Richard Todd ‘Dashing Young Blade’ (1919-2009)

The grave of Richard Todd

Richard Todd is buried at St. Guthlac's Churchyard, Little Ponton, in Lincolnshire, England. He died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday 3rd December 2009. His gravestone contains the epitaph, Exit Dashing Young Blade and I think those three words describe his acting career perfectly. For me - and I suspect many of my blog readers -Richard will always be the ‘dashing blade’ Robin Hood!

Fan’s Star Library magazine from 1958, described how Richard Todd was given the role of Robin Hood by Walt Disney:

"As soon as Flesh and Blood was completed, Walt Disney wanted Richard for the name role in his new picture Robin Hood. It is said that Disney chose Todd for the part after one of his own daughters returned from a cinema - a confirmed Richard Todd fan - she had just seen The Hasty Heart, and she kept telling her father that this young British star had everything!

An outdoor man himself, the idea of playing the great adventurer appealed to Richard, but he didn't want to be forced to portray the outlaw as a ‘costumed twelfth century Tarzan’. He wanted to play Robin Hood as 'he' saw the great outlaw. Fortunately, Walt Disney had enough confidence in Richard to allow him his own portrayal and as we all know the picture was a tremendous success.

Robin Hood had its premiere at the Leicester Square Theatre on March 13th, 1952. It was a glittering oppening and raised a large sum of money for a worthey cause. This film has become a classicand will doubtless be shown for years and years.

Within four days of finishing Robin Hood, Richard flew to the South of France, to play the part of the incurable young gambler in Twenty Four Hours of a Woman's Life.

Richard Todd as Robin Hood

Richard Todd represented, as Michael Winner said, “the best example of classic British film acting. He was a very fine actor but his style of acting went out of fashion, which was a pity because his contribution to British movies was enormous.” Winner went on:

“ Richard was also a very, very nice person. He was a good friend and wonderful to work with, utterly professional, very quiet, just got on with it. He was just a splendid person and a very, very good actor”.

Born Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Todd at first hoped to become a playwright but discovered a love for acting after helping found the Dundee Repertory Company in Scotland in 1939.

He volunteered for the British Army and graduated to the position of Captain in the 6th Airborne Division and took part in the famous D-Day landings of 1944 and was one of the first paratroopers to meet the glider force commanded by Major John Howard at Pegasus Bridge; he later played Howard in The Longest Day.

Walt Disney, Richard Todd and Joan Rice

After being discharged in 1946, he returned to Dundee. His role as male lead in Claudia led to romance and then marriage to his leading lady, Catherine Grant-Bogle. A Scottish accent mastered while preparing for his role in The Hasty Heart proved a useful skill in his later film career.

He won praise for his performance in the film of The Hasty Heart, which included Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal in the cast. The New York World-Telegram hailed Todd as ‘a vivid and vigorous actor’  and the New York Herald Tribune said his performance  ' combined lofty stature with deep feeling, attracting enormous sympathy without an ounce of sentiment.' Todd and Reagan later became close friends.

Richard Todd reading through a script

Todd was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1949 film A Hasty Heart and starred as U.S. Senate chaplain Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter (1954). Marshall's widow Catherine said Todd “ was just about the only film actor whose Scottish syllables would have met (her husband's) standards”.

He also teamed up with legendary director Alfred Hitchcock to star in the thriller Stage Fright and went on to play Robin Hood, Charles Brandon (in Sword and the Rose) and Rob Roy for Walt Disney’s live-action film productions in England. His portrayal as the outlaw Robin Hood will certainly never be forgotten on this web site.

Then came one of his best-known roles, playing Royal Air Force pilot Guy Gibson, in the classic war film The Dam Busters and later the epic The Longest Day in 1962, in which he relived the D-Day landings.

In Britain, James Bond author Ian Fleming picked Todd as his first choice to play 007 - but the actor turned down the role because of other commitments and it went to Sir Sean Connery instead.

The veteran star continued to act in the 1980s with roles in British TV shows including Casualty, crime series Silent Witness and sci-fi classic Doctor Who.

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Although many of us on this site believe a Knighthood would have been more appropriate!

Richard Todd

Todd had a son and a daughter from his first marriage, and two sons from his marriage to Virginia Mailer. Both marriages ended in divorce.

His son Seamus from the second marriage, killed himself in 1997, and his eldest son also killed himself in 2005 following the breakdown of his marriage.

Todd said dealing with those tragedies was like his experience of war.

So how do I finish this short obituary to someone I have admired all my life? I suppose the only way is to use a line from Disney’s Story of Robin Hood which sums up for me the character of the great man.

His like you are not like to see,
In all the world again.

The commemorative plaque at Elstree

To read a lot more about Richard Todd please click here.


Clement Glen said...

Richard Todd ‘Dashing Young Blade’ (1919-2009)

Neil said...

I think that the 'dashing young blade' quote came from none other than the Queen Mother who had used it after meeting him at some event. This is a really good article you have written and I enjoyed reading it. You sum up an incredible life story here of Richard Todd and his rise to fame and film stardom plus his sadness with the loss of two sons. I had not seen before Michael Winner's comments on him but I had known that they worked together on films - and maybe knew one another socially.

Clement Glen said...

Many thanks Neil. I never knew it was the Queen Mother who used that description of him. Why Richard was never knighted will always remain mystery for me.