Richard Keith Johnson (30 July 1927 – 5 June 2015) was a British actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and also had TV roles and a distinguished stage career.
Early life and acting career
Johnson was born in Upminster, Essex, the son of Frances Louisa Olive (née Tweed) and Keith Holcombe Johnson. Johnson went to Felsted School, then trained at RADA and made his first professional appearances on stage in Manchester with John Gielgud's company in a production of Hamlet in 1944.
He served in the Royal Navy from 1945 to 1948, and made his film debut in 1959, when he appeared in a major co-star role in the MGM film Never So Few, starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida. He was subsequently contracted by MGM to appear in one film per year over six years. His biggest successes as a film actor came with The Haunting (1963) also featuring Claire Bloom and Julie Harris, Khartoum (1966) with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier, and the spy film Danger Route (1967). Johnson was director Terence Young's preferred choice for the role of James Bond in the first film in the series, but Johnson turned the role down. A few years later, Bulldog Drummond was reimagined as a 007-type hero in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and its sequel Some Girls Do (1969).
He also appeared in several Italian films, including Lucio Fulci's cult classic, Zombi 2 and Sergio Martino's L'isola degli uomini pesce (aka Island of the Fishmen). At the same time, he was a stage actor, appearing in the title role in Tony Richardson's production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre in 1958. His stage career was extensive and distinguished. His early work in the London theatre attracted the attention of the director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. He appeared in many important productions at that theatre in the late 1950s and early 1960s, making notable successes as Romeo, Orlando in As You Like It, Pericles and Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.
In 1958 he appeared in Peter Hall's first production at the theatre, Cymbeline, and the following year in Twelfth Night (as Sir Andrew Aguecheek). Hall took over the direction of the company in 1959 - it was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and he invited Johnson to be part of the first group of actors to be named an Associate Artist of the RSC, a position he retained until he died. He continued to act with the RSC from time to time, including as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, which he played on two occasions (in 1971–72, with Janet Suzman, and in 1991–92). He played the role in ITV's production in 1974.
He continued to appear on film and television in the first decade of the 21st century. His films during this period included Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. He also appeared in several TV films: in 2005 he appeared as Stanley Baldwin in Wallis & Edward, in 2007 as Earl Mountbatten in Whatever Love Means, and in 2009 in Lewis. He contributed to British episodic TV, including Spooks, Waking the Dead, twice in Midsomer Murders, and twice in Doc Martin (as Colonel Gilbert Spencer). From 2007, he led the cast of the BBC's radio comedy series Bleak Expectations which ran until 2012.
Throughout his career Johnson continued to teach young actors and students. He toured American universities and taught summer schools at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He was appointed to the Council of RADA in 2000, and served as a Council Member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in the 1970s. Johnson wrote the original story for the 1975 thriller, Hennessy.
Johnson founded the British production company United British Artists (UBA) in 1981, and served as the company's CEO until 1990, when he resigned in order to resume his acting career. During his tenure at UBA he produced the films Turtle Diary (starring Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley, with a screenplay commissioned from Harold Pinter), and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. In London, he produced Pinter's Old Times, a revival of Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (Old Vic), and for theatre and television, the docudrama Biko, about the death of Steven Biko.
Johnson wrote travel articles regularly for the London mass-circulation newspaper The Mail on Sunday. He kept a blog and teaching website called The Shakespeare Masterclass.
By his first marriage, to Sheila Sweet, Johnson had two children, tabletop games designer Jervis Johnson (b. 1959) and actress Sorel Johnson. His second wife was American actress Kim Novak, with whom he appeared in the film The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965); they had no children. He also had another daughter, Jennifer Johnson, by his third wife, Marie-Louise Norlund, and a fourth child, Nicholas Johnson, by Françoise Pascal. Johnson then married Lynne Gurney on a beach in Goa, India, in 1989, following this with a discreet civil wedding at Kings Road, Chelsea in 2004.
Johnson was the founder of It's a Green Green World, a global listing of environmentally friendly hotels.
Johnson died on 5 June 2015, aged 87, after a short illness at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London.
|1959||Never So Few||Captain Danny De Mortimer|
|80,000 Suspects||Dr Steven Monks|
|The Haunting||Dr. John Markway|
|1965||Operation Crossbow||Duncan Sandys|
|The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders||Jemmy|
|1966||Khartoum||Col. John Stewart|
|1967||Deadlier Than the Male||Hugh Drummond|
|Danger Route||Jonas Wilde|
|1968||Oedipus the King||Creon|
|Emma Hamilton||Horatio Nelson|
|1969||Some Girls Do||Hugh Drummond|
|1970||Julius Caesar||Caius Cassius|
|1974||Beyond the Door||Dimitri|
|1979||Zombi 2||Dr. Menard|
|1981||The Monster Club||Busotsky's Father|
|1985||Turtle Diary||Mr Johnson|
|1986||Lady Jane||The Earl of Arundel|
|2001||Lara Croft: Tomb Raider||Distinguished Gentleman|
|2008||The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas||Grandpa|
|2015||The Man Who Knew Infinity||Vice Master Trinity College|
|1952||Pride and Prejudice||Mr Wickham||3 episodes|
|1953||The Heir of Skipton||John Lord Clifford/ Henry Clifford||3 episodes|
|1973-74||Moses the Lawgiver||Narrator||Voice|
|1974||Antony and Cleopatra||Mark Antony||TV movie|
|1975||Churchill's People||Claudius||Episode: The Lost Island|
|Space: 1999||Lee Russell||Episode: Matter of Life and Death|
|1977||The Four Feathers||Abou Fatma||TV movie|
|1979||Hart to Hart||Alex Constantine||Episode: With This Gun, I Thee Wed|
|1980||Tales of the Unexpected||Dr James Carpenter||Episode: Back for Christmas|
|1981||Tales of the Unexpected||Archaeologist, Tanner||Episode: Would you believe it?|
|Magnum, P.I.||Alistair Ffolkes||Episode: No need to know|
|1981-82||The Kenny Everett Television Show||Various||3 episodes|
|1988||A Man for All Seasons||Duke of Norfolk||TV movie|
|2005||The Robinsons||Hector Robinson||6 episodes|
|2008||Spooks||Bernard Qualtrough||4 episodes, released as MI-5 in USA|
|2013||Silent Witness||Sir William Embleton||Episodes: The Legacy Pts. 1 & 2|