Richard Griffiths

Richard Thomas Griffiths OBE (31 July 1947 – 28 March 2013)[1][2] was an English actor of film, television, and stage. For his performance in the stage play The History Boys, Griffiths won much acclaim and received many awards including, 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.

Richard Griffiths

Griffiths at the 61st British Academy Film Awards in 2007
Born(1947-07-31)31 July 1947
Thornaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died28 March 2013(2013-03-28) (aged 65)
Resting placeSt Mary The Virgin Churchyard, Bearley, Warwickshire
EducationStockton & Billingham College
Alma materManchester Polytechnic School of Drama
Years active1974–2013
Heather Gibson
(m. 1980)
AwardsTony Award, Laurence Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics

He is perhaps most known for his role as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter film series. 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), and in Martin Scorsese's Hugo (2011).

Early years

Richard Thomas Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire, to Jane Ann (née Denmark, 1899–1976) 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".[3] 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.[1][4]

His parents were both deaf[5] 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 and worked as a porter for Littlewoods for a while but his boss eventually persuaded him to go back to school.[6] He decided to attend a drama class at Stockton & Billingham College.[6] He continued his education in drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama (now Manchester School of Theatre)[7] at the same time as Bernard Hill.


After graduating, Griffiths won a contract on BBC Radio with their Radio Drama Company.[8] He also worked in small theatres, sometimes acting and sometimes managing.[9] 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).[10] 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.[11] Griffiths went on to supporting roles in a number of major films, including The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots of Fire and Gandhi.[12] 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).[13] 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.[14]

He appeared as Inspector Henry Crabbe, disillusioned policeman and pie chef extraordinaire, in Pie in the Sky, a role which was created for him.[10] He also made an extended appearance in the 2005 version of Charles Dickens' Bleak House.[15] 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 United States run, he added a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award.[16][3][2] He reprised his role in the film version, which was released in October 2006.[17]

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.[18][19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22][23] He appeared in Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler and as a special guest in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.[24][25]

In 2005 he asked a member of the audience to leave a performance of Heroes after her phone rang three times.[26] This interruption of a performance because of audience distraction happened three times in his career.[27]

Griffiths appeared as George II in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.[28] He appeared in the first episode of the television series Episodes as Julian Bullard.[29] 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.[30]

Personal life

Griffiths met Heather Gibson in 1973 and they married in 1980.[31] 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.[6][32]

He was the godfather of comedian Jack Whitehall.[33]


Griffiths died aged 65 at University Hospital Coventry on 28 March 2013 after complications following heart surgery.[34]



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 TarzanCaptain Billings
A Private FunctionHenry Allardyce the Accountant
1986Shanghai SurpriseWillie Tuttle
1987Withnail and IUncle Monty
1991King RalphDuncan Phipps
The Naked Gun 2+12: 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 TimeDefence Lawyer in play (uncredited)Posthumous release
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 Hooper14 episodes
1981Prisoners of ConscienceWilliam BeausireEpisode 1.1: "William Beausire"
1982MinderDerek FarrowEpisode: "Dreamhouse"
Whoops ApocalypsePremier DubienkinEpisode: "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun"
Bird of PreyHenry Jay4 episodes
The World Cup: A Captain's TaleSidney BarronTV film
Five-Minute FilmsThe Window CleanerEpisode: "A Light Snack"
The Merry Wives of WindsorSir John FalstaffPart of the BBC Television Shakespeare series
1983The CleopatrasPot Belly3 episodes
BergeracJean-PierreEpisode 2.6: "Fall of a Birdman"
1984Bird of Prey 2Henry Jay4 episodes
1985Bleak HouseMr Bayham BadgerBBC TV serial
1986BoonSidney GarbuttEpisode: "Glasshouse People"
The Raggy DollsHi-Fi
1987CasanovaCardinalTV film
FfizzJack Mowbray12 episodes
The MarksmanBrownTV mini-series
1988–90A Kind of LivingTrevor Beasley15 episodes
1989GoldeneyeSecond admiralTV film
1989Plum, A Portrait of P.G. WodehouseP.G. Wodehouse (voice)BBC documentary[35]
1991Perfect ScoundrelsPhil KirbyEpisode: "Ssh, You Know Who"
1992El C.I.D.WeatherbyEpisode: "Nothing Is Forever"
The Good GuysArchie PhillipsEpisode: "Going West"
Mr. Wakefield's CrusadePorterTV film
1993Inspector MorseCanon Humphrey AppletonEpisode: "The Day of the Devil"
LovejoyHans KoopmanEpisode: "They Call Me Midas"
1994A Breed of HeroesBrian BeazelyTV film
1993–95The World of Peter Rabbit and FriendsVarious (voice)3 episodes
1994–97Pie in the SkyHenry CrabbeAll 40 episodes
1998In the RedGeoffrey Crichton-PotterEpisode 1.3
The Canterbury TalesSaturn (voice)Episode: "Leaving London"
Oi! Get Off Our TrainElephant (voice)TV short
Ted & RalphLandowner at PartyTV film
1998–00Archibald the KoalaArchibald (voice)Episode: The Dragon
1999The Vicar of DibleyBishop of MulberryEpisode: "Spring"
2000GormenghastSwelterTV mini-series; 2 episodes
Hope and GloryLeo Wheeldon2 episodes
2002TLCMr Benedict Ron6 episodes
Jeffrey Archer: The TruthWillie WhitelawTV film
2003The Brides in the BathSir Edward Marshall HallTV film
2005Princes in the TowerSir Thomas More (voice)TV film
Bleak HouseMr. Bayham Badger2 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: "Pilot"
EpisodesJulian BullardEpisode: "Episode One"
2012The Hollow Crown – Henry VDuke of BurgundyTV film


Year Production Role Venue Ref.
1974Measure for MeasureAbhorson/GuardThe Royal Shakespeare Theatre[36]
The TempestGonzaloThe Other Palace, London
1976–77The Comedy of ErrorsOfficerThe Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1976–77Romeo and JulietPeterThe Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1977The Days of the CommuneThiersAldwych Theatre, London
1978The TempestTrinculoThe Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1978–79Measure for MeasurePompeyThe Royal Shakespeare Theatre
1978A Miserable and Lonely DeathDr. GordonDonmar Warehouse, London
1983–84VolponeVolponeThe Other Place, London
2004–2005The History BoysHectorLyttelton Theatre, London
2006Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway
2008–09EquusMartin Dysart
2010The Habit of ArtFitz/W. H. AudenLyttelton Theatre, London
2012The Sunshine BoysAlSavoy Theatre, London[37]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1981Clarence Derwent AwardsBest Supporting MaleN/AWon[38]
2003Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsBest Acting EnsembleHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsNominated
2005Laurence Olivier AwardsBest ActorThe History BoysWon[39]
2006Tony AwardBest Actor in a PlayWon[40]
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actor in a PlayWon
Outer Critics Circle AwardBest Actor in a PlayWon
Theatre World AwardN/AWon
2007British Academy Film AwardsBest Actor in a Leading RoleThe History BoysNominated[38]
London Film Critics' CircleBest Actor of the YearNominated
Chlotrudis AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated


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  3. "Richard Griffiths". Telegraph. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  4. Laurence, Charles (4 October 2006). "Part 3 of Griffiths interview". Saga Magazine. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  5. Wadler, Joyce (11 June 2006). "Richard Griffiths, Raised in Silence, Exults in Applause". The New York Times.
  6. "Teesside actor Richard Griffiths dies of complications following heart surgery". Teesside Evening Gazette. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  7. "Alumni". The Manchester Metropolitan University School of Theatre web site. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  8. Michael Quinn (8 April 2013). "Richard Griffiths". The Stage. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
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  11. Bird, John (2 October 1981), William Beausire, John Morgan, Richard Griffiths, Alison Key, retrieved 28 December 2017
  12. Bruce Weber (29 March 2013). "Richard Griffiths, Falstaffian English Actor, Dies at 65". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  13. Oliver Lyttelton (29 March 2013). "R.I.P. 'Withnail & I' And 'Harry Potter' Star Richard Griffiths (1947-2013)". IndieWire. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  14. Memmott, Mark (29 March 2013). "Actor Richard Griffiths, Uncle Vernon In 'Harry Potter' Movies, Dies". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  15. Garfield, Simon (9 October 2005). "Richard Griffiths: 'I've always hated the way I look'". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  16. Silverman, Stephen M. (29 March 2013). "Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter Actor, Dies at 65". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  17. Weber, Bruce (29 March 2013). "Richard Griffiths, Falstaffian 'History Boys' Star, Dies at 65". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  18. "Equus". London Theatre Guide. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  19. Brantley, Ben (25 September 2008). "Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths in Thea Sharrock's Revival of Peter Shaffer's Drama". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  20. Iqbal, Nosheen (2 October 2009). "Michael Gambon bows out of Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  21. "BBC Archive: Nearly Who". BBC.
  22. 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: numeric names: authors list (link)
  23. Jem, Roberts (10 September 2015). The Frood : the authorised and very official history of Douglas Adams & the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. London. ISBN 9780099590767. OCLC 920836076.
  24. "Bedtime Stories". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  25. Andreeva, Nellie (8 September 2008). "It's gonna be a green Muppets Christmas". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  26. "Actor snaps over ring mobile". BBC News. 22 November 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  27. Burkeman, Oliver (30 September 2006). "A break in the clouds". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  28. "Exclusive: Pirates 4 News From Rush". Retrieved 29 June 2012.
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  30. Kemp, Stuart (31 January 2012). "Danny DeVito to Make West End Debut in 'The Sunshine Boys'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  31. Farndale, Nigel (25 February 2007). "Big unfriendly giant". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
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