Robert Hardy, Friend of Freedom

 

Photo: Andrew Crowley
If an actor is lucky they will find that one role that they can really sink their teeth into, make it their own and remain forever seared into the minds of the public. Sir Robert Hardy found that not once, but three times over his illustrious career. He passed Thursday in London, aged 91.

For the younger generation he will be remembered as Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic in four of the eight Harry Potter films. But for us old folks he will always be Siegfried Farnon, the patriarchal head of the country veterinary practice in All Creatures Great and Small and as the definitive portrayer of Sir Winston Churchill. He played the wartime Prime Minister no less than nine times in movies, on television and from the stage.

It was in this latter role that Hardy was a great champion of freedom. On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain it was Hardy that was chosen to bring the great man’s words back to life. He first took on the role in 1981 in the BBC miniseries, The Wilderness Years. That led to his portrayal of Churchill for American audiences in War and Remembrance, ABC’s followup to The Winds of War. A one-man stage play was produced for PBS in 1986 and he reprised the role from the stage again in France (in French!) His last performance as Churchill was just two years ago in the ITV film Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain. He often spoke to the International Churchill Society and spoke at Hillsdale College about the experience of playing the role.

The role of the country vet will probably remain his most loved. All Creatures was the pre-WWII memoirs of Alf Wight (aka, James Herriot), a Scottish born vet who settled in the Yorkshire Dales and became the partner in a practice with Dr. Donald Sinclair (Siegfried Farnon) and his brother, Brian (Tristan). It was adapted as a series by the BBC and became wildly popular around the world. Hardy got the chance to meet the eccentric Sinclair only afterward. While Sinclair was said to have been disappointed, every time Hardy got to meet one of the good doctor’s friends he was reassured everything was spot on.

Rarely are actors called upon to stick their arms up the anus of a cow or risk losing a finger by rattling it around in the mouth of a horse but Hardy and his fellow actors Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison (Dr. Who) were game.

Farewell, Siegfried. Valhalla awaits.

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There are 23 comments.

  1. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Many thanks for the post. He also played Charles Augustus Milverton in the TV movie adaptation of The Master Blackmailer opposite Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. If you have not seen it, you should.

    • #1
    • August 3, 2017, at 11:29 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Danny Alexander Member

    The “Wilderness Years” series was utterly gripping as historical drama, a veritable tour-de-force as a performance, and a source of moral support when viewed at any given point during the eight years of national and international betrayal known as the POTUS-44 administration.

    • #2
    • August 3, 2017, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Danny Alexander Member

    Another of England’s great friends of freedom — a surviving remnant of the embattled few who took to the skies to as the apotheosis of Churchill’s defiance against the Nazi death machine — also passed at a blessedly advanced age this week

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/02/one-last-surviving-battle-britain-pilots-told-prince-william/

    • #3
    • August 3, 2017, at 11:46 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    I loved All Creatures. Hadn’t heard about Hardy. Thanks for the clip.

    • #4
    • August 3, 2017, at 12:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Western Chauvinist Member

    What a strange coincidence. I just watched the first episode of Foyle’s War, which featured Hardy. Great actor. All Creatures is still my favorite role of his, though.

    • #5
    • August 3, 2017, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Brian Watt Member

    Great post! Thanks, EJ.

    • #6
    • August 3, 2017, at 12:38 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. MarciN Member

    I will try to find the Churchill movies the EJ Hill and others have mentioned. I would love to see them. I grew very fond of him in All Creatures Great and Small. I thought it was an interesting show in that I wondered if the young vet was imagined to be the star of the series when it was really Robert Hardy who made the show as loved as it was. :)

    Thank you for this informative tribute to him.

    • #7
    • August 3, 2017, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Danny Alexander Member

    Per MarciN #7:

    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=churchill+wilderness+years

    • #8
    • August 3, 2017, at 12:57 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Miffed White Male Member

    I believe I have a tape of that PBS special somewhere in my archives. It was very good. Never connected the actor to the other roles, and it hasn’t been that long since I watched War & Remembrance. Or maybe it has…

    • #9
    • August 3, 2017, at 1:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Lois Lane Coolidge

    A group of us just had a small chat about this actor and what he meant to us in the comments of an essay @she wrote a few days ago. Clearly, we should not be allowed to mention any older actor because that is some bad voodoo.

    I loved watching All Creatures Great and Small when I was younger, and as much as I also love Churchill, the performance as Siegfried is indelible.

    I hope that there is a committee consisting of the original vet crowd–even the actual Donald Sinclair–to welcome Mr. Hardy into heaven.

    • #10
    • August 3, 2017, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. She Thatcher
    She

    I’ll miss him. One of the great ones. I think he was in just about everything.

    But he’ll always be Siegfried Farnon for me. What a perfect role, and what a perfect program that was.

    RIP

    • #11
    • August 3, 2017, at 3:35 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  12. She Thatcher
    She

    Lois Lane (View Comment):
    A group of us just had a small chat about this actor and what he meant to us in the comments of an essay @she wrote a few days ago. Clearly, we should not be allowed to mention any older actor because that is some bad voodoo.

    I loved watching All Creatures Great and Small when I was younger, and as much as I also love Churchill, the performance as Siegfried is indelible.

    I hope that there is a committee consisting of the original vet crowd–even the actual Donald Sinclair–to welcome Mr. Hardy into heaven.

    Hi, @lois-lane

    No worries there, I should think. A veritable pantheon of two, and four-legged friends.

    • #12
    • August 3, 2017, at 3:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):
    Many thanks for the post. He also played Charles Augustus Milverton in the TV movie adaptation of The Master Blackmailer opposite Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. If you have not seen it, you should.

    An appallingly deft performance: minimalist and menacingly convincing….Shivers every time I watch. Thanks, EJ, so much! As well, thanks for Sigfried and Tristan! <sniff, sniff>

    • #13
    • August 3, 2017, at 5:57 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. MarciN Member

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    Per MarciN #7:

    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=churchill+wilderness+years

    Thank you very much.

    • #14
    • August 3, 2017, at 7:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. jzdro Member

    Thank you, EJ Hill.

    What a mind and what a spirit. He brought to life for us good-guy characters and bad guys, with equal seeming ease. Remember his General Tilney in Northanger Abbey?

    He was equally perfect as Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility.

    Reportedly, he was the only actor whom directors would allow to ad lib in period dramas. And now that voice is stilled.

    • #15
    • August 4, 2017, at 5:26 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    jzdro: Reportedly, he was the only actor whom directors would allow to ad lib in period dramas

    He probably could have been an excellent dramatist. The last series of All Creatures was entirely fictional as the show had simply covered all of the original material written by Wight. Hardy hated the dialogue being written for him as being too blustery and over the top and he received permission from producer Bill Sellars to rewrite most it.

    He grew up, as he called it, “a country bumpkin” so taking part in lambing and tending other farm animals didn’t phase him in the least. Early on his co-star Christopher Timothy confessed to be a bit scared of horses. “Good!” said Hardy. “Keep that and you’ll stay alive!” And he said that with good reason. On set he once got caught in a restraining line and a bolting horse dragged him for a good distance. He ended up with three cracked ribs.

    • #16
    • August 4, 2017, at 8:29 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Chris O. Member

    Taught by both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, which he briefly relates in his speech at Hillsdale. Met Churchill twice. RAF fighter pilot trainee during the war. It’s not these things by themselves that endear him, but his appreciation. A lovely person, a superb talent. Rest easy, you did well, and thank you.

    • #17
    • August 4, 2017, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Brian Watt Member

    Chris O. (View Comment):
    Taught by both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, which he briefly relates in his speech at Hillsdale. Met Churchill twice. RAF fighter pilot trainee during the war. It’s not these things by themselves that endear him, but his appreciation. A lovely person, a superb talent. Rest easy, you did well, and thank you.

    Here is that Hillsdale speech:

    • #18
    • August 4, 2017, at 10:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. drlorentz Member

    EJHill: All Creatures Great and Small

    Always had a soft spot for Tris, even though he was a total screw-up. Also had a bit of a crush on (the original) Helen. She was lovely.

    I liked the books even though I’m not much of an animal lover. The stories were really about the people, after all.

    • #19
    • August 4, 2017, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    drlorentz: Also had a bit of a crush on (the original) Helen. She was lovely.

    Carol Drinkwater. She played Nurse Feeley in A Clockwork Orange.

    Now she’s a fairly successful author.

    • #20
    • August 4, 2017, at 11:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  21. Pugshot Member

    Thank you, @ejhill for this remembrance of a fine actor – and thanks to the other Ricochetti who have supplied other recollections as well as links to other sources for more viewing! Loved him in All Creatures Great and Small, Sense and Sensibility, and Harry Potter. Now I have other productions to watch him in!

    • #21
    • August 4, 2017, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. drlorentz Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Carol Drinkwater. She played Nurse Feeley in A Clockwork Orange.

    Interesting. Since I saw A Clockwork Orange long before All Creatures I never would have made the connection.

    • #22
    • August 4, 2017, at 1:57 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Mad Gerald Lincoln

    Robert Hardy was also keen on the subject of archery, and wrote about it. He was also, I believe, a bowyer.

    https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Hardy/e/B000APJH2M/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

    • #23
    • August 5, 2017, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like