Ian Richardson

Ian Richardson, who died yesterday aged 72, was one of the great classical actors of his generation.

But he will be remembered largely for his universally-hailed portrayal of the devious Francis Urquhart in the TV political thriller House of Cards. His portrayal of the vengeful, manipulative and sinister Tory chief whip brought him international fame and won him a Bafta Best Television Actor award.

His unforgettable phrase, regularly used in the series, "You may say that but I cannot possibly comment", delivered in a deadpan, menacing voice, has been quoted even in the House of Commons.

However, before House of Cards, Richardson was already renowned as one of the great Shakespearean actors of his day, bearing comparison with Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson a generation earlier.

Richardson had played Hamlet in a repertory company at the age of only 26.

His versatility was such that he appeared in productions on Broadway, musicals in the West End and was, bizarrely, familiar to American television viewers as the man in the Rolls-Royce who asked "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" in commercials for Dijon mustard.

Ian William Richardson was born in Edinburgh on April 7 1934. He was educated at Ball Green Infants, George Heriot's School and Tynecastle School, all in Edinburgh and studied later at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Subsequently he appeared regularly on the British stage, mostly with the Royal Shakespeare Company of which he was a founder member.

He first made a name for himself playing Hamlet at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1960, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It was here that he created the role of Jean Paul Marat in Marat/Sade which he played at Stratford, in Ontario and on Broadway in 1965. He played the part again in the 1967 film version.

Richardson also played Professor Henry Higgins in the 1976 revival of My Fair Lady and received a Tony nomination.

In 1981, he appeared again on Broadway in the original production of Edward Albee's play Lolita, an

adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial book.

He made scores of film appearances including Dark City (1998), Polonius in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), Martin Landau's butler in the Halle Berry film B*A*P*S (1997) and Cruella de Vil's solicitor, Mr Torte, in the live action movie 102 Dalmatians.

He spent the early 1980s in British television movies and series, most notably appearing twice as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four (both 1983)

He began gaining more world-wide recognition with his role as an officious bureaucrat in the dystopian universe of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985).

But it was his dignified, even forbidding, countenance and enviable diction which brought him frequent castings of men of substance, education and refinement.

Richardson played parts, great and small, in most Shakespearean plays, including Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Malcolm in Macbeth, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, Edmund in King Lear, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. He also directed many Shakespearean productions.

In the mid-1960s, Richardson toured eastern European cities and the United States in productions of The Comedy of Errors and King Lear.

His television and film work was no less prolific. These included roles in screen productions of several Shakespeare plays.

He also played Ramsay Macdonald in the Yorkshire TV production Number 10 in 1982. Richardson also appeared in multiple roles in the hit musical Salad Days, and played Frederick Fairlie in a BBC version of the Wilkie Collins mystery novel, The Woman in White.

One of his memorable TV performances was as Tailor in the BBC adaptation of the spy thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. He also played Sir Godber Evans in Channel 4's adaptation of Porterhouse Blue and as Lord Groan in the BBC production Gormenghast.

In 2003, he played the recurring role of the villainous Canon Black in the short-lived BBC fantasy series Strange.

Most recently, he starred in Sky One's adaptation of the Terry Patchett novel Hogfather, which was aired in two parts on successive days last December. He voiced the main character of the novel, Death, the Grim Reaper, who steps in to take over the role of the Father Christmas-like Hogfather.

Richardson was appointed a CBE in 1989. He is survived by a widow, actress Maroussia Frank, whom he married in 1961, and two sons.