For an actor, the flip side to living to a great age is that the public only recall your last acts. A lot of people now probably only know Lord Attenborough for twinkly-eyed turns in Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th Street, as if those saccharine-sweet roles were the highlights of a long, illustrious career.
But there was much more to him as an actor and director, just as there was more to him as a person than the frequently satirised “luvvie”, always assumed to be about to burst into tears – or open a bottle of champagne.
Like every great actor, Attenborough was a master of disguise. The almost indiscriminate use of the word “darling” was less an affectation than a practical device, designed to cover up for his difficulty in remembering names and get his way with a tough subject. Margaret Thatcher – no easy nut to crack – was so charmed by his endearing manner that he exited from a meeting with her bearing a promise of tax breaks for the struggling film industry, although she lost office before being in a position to deliver.
The film industry is, indeed, where his most enduring legacy lies. A great patriot as well as a champion of film, Attenborough moved mountains to inject new life into the moribund British film industry of the 1980s, when it was struggling to raise money and unable to produce more than a couple of films a year. Attenborough used his persuasive talents to get philanthropists to donate to organisations such as the British Film Archive and he gently and successfully twisted the arm of Thatcher’s successor, John Major, to persuade him to allow films to compete for lottery money.
Besides that, he devoted much time without fanfare to a host of good causes, from Unicef to his home town of Leicester.
We can all smile at the memory of the champagne socialist who loved his pink Rolls-Royce and hobnobbed with royalty, but such idiosyncrasies should not be allowed to obscure his achievements. A force for good in the world of entertainment, his will be a hard act to follow, or to repeat.Reuse content