Robert Hardy at 85: The Greatest “Churchill”

Robert Hardy at 85: The Greatest “Churchill”

Address­ing the Churchill Soci­ety at the Reform Club, Lon­don, 1986.

Writ­ten for a birth­day trib­ute in Octo­ber 2010….

We have all heard about the art of Tim­o­thy Robert Hardy, even though we don’t need to do so, since it is self-evi­dent. But that real­ly doesn’t mat­ter, does it? His three-decade involve­ment with the Churchill saga pro­vides a bal­sam­ic reit­er­a­tion of what we know, are glad that we know, pity those who do not know, and are proud to be asso­ci­at­ed with.

It began with his peer­less por­tray­als of Sir Win­ston in the 1981 “Wilder­ness Years” TV doc­u­men­tary; David Susskind’s 1986 “Lead­ers” series; a Lon­don stage play; the mini-series “War and Remem­brance”; and—just this August 20th—a bril­liant read­ing from Churchill’s trib­ute to “The Few” on its 70th annniver­sary. (Click here for the video.)

We can only begin to imag­ine the prodi­gious effort Tim made to mas­ter the role of Win­ston Churchill—to find, as he put it, “a way in.” Yet play­ing Churchill, he said, was “one of the best things that has ever hap­pened to me.” Speak­ing to us in 1986, he likened the job to scal­ing Ever­est: “I shall nev­er look down from the peak, but as long as I live I shall delight in gaz­ing upwards toward those tow­er­ing rocks.” The Churchill Soci­ety thought enough of his moun­taineer­ing to offer him the Blenheim Award, its high­est acco­lade. But his accep­tance hon­ored us much more.

Robert Hardy has the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing been on both sides in the Churchill story—for in 1974 he played von Ribben­trop toRichard Burton’s Churchill in “The Gath­er­ing Storm.” He told me he yearned to direct the great Antho­ny Hop­kins as Churchill, but I said this must nev­er occur until he is too old. And he still isn’t!

Long before he played Win­ston Churchill, this devot­ed stu­dent of Shake­speare played many of the Bard’s heroes and villains—roles he savored. He once remarked to an inter­view­er: “I have to keep say­ing to myself, ‘To play Ham­let at your age is out of the ques­tion. Stop it!’”

Oth­ers know him best for his superb role as Siegfried Farnon in “All Crea­tures Great and Small.” My wife once said to him, “You’ll always be Siegfried to me.” Tim quick­ly replied, “You’ll always be Bar­bara to me.”

As Cor­nelius Fudge, with Dum­b­le­dore in “Har­ry Potter

Nowa­days, we know him as Min­is­ter of Mag­ic Cor­nelius Fudge in the Har­ry Pot­ter films. He admit­ted to Bar­bara that his only regret in that role is that he was not equipped with his per­son­al owl.

His knowl­edge of archery and his schol­ar­ly book, Long­bow, led to his becom­ing archery con­sul­tant to the Mary Rose Trust: study­ing the long­bows and arrows found in the famous ship, now being restored in Portsmouth. Through his inter­ven­tion, one of our Churchill tour par­ties was giv­en a pri­vate tour of the ship by its cura­tor, who explained the lengthy process of dry­ing ancient timbers.

The unfail­ing qual­i­ty of Robert Hardy’s work is equaled by the unfail­ing cour­tesy of his man­ner. Those who meet him for the first time are struck by his gen­til­i­ty, as of course by his wit and eru­di­tion. There is some­thing about him that is a dra­mat­ic betray­al of the per­sona one expects from a pub­lic reputation.

Address­ing the 14th Churchill Tour, Ran­dolph Hotel, Oxford, 2006.

He has said that Win­ston Churchill was the one man last cen­tu­ry who could lead us through the worst of times by the force of his mes­mer­iz­ing speech­es, mon­u­men­tal courage and per­son­al charis­ma. I say in reply that Robert Hardy’s work express­es all the Churchillian qual­i­ties. Through his skill, the true Churchill emerged for out of the blue dis­tance of time, for new gen­er­a­tions to con­tem­plate. That is some­thing for which Churchill admir­ers are deeply grate­ful and honored—as I am to be part of this trib­ute to Tim­o­thy Robert Hardy, Com­man­der of the Most Excel­lent Order of the British Empire.

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