Obituary: Richard Vernon

Richard Evelyn Vernon, actor: born Reading, Berkshire 7 March 1925; married 1955 Benedicta Hoskyns (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1989); died London 4 December 1997.

In an acting career spanning over 40 years, Richard Vernon brought character and distinction, plus a roguish wit and droll humour, to the aristocrats, ministry officials and military men for which his tall, distinguished bearing made him particularly well suited. He will be fondly remembered for such roles as the disapproving bowler-hatted city gent to whom John Lennon says "Give us a kiss" in A Hard Day's Night, the eccentric white- haired Slartibartfast of The Hitch- Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or more recently Joanna Lumley's father in Class Act.

Born in Reading in 1925, he was educated at Leighton Park and Reading School. His family had a seagoing background, and Vernon's love of sailing equalled his passion for acting. At 18, he enlisted in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and served during the final months of the Second World War. Stationed in Kowloon at the war's end, he produced, directed and starred in a production of Shaw's Heartbreak House for the Combined Services Club, causing his commanding officer to comment at the end of his service, "Vernon is an excellent dinghy helmsman and amateur actor: in his spare time he performs his duties satisfactorily."

After training at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Vernon made his London stage debut in 1950 in the play Stratton, and three years later had great success as Mr Darling (one of his favourite roles) in Peter Pan at the Scala. Other West End successes included Any Other Business (1959, as Charles Parkin MP), and an effectively droll comic performance as Richard Greatham in the 1968 revival of Coward's Hay Fever.

His screen career gained momentum in the Sixties with roles in such films as Village of the Damned (1960), the Edgar Wallace thriller Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960), Losey's The Servant (1963) and in 1964 three major films, Asquith's The Yellow Rolls Royce and the superior Bond movie Goldfinger (as a ministry official), not to mention his memorable cameo in the Beatles film.

On radio his many roles included Lord Emsworth in several P.G. Wodehouse serials, but it was on television that Vernon found greatest fame. In 1965 he starred in the comedy-thriller series The Man in Room 17, in which he and Michael Aldridge were two spy seekers who tracked their quarry from the seclusion of Room 17 by means of their superior intellects. Subsequently Vernon was featured in such great successes as Upstairs Downstairs (1971- 75), Edward the Seventh (1975), The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77), and, with waist-length hair and strikingly garbed in flowing robes, the eccentric Slartibartfast in the science-fiction satire The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981).

In 1955, while acting in Canterbury, he married an actress in the company, Benedicta Leigh, by whom he had two children, a boy and a girl. In the mid-Seventies he toured with Phyllis Calvert in The Reluctant Debutante and later roles included the films The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Gandhi (1982), the play Pack of Lies (1983) and on television John Mortimer's epic series chronicling English life since the Forties, Paradise Postponed (1986), and such series as Casualty and Lovejoy.

Vernon continued acting until the onset of Parkinson's two years ago. In 1986, while appearing with David Jason in the West End revival of the farce Dry Rot, Vernon was featured on This Is Your Life in which the actress Wendy Craig, who starred with him in the television series Nanny (1981), testified to his genial nature and commented, "He had the wickedest twinkle of any actor I've ever worked with."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

£30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Operations Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the single governing and regul...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935