Richard Pearson: Actor who relished showing the vulnerability of solid, respectable characters

To recent generations of television viewers, Richard Pearson was the voice of Mole in Cosgrove Hall's animated productions of The Wind in the Willows. His calm tones, along with those of Ian Carmichael (later Peter Sallis), David Jason and Michael Hordern for the similarly sympathetic characters of Rat, Toad and Badger, combined with the unhurried storylines, stop-motion animation and painstakingly created sets to give a sense of nostalgia for that Edwardian era of Kenneth Grahame's original novel. The 1983 television film was followed by four series of The Wind in the Willows (1984-88), as well as the spin-off Oh! Mr Toad! (1989 television film and 1990 series), all featuring Grahame's humanistic animal characters.

But Pearson was already a veteran actor on stage and screen, often taking middle-class, "respectable" roles as detectives, MPs, vicars and doctors – and was adept at showing the vulnerability of such apparently "solid" characters. He was also at home in Dickens adaptations. On stage, he was unfortunate enough to be involved in one of the theatre's great disasters, when he played the piano-playing boarding-house lodger Stanley in the original production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1958), which closed after eight West End performances and received a critical mauling that could have ended the playwright's career.

"It wasn't just the play," Pearson told The Independent in 1994. "We all got panned. The houses were dreadful, and we had to fill the place with free seats for drama students." However The Birthday Party came to be regarded as a classic and the actor reprised his lead role in a 1960 Play of the Week production of it on ITV.

Born in Monmouth in 1918, Pearson was educated at Aymestrey Court School, Worcester, and Monmouth School. He made his professional acting debut, aged 18, as Dallis in The Ruined Lady, at the Collins Music Hall, London (1937), before joining a repertory company in Westcliff-on-Sea (1937-38). His ascent to the West End was fast; he played Unwin in Private History (Gate Theatre, 1938), but war intervened and his Army service in the 52nd Lowland Division saw him rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Pearson returned to the stage after the Second World War, taking roles such as Simon in Family Portrait (Strand Theatre, 1948), John in Symphony in Violence (Embassy Theatre, 1948), Mac in The Philadelphia Story (Duchess Theatre, 1949) and Collins in The Iron Duchess (Cambridge Theatre, 1957). Later appearances in his long West End career included the jealous husband Charles Sidley in The Public Eye (Globe Theatre, 1962, opposite Maggie Smith), William Cecil in Vivat! Vivat Regina! (Piccadilly Theatre, 1970) and, again with Smith, as the solicitor Mr Bardolph in Lettice and Lovage (Gielgud Theatre, 1987) and the Reverend Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest (Aldwych Theatre, 1993).

Three of Pearson's first film roles, in the 1950 pictures The Girl is Mine, The Woman in Question and The Clouded Yellow, were all as police officers. Among the several dozen other parts he played in the cinema were Mr Tupper in Scrooge (1951), an accountant in Charlie Bubbles (1967), the Vicar of Marlott in Tess (1979), Doctor Haydock in the Agatha Christie mystery The Mirror Crack'd (1980) and the defence secretary in the black comedy Whoops Apocalypse (1988).

On television, Pearson acted Detective Sergeant West in the 1960 police series The Days of Vengeance, but it failed to catapult him to starring roles. Instead, he was a prolific small-screen character for half a century, jumping from one programme to another.

He had longer runs as Inspector Bucket in Bleak House (1959), the Reverend Crisparkle in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1960), Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit (1964, one of his personal favourite roles), Mr Bulstrode in Middlemarch (1968), Robert Harley in The First Churchills (1969) and Dr Piggott, father of Zoe Wanamaker's high-flying PR executive switching to a job with a charity, in half-a-dozen episodes of Love Hurts (1992-94).

In sitcoms, Pearson was a regular as the theatrical agent Malcolm Parkes in Freddie and Max (1990), Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' story of a fading Hollywood prima donna hiring a cockney researcher to work on her autobiography, and starred as Harry King, who befriends George Cole's widower, in My Good Friend (1995-96).

He also popped up as the fathers of Laura (Judi Dench) in A Fine Romance (1983-84, 1989) and Gary (Martin Clunes) in Men Behaving Badly (1995), and the restrained but absent-minded brother of Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) in One Foot in the Grave (1992).

Anthony Hayward

Richard de Pearsall Pearson, actor: born Monmouth 1 August 1918; married 1949 Patricia Dickson (two sons); died 2 August 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?