On this day in history : 31st July 1947 – The birth of English actor Richard Griffiths – perhaps best known for his role as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series of films….

Richard Griffiths at the 61st British Film Academy Awards, 2007 – Image credit : S Pakhrin CC BY 2.0

Richard was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, in the North Riding of Yorkshire…. His father was a steel worker who also took part in paid fights in pubs…. He and Richard’s mother had three other children, a daughter and two sons but all had died before Richard came along…. Richard’s parents were both deaf and mute, he grew up adept in sign language…. There was no TV or radio in the house – his was a very quiet childhood….

Richard left school at 15 – but returned to education to study drama at Stockton and Billingham College…. He then went on to the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama…. Initially he kept all this a secret from his father – who was furious when he did eventually find out….

Following his graduation Richard landed a contract with the BBC for their Radio Drama Company…. He was then to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and was a natural in the comic roles, such as Falstaff…. He came to the attention of Trevor Nunn, the then RSC artistic director….

Richard’s early TV career saw him with small roles in ‘Minder’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Bergerac’ – amongst others…. He also had small parts in films such as ‘Chariots of Fire’, ‘Superman II’ and ‘Gandhi’…. His breakthrough came as Uncle Monty in 1987’s ‘Withnail and I’….Another of his best known characters was that of the disillusioned Inspector Henry Crabbe, a role made especially for him…. ‘Pie in the Sky’ ran between 1994-1997 and was about a policeman who was rather discontent with his work and between getting into scrapes and solving cases had a sideline of being the most amazing pie chef in his wife’s restaurant….

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A role as a ‘foodie’ suited Richard – as he was known for his rotund girth…. But he had actually started out skinny and underweight…. At the age of 8 he had been given treatment for his pituitary gland – and within a year had gained 60% more body weight…. He was picked on by his school mates but was more than capable of standing up for himself….

Richard met Irish actress Heather Gibson in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ – and they were married in 1980…. They were to have no children – but Richard was Godfather to comedian Jack Whitehall….

Many will associate Richard with the Harry Potter films…. He played the part of Uncle Vernon, married to Harry’s aunt Petunia and having grudgingly raised Harry from an early age was certainly not very nice to him…. He never explained to the boy how his parents had died or told him about the magical world….

When performing on stage Richard was not adverse to showing his displeasure towards the audience if his performance was disturbed – especially by a mobile phone…. In 2005 he ordered a man out of London’s National Theatre after his phone rang for a sixth time during a performance of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ (a role for which Richard was awarded with a Tony Award in 2006)…. In November 2005, whilst he was on stage in London’s Wyndham Theatre, a woman’s phone kept ringing – after the third time Richard stopped and had her ejected, to a loud applause from the audience…. Again, during a performance of History Boys, this time in New York’s Broadhurst Theatre he thundered at a member of the audience after their phone rang for a third time….

Richard was awarded an OBE in 2008…. He died on the 28th of March 2013 at University Hospital, Coventry after complications following heart surgery….

Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito in The Sunshine Boys, Savoy Theatre, London, July 2012 – Image credit : Chris Beckett via Flickr

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