todd also appeared as an extra in a few films.

Upon the beginning of World War II, Richard Todd joined the British Army and received a commission in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1941. In 1943 he requested to become a paratrooper. As such he was posted to 7th Parachute Battalion. Captain Richard Todd was among the first British officers to parachute into Normandy as part of D-Day. He and his men met with Major John Howard and captured Pegasus Bridge, one of the most important actions of the war. All throughout the war Captain Todd let no one know that he was an actor, for fear that he would be assigned to Entertainments' National Service Association (Esna).

Following the war Mr. Todd returned to the Dundee repertory company. It was not long after that he appeared in the West End production of The Hasty Heart. He made his film debut in the movie For Them That Tresspass in 1949. He reprised his role in The Hasty Heart in the motion picture adaptation of the play in 1949, for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He made his television debut in a BBC adaptation of Wuthering Heights in 1953, in which he played Heathcliff. He played an important role in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright and the lead role in Flesh and Blood. He also appeared in several British swashbucklers, including The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (in which he played Robin Hood), When Knighthood Was in Flower (called The Sword and the Rose in the States, and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue. It was in 1955 that he played what may be his most famous role, Wing Commander Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters. He went onto appear in Saint Joan and The Hellions and in 1962 played Major Howard in The Longest Day.

Richard Todd was Ian Fleming's first choice to play James Bond in Dr. No. Sadly, a scheduling conflict prevented him from taking the role. He did play another famous literary character, Edgar Wallace's hero Inspector Harry Sanders, in Coast of Skeletons and Death Drums Along the River. During the Sixties he also appeared in Operation Crossbow, the horror movie Blood Bath, and Subterfuge. The Seventies saw Mr. Todd appear in the movies Dorian Grey (in which he played Basil Hallward), the Amicus movie Asylum, No. 1 of the Secret Service, and The Big Sleep. He also appeared on television in the serial Boy Dominic, the British series Thriller, and Theatre 625. From the Eighties into the Naughts, most of Mr. Todd's work was in television. He appeared on such shows as Doctor Who, Murder She Wrote, Virtual Murder, the 2000 revival of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), and Midsomer Murders. He also appeared in the films House of the Long Shadows and Murder One. His last role was a guest appearance on the series Heartbeat in 2007..

The United States had its own war hero turned actor in the form of Audie Murphy, but while Mr. Murphy was a good actor, he had nowhere near the talent of Richard Todd. Like Audie Murphy, most of Mr. Todd's roles tended to heroic ones. He played many British officers (including Wing Commander Gibson in The Dam Busters) and swashbuckling heroes. That having been said, he could quite easily play roles that were decidedly unheroic. Mr. Todd was easily the best part of the 1970 version of Dorian Gray, playing the artist who created Gray's notorious portrait. In The Love-Ins Mr. Todd played Dr. Jonanthan Bennett, a philosophy professor turned champion of the youth counterculture and an advocate of LSD use (as you might guess, the role was loosely based on Dr. Timothy Leary). Richard Todd's talent was such that he could play nearly anything, from heroes to average men to those who were slightly left of centre. Of course, his contribution to society went far beyond his acting. During World War II he could have easily told the British Army he was an actor and simply been assigned to Esna. Instead he chose to serve as an officer in a combat position and, in doing so, took part in one of the greatest actions of the war. Mr. Todd was not simply a great actor, he was a hero.


Holte Ender said...

I remember my father taking me to see the Dambusters in 1955, I was eight years old. Still remember it. Todd was heroic character in life as well as on film.

Audies Dad said...

I am the sponsor of a Petition drive to bestow upon Audie Murphy the Nation’s highest civilian honor, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his lifetime contributions and achievements to the Nation; as a soldier, songwriter, author, poet, humanitarian, and one who fought for veterans and veterans rights, particularly on the matter of PTSD.
Audie Murphy always marched with our flag held high and is one of America’s great Patriots.
To view and sign the Petition to President Obama, go to this link: