Richard Todd was born as Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, was an Irish physician and an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for his country. Richard spent a few of his childhood years in India, where his father, a British officer, served as an army physician. Later his family moved to Devon and Todd attended Shrewsbury School. Upon leaving school, Todd trained for a potential military career at Sandhurst before beginning his acting training at the Italia Conti Academy. This change in career led to estrangement from his mother. When he learned at age 19 that she had committed suicide, he did not grieve long for her, he admitted in later life. He first appeared professionally as an actor at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He played in regional theatres and then co-founded the Dundee Repertory Theatre in 1939. During the Second World War, Todd joined the British Army, receiving a commission in 1941. Initially, he served in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry before joining the Parachute Regiment and being assigned to the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion as part of the British 6th Airborne Division. On 6 June 1944, as a captain, he participated in the British Airborne Operation Tonga during the D-Day landings. Todd was among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. His battalion were reinforcements that parachuted in after glider forces had landed and completed the main assault against Pegasus Bridge near Caen. He later met up with Major John Howard on Pegasus Bridge and helped repel several German counterattacks. As an actor, Todd would later play Howard in the 1962 film The Longest Day, while Todd himself was played by another actor.
After the war, Todd returned to repertory theatre in the UK. He was appearing in a play when he was spotted by Robert Lennard, a casting director for Associated British Picture Corporation. That company offered him a screen test, and subsequently signed him for a long-term contract in 1948. He was cast in For Them That Trespass (1949). Todd had appeared in the Dundee Repertory stage version of The Hasty Heart, playing the role of Yank and was subsequently chosen to appear in the 1948 London stage version of the play, this time in the leading role of Cpl. Lachlan McLachlan. This led to his being cast in that role in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of the play, which was filmed in Britain. Todd was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role in 1949. He was also voted favourite British male film star in Britain’s National Film Awards. Alfred Hitchcock used him in Stage Fright (1950), then he made a film in Hollywood for King Vidor, Lightning Strikes Twice (1951). Neither did particularly well at the box office. He appeared in three films for the Disney Corporation, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953). In 1953, he appeared in a BBC Television adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights, as Heathcliff. Nigel Kneale, responsible for the adaptation, said the production came about purely because Todd had turned up at the BBC and told them that he would like to play Heathcliff for them. Kneale had to write the script in only a week as the broadcast was rushed into production.
Todd’s career received a boost when 20th Century-Fox signed him to a non-exclusive contract and cast him as the United States Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall in the film version of Catherine Marshall’s best selling biography, A Man Called Peter (1955), which was a popular success. This was followed by The Dam Busters (1955) in which Todd played Wing Commander Guy Gibson, which would become the defining role of his movie career for which he would be remembered. The same year he appeared in The Virgin Queen opposite Bette Davis playing Sir Walter Raleigh. Other notable films he starred in include Saint Joan (1957), directed by Otto Preminger, and The Yangtse Incident (1957). His opportunities in movies substantially declined throughout the 1960s as the counter-culture movement in the Arts took hold and Todd’s character-type as the heroic patriotic male lead became an anachronism to a younger audience’s sentiment. In 1964 he was a member of the jury at the 14th Berlin International Film Festival. In the 1970s, he gained new fans when he appeared as the reader for Radio Four’s Morning Story. In the 1980s his distinctive voice was heard as narrator of the series Wings Over the World, a show about the history of aviation shown on Arts & Entertainment television. He appeared before the camera in the episode about the Lancaster bomber. Todd continued to act on television, including roles in Virtual murder, Silent Witness, and in the Doctor Who story Kinda in 1982. His active acting career extended into his eighties. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. He was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in March 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios, and in November 1988, when Michael Aspel surprised him on stage at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
Both Todd’s marriages ended in divorce. His first was to actress Catherine Grant-Bogle, whom he met in Dundee Repertory and was married to from 1949 until 1970; they had a son Peter (1952–2005) and a daughter Fiona. In 1960 he had a son Jeremy with model Patricia Nelson. He was married to model Virginia Mailer from 1970 until 1992; they had two sons, Andrew and Seamus (1977–1997). In retirement, Todd lived in the village of Little Ponton and later in Little Humby, 8 miles from Grantham, Lincolnshire. Two of Todd’s five children committed suicide. In 1997, Seamus Palethorpe-Todd shot himself in the head in the family home in Lincolnshire. An inquest determined that the suicide might have been a depressive reaction to the drug he was taking for severe acne. On 21 September 2005, Peter killed himself with a shotgun in East Malling, Kent, following marital difficulties. His sons’ suicides affected Todd profoundly; he admitted to visiting their adjoining graves regularly. He told the Daily Mail, that dealing with those tragedies was like his experience of war, “You don’t consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for.” Todd, who had been suffering from cancer, died in his sleep at his Little Humby home on 3 December 2009. He is survived by his daughter Fiona and two of his four sons, Jeremy & Andrew. He was buried between his two sons Seamus and Peter at St. Guthlacs the church in Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England. The epitaph reads – Richard Andrew Palethorpe Todd, 1919–2009, husband of Virginia and Kitty, loving father of Peter, Fiona, Andrew, Seamus and Jeremy, exit Dashing young Blade – a reference to the description made by the Queen Mother of the actor.
- June, 11, 1919
- Dublin, Ireland
- December, 03, 2009
- United Kingdom
- Little Humby, Lincolnshire, England
Cause of Death
- St. Guthlac's Churchyard, Little Ponton
- Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England
- United Kingdom