Gifted character actor brought a humanity to every role he played
Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00
Richard Pearson, who died last Tuesday aged 93, was a gifted character actor, bringing a dignity and humanity to even the most stereotyped of roles.
In a long career on stage, television and in film, Pearson became one of the most dependably original interpreters of lawyers, doctors, policemen, churchmen and other figures on the dramatic margins.
Pearson's characterisations -- sometimes no more than cameos -- had a way of sticking in the spectator's mind long after weightier "star" performances had been forgotten. For one thing, he never strove for effect; he also bestowed on the least likely or likeable types an edge, a humour and an individuality which could sometimes verge on the eccentric. In short, he defined the role of a good supporting player, often bringing to life otherwise sluggish scenes in Shakespeare or Shaw, Goldsmith or Chekhov, Peter Shaffer or Harold Pinter.
Although he never sought the limelight, a number of leading parts did come his way -- among them Stanley in Pinter's The Birthday Party; Charles Sidley in The Public Eye; Harry in Staircase; and Mr Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer.
When The Birthday Party was first staged no one was sure what the play meant, and it was withdrawn after only a few performances -- only one critic had given it an unqualified welcome. But Pearson's portrait of the lodger fixed itself longest in the critical memory for its study of unexplained but deeply felt terror.
Richard de Pearsall Pearson was born at Monmouth on August 1, 1918 and educated at Aymestrey Court, Worcester, and Monmouth School. He first appeared on stage at Collins Music Hall, Islington, as Dallis in The Ruined Lady (1937).
After rep at Westcliff he toured in The Housemaster before making his West End debut, at The Gate, in Private History (1938) and touring as Larry in They Walk Alone.
Pearson served with the 52nd Lowland Division in the Second World War and was demobbed as a lieutenant-colonel. He then appeared in numerous West End productions over the ensuing decades
Pearson became a familiar face on television, with credits including Love Among the Ruins (1975) and She Fell Among Thieves (1978).
He was the voice of Mole in The Wind in the Willows (1984-88), and played Victor Meldrew's brother in One Foot in the Grave and Gary's father in Men Behaving Badly.
Among his films were The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), Charlie Bubbles (1967), It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1976), The Bluebird (1977), The Mirror Crack'd (1980), Water (1985), Pirates (1986) and Whoops Apocalypse (1987).
Richard Pearson married, in 1949, the actress Patricia Dickson. She survives him with their two sons, one of whom, Patrick, is also an actor.