If there were an award for finest actor known to man, Rchard Griffiths would have been in with a shout. Certainly there was nobody like him - nobody who could bring that distinct combination of force, tenderness and rich humour to a role - yet what distinguished him was, in part, his chamaeleonic ability to disappear. Always absorbed completely into his characters, he created personalities we'll never forget, from the impassioned English teacher in Alan Bennett's The History Boys to Withnail And I's leering Uncle Monty. Now he has died at the age of 65 it is hard to imagine how his shoes might be filled.
Known to many younger viewers as Vernon Dursley from the Harry Potter films, Griffiths had a long and eclectic career that began in radio. Immediately making an impression at the BBC, he did independent theatre work on the side and was soon noticed for his prowess in Shakespearean roles. At one point he was very nearly cast as the timelord star of Doctor Who. Capable of working wonders even in a small role, he stood out in many of the key films of the age, from Gorky Park to The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots Of Fire and Gandhi, as well as making a memorable Swelter in the television adaptation of Gomenghast. He won numerous awards for his work and received an OBE for services to drama.
Griffiths is understood to have suffered from heart problems for some time, and he passed away following surgery. Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, described him as one of the greatest of British actors - and one of the most loved.