When the British Film Institute ran a Richard Attenborough retrospective back in the early 2000s, Sir Richard came to introduce every screening. The gesture seemed to capture his enthusiasm, modesty, kindness and warmth for cinema and audiences. At the screening of Seance on a Wet Afternoon he and the film’s director, fellow producer/actor Bryan Forbes, walked in together right alongside me with their wives and sat in a row.
Richard Attenborough had featured in the best of my many mad pregnancy dreams a few months earlier. (I’d dreamt my waters had broken as my husband and I were walking down a country lane, but Dickie appeared in his Rolls Royce and jumped out and said, “Don’t worry luvvie, I’ll get you to hospital.” He was brilliant.) Obviously none of this ever happened outside of my head, so as we walked in my husband quietly but firmly grabbed my arm and whispered, “You are NOT going to tell him about your dream.”
In introducing the film Sir Richard paid generous tribute to the talents of his co-star Kim Stanley, describing honestly, but kindly, the real problems with working with her. But what stood out was what he said next. Looking at his friends and life partner in the audience and gesturing with his arm towards them Sir Richard smiled and said something like: “Bryan Forbes is one of Britain’s most talented directors and filmmakers. He’s really not been given the credit he should for what he’s done for cinema, for British film. All these remarkable films he’s made. He’s sitting there with our wives. And I’m so lucky that he’s my best friend still after all these years and we have all been friends together and still are.”
It’s a memory I particularly cherish when I watch his convincing performances as twisted characters, in Brighton Rock, London Belongs To Me (a personal favourite) and as the serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place. There was also a sadness in looking back to that screening, because of the loss of his daughter and granddaughter in the Boxing Day Tsunami a few years later.
For all the great films he directed, (Young Winston still resonates for its perspective on British military campaigns in Afghanistan) I will always have the softest of spots for Richard Attenborough, the actor, aged twenty four, playing the bright sixteen year old inner city youth sent on an experiment in social mobility to private school as The Guinea Pig.