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Hardy, Robert (1925-)

Actor, Writer, Presenter

Main image of Hardy, Robert (1925-)

A veteran of stage, television and film, Robert Hardy will probably be best remembered for his explosive performance as mercurial veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small (BBC, 1978-90). His long career has also included definitive portrayals of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he has recently enjoyed belated film success as the blinkered Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter series.

Born Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy, he pursued an acting career after graduating in English at Magdalen College, Oxford, joining the Stratford Memorial Theatre Company in 1949. It was while playing the lead in 'Henry V' that he first developed an interest in the longbow, later publishing two books on the subject. He made his London stage debut in 1952, as Claudio in 'Much Ado About Nothing' at the Phoenix, and later appeared in the Old Vic's 1954/55 season.

The following year he played the adult David Copperfield in a BBC adaptation of Dickens' novel (BBC, 1956), and had guest roles in several popular swashbuckling adventure serials, including The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ITV, tx 16/3/1957). He won acclaim when he reprised his Henry V in Peter Dews' epic An Age of Kings (BBC, 1960), which adapted Shakespeare's text over fifteen episodes to chart nine decades of English monarchs from the fall of the Plantagenets. A few years later he enjoyed another success as Coriolanus in The Spread of the Eagle (BBC, 1963), which applied a similar approach to the rise of ancient Rome.

Film appearances were infrequent, and consisted of supporting roles - usually as military types or police inspectors - in Torpedo Run (US, 1958), Berserk! (dir. Jim O'Connolly, 1967) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (UK/US, d. Martin Ritt, 1966), in which he co-starred with his old Oxford friend Richard Burton. He received his first recurring television role as ruthless oil company operative Alec Stewart in The Troubleshooters (BBC, 1966-70), and this was followed by a complex performance as German intelligence agent Sergeant Gratz in Manhunt (ITV, 1970). He was equally impressive as Sir Robert Dudley in Elizabeth R (BBC, 1971), torn between political ambition and a genuine love for Glenda Jackson's monarch.

However, his defining role did not arrive until 1977, when he was asked to play the irascible Siegfried in a BBC adaptation of Yorkshire vet Alf Wight's semi-autobiographical books, penned under the pseudonym of James Herriot. Although a fan of the novels, Hardy did not believe the series would be a success, worried that it would bore town dwellers and offend country folk. In fact, All Creatures Great and Small went on to become one of the BBC's most popular and enduring evening dramas. Much of its success was due to the on-screen chemistry between Hardy and his co-stars, in particular Peter Davison - who as Siegfried's irresponsible sibling Tristan bore the brunt of his ire. Hardy ignored instructions by producers not to meet Donald Sinclair (the real-life Siegfried), with whom he struck up a lasting friendship. Although Sinclair disliked Hardy's characterisation, the actor claimed that many of Sinclair's friends confided that he had perfectly captured the vet's unpredictable personality.

In 1981 he was made a CBE, and won a BAFTA for Winston Churchill - The Wilderness Years (ITV, 1981) - the first of five performances as the wartime PM, including Bomber Harris (BBC, 1989) and War and Remembrance (US, 1989). He further demonstrated his versatility with a dual role in newspaper sitcom Hot Metal (ITV, 1986-88), playing bombastic media mogul Terence 'Twiggy' Rathbone and enigmatic editor Russell Spam. Notable television performances in the 90s included overbearing businessman Andrew Baydon, revealed to be a former prison camp torturer in Inspector Morse: Twilight of the Gods (ITV, tx. 20/1/1993), and the easily flustered Mr. Brooke in Middlemarch (BBC, 1994). His cinema career also enjoyed something of a revival around this time, with roles in heritage dramas such as Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility (US, 1995), An Ideal Husband (d. William P. Cartlidge, 1998) and The Tichborne Claimant (d. David Yates, 1999). Latterly his appearances as Cornelius Fudge have brought this most respected of actors to a whole new generation of audiences.

Richard Hewett

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of 10 Rillington Place (1970)10 Rillington Place (1970)

Grim but unsensationalised account of the John Reginald Christie murder case

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Second outing for the fantastically popular boy wizard

Thumbnail image of Age of Kings, An (1960)Age of Kings, An (1960)

Ambitious history of medieval British royalty, adapted from Shakespeare

Thumbnail image of Elizabeth R (1971)Elizabeth R (1971)

Glenda Jackson's career-topping performance as the 'virgin queen'

Thumbnail image of Falklands Play, The (2002)Falklands Play, The (2002)

Controversial, much-delayed BBC dramatisation of the Falklands crisis

Thumbnail image of Far Pavilions, The (1984)Far Pavilions, The (1984)

Lavish drama series set in India during the British Raj

Thumbnail image of Middlemarch (1994)Middlemarch (1994)

Andrew Davies' dramatisation of George Eliot's classic novel

Thumbnail image of Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965-72)Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965-72)

Gripping drama about an international oil empire

Thumbnail image of Northanger Abbey (1987)Northanger Abbey (1987)

Jane Austen's unusual satire of gothic-romantic fiction

Thumbnail image of Son of Man (1969)Son of Man (1969)

Potter's typically provocative retelling of the Crucifixion

Thumbnail image of Spread of the Eagle, The (1963)Spread of the Eagle, The (1963)

Nine-part miniseries adaptation of Shakespeare's Roman tragedies

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