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Richard Attenborough Remembered by Friend and Colleague of 72 Years

The Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michael Anderson remembers his fellow British actor and director, who died Aug. 24

Richard Attenborough - P 2014
AP Images

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Editor's Note: The British filmmaker Michael Anderson, 94, is the oldest living best director Oscar nominee; he was nominated for helming the 1956 best picture Oscar winner, Around the World in 80 Days. 72 years ago, he was the assistant director on the film in which Richard Attenborough made his big-screen debut. He would go on to direct Attenborough in two other films over the next 33 years.

The year was 1942. The great Noel Coward and the soon-to-be-great David Lean were making a British war film called In Which We Serve. I was the assistant director and also had a small part in the film. Joining Noel in the cast were a number of young and unknown actors, carefully chosen by David, who would all go on to stardom: John Mills, Michael Wilding and Richard Attenborough.

Richard was only four years younger than I, but he valued my opinion, which meant a lot to me, and we became good friends. After certain takes, he would come over to me and ask, "How was that, Mickey?" I would always say, "It was great, Dickie," and he would smile and walk away. When the film came out, I remember sitting in a screening of it at which, upon seeing the tricky scene in which the coward played by Dickie is exposed by the character played by Noel but remains stoic, the audience actually clapped. It was a brilliant piece of acting.

A few years later, I was still a relatively unknown director — I'd only made one film by myself — but Dickie had become a star. Nevertheless, I decided to approach him about starring in my second film, Hell Is Sold Out. He had no reason to agree to do it, but he took a leap of faith because of our friendship. The film didn't turn out great, but we had a lot of fun making it. If something went wrong on the set, we'd start giggling and couldn't stop. It cemented our friendship. I'll never forget the joy and laughter we had working together.

Years later, in 1975, Dickie and I worked together again on my film Conduct Unbecoming. How strange it was to be on set with this great actor, who had recently become a fine director in his own right! I once again witnessed his dedication and the depth of understanding he gave to the character he was playing.

The whole world knows what a great career Dickie had. I can only join in the chorus of hallelujahs in praise of an exceptional talent and human being whose career I watched in awe as his life spanned parallel with my own.

Dickie, the world has laughed and cried with you. You are much loved and will be remembered forever. And you will be greatly missed.