Lord Richard 'Dickie' Attenborough: 1923 - 2014
On Sunday we received the sad news of the death of Lord Richard ‘Dickie’ Attenborough.
‘Lord A’ was an institution, a consummate actor, director, and a thoroughly charming man.
Back in 2004, it was my pleasure to meet Dickie when I was commissioned to photograph him for the Sunday Times Culture magazine. The location for the shoot was the screening room in his beautiful home in Richmond, West London. I am fairly sure that it was 2004 because I seem to remember Dickie proudly telling me, “I’m 80 you know.”
I had just finished set up the lighting for the portrait shoot and was waiting for Dickie to arrive in the theatre (I’d got there early) when the phone rang. His secretary — a rather stern looking women with the air of a headmistress whose polite helpfulness was in stark contrast to her appearance — answered it, looked over in my direction, and with the telephone in her outstretched hand said “It’s ‘Lord A’ for you.”
I took the receiver and somewhat nervously said, ‘“Hello?”
“Hello,” Dickie cheerily replied, “I’ll be over in a moment, but I was wondering what would you like me to wear?”
“Well Sir,” I replied, “I am sure that I’ll be more than happy with what ever you choose,”
“No, no, no,” came his reply, “You are the director, I am the actor. What would you like me to wear?”
Feeling the need to be director decisive I replied, “I think that a nice shirt and tie would be perfect.”
“No trouble at all.” And with that he hung up and turned up beaming ten minutes later.
Dickie’s manner during the shoot was one of unbridled enthusiasm. When I showed him the polaroids he smiled and exclaimed that they were ‘like a Hockney painting’ which was (somewhat flattering) praise indeed.
He also regaled me with anecdotes and advice about acting and directing. The one that has stayed with me ever since was (and I am paraphrasing here), “Never take your editor on a shoot. They must never see the effort that goes into getting a particular shot as it may encourage them to give it more screen time than it deserves.” And that was just one of his many gems.
Dickie didn’t seem to have a cynical or jaded bone in his body — which for someone of his stature and experience was remarkable. He seem to still genuinely love his craft and was enthusiastically supportive of anyone who shared any of his creative passions — at least he certainly was with me.
Spending an afternoon with Dickie remains one of the highlights of my professional career to date. He was a kind and gracious man, and I can’t help but feel that his death marks the end of an era. He will be missed. R.I.P.
Photography and retouching: James Bareham
(This piece was first published on Medium)