Actor who was seldom out of work on television or the big screen and excelled in Harold Pinter's plays on stage
Telegraph 11 Aug 2008
Terence Rigby , who has died aged 71, was a highly regarded theatre actor, noted particularly for his work in Harold Pinter's plays; but he was best known for his film and television work on both sides of the Atlantic.
Able to play dedicated policemen and hardened villains with equal ease, he first made his mark with television viewers in the gritty series Softly, Softly as the up-and-coming dog handler Pc Snow, whom he portrayed as a shrewd, deadpan character. He then broadened his exposure by appearing on the big screen as a London villain in the film Get Carter, with Michael Caine.
Rigby – who had no difficulty in remaining in work for most of his career – also had television parts in Dixon of Dock Green, Callan, The Saint, Lovejoy, Heartbeat and Midsomer Murders as well as in Crossroads, Holby City, Our Friends in the North and Rumpole of the Bailey. He was also in Edward and Mrs Simpson, The Beiderbecke Affair and The Beiderbecke Connection.
But probably his greatest success on the small screen was as the chain-smoking, moustached, Left-wing spy Roy Bland, who made a strong contrast to his public school colleagues in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The performance was notable for representing the alternative Establishment of Harold Wilson's Britain.
Among Rigby's film roles were the sinister Bishop Gardiner in Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, and a garrulous professor in Mona Lisa Smile, with Julia Roberts. He appeared in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, with Pierce Brosnan, and Essex Boys, about drug-dealers. He was the voice of one of the rabbits in the cartoon of Richard Adams's novel Watership Down.
The son of a businessman who had interests in packaging and hydraulics, Terence Christopher Gerald Rigby was born at Erdington, Birmingham, on January 2 1937, one of five children in a traditional Catholic family. He went to St Philip's School, where he acted in several Shakespeare productions and became keen on tennis, which he continued to play all his life. He also become a Wimbledon linesman and umpire for a time.
After National Service in the RAF as a radar operator, Rigby went to Rada, alongside Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and John Thaw, and obtained his first professional role as a Nubian steward in Murder on the Nile in a performance that lasted two weeks during the holidays; the pay was £5.
He first went to Birmingham rep, where he had a small part in Antony and Cleopatra, with Brian Blessed, then moved to several of the other regional theatres that were then thriving before joining a tour of Lionel Bart's Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be.
He was playing three roles, and had understudied for 13 more in the musical Pickwick, with Harry Secombe, when he heard that the National Theatre was having difficulty casting the part of Joey, the slow-witted, would-be boxer in Harold Pinter's play The Homecoming. Ringing up the head of casting, Rigby explained that he had recently done John Osborne's Epitaph, and offered to come and give a speech from it as if it had been written by Pinter. "That sounds amusing," she replied, and invited him to a rehearsal.
After coming to two more, he said he was unwilling to waste his time at a fourth: he was told to wait another 24 hours; the role was then his.
Rigby was part of the cast which took the production to Broadway, where the American critics were at first as confused as their British counterparts.
But as the play's reputation grew, he established himself as a Pinter actor par excellence. Becoming one of the playwright's drinking companions, he took roles not only in first productions but sometimes second and third stagings too, as well as appearing in television and film versions. The diversity of his talents was demonstrated in the way he introduced an element of comedy into his later performances in The Homecoming.
In 1975 Rigby played the thuggish Briggs in No Man's Land, with Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson in the principal roles: the show was later recorded for television in 1978. He was particularly brilliant in the lead role of the itinerant Davies in The Caretaker.
At the National he continued to demonstrate the range of his skills, offering a menacing Macbeth and earning wide praise for his Albert the Horse, the new character introduced into Wind in the Willows, rendered with great humour in a Brummie accent.
In America, where he bought a flat in his later years, he did Edward Bond's Saved, Mike Leigh's Smelling a Rat and Troilus and Cressida as well as The Last True Believer, about a treacherous British diplomat. The major drawback to being located in New York, he decided, was the poor pay for stage actors.
Terence Rigby was touring America in A Woman of No Importance when he became ill in March. He returned home, and died in London on Sunday night.