Richard Pasco CBE

Richard Pasco CBE: Actor who appeared in an Edinburgh Festival recital with Princess Grace of Monaco. Picture: Getty

Richard Pasco CBE: Actor who appeared in an Edinburgh Festival recital with Princess Grace of Monaco. Picture: Getty

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n Richard Pasco, CBE, actor.
Born: 18 July, 1926, in London. Died: 12 November, 2014, in Warwickshire, aged 88.

Richard Pasco was a leading member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in its glory days when Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn directed visionary productions of Shakespeare with celebrated casts. Pasco had resounding successes as Richard II, Orsino, Jaques and Timon of Athens at Stratford: indeed, his Richard II was particularly memorable as he and Ian Richardson alternated the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. On television he was seen as a calculating Brutus in the BBC’s Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar with Keith Michell as Anthony. Pasco was an exceptional verse speaker and maintained a dignified air of authority on stage.

In Scotland, Pasco is best remembered for his historic appearance at the Edinburgh Festival of 1976 in a recital at St Cecillia’s Hall.

For just four nights Princess Grace of Monaco (the former Hollywood star Grace Kelly), Pasco and Richard Kiley gave poetry readings titled An American Heritage to celebrate the American bicentennial. It was her first performance since she had married Prince Ranier of Monaco and she set Scotland’s capital ablaze.

Allen Wright in The Scotsman recorded: “Grace Kelly was escorted by two gents on to the stage in tuxedos. She was wrapped in a gown of radiant coral and was looking more beautiful than ever.” Wright admitted he did not pay much attention to the men: “They might have been Sinatra and Crosby but they were Richard Pasco and Richard Kiley.” In fact he praised Pasco’s performance: “Paul Revere’s ride was read by Pasco with great vigour.”

While in Edinburgh, 
Princess Grace hosted an evening of poetry and music in the Signet Library with many of the stars at that year’s Festival, including Pasco. The evening was introduced by Tom Fleming.

Pasco’s other Edinburgh appearances included several with the Old Vic Company in Bartholomew’s Fair in 1950, as Henry V with Bristol Old Vic in 1964 and an evening of poetry (Pleasure and Repentance) with Janet Suzman in 1970.

Richard Edward Pasco was educated at King’s College School, Wimbledon and studied drama at the Central School where he won the Gold Medal. After three years at the Birmingham Repertory, he was seen in television dramas (The Adventures of Robin Hood and as a gloriously haughty Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers) and the film Room at the Top (with Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret).

It was during these years that Pasco established himself, firstly with the Bristol Old Vic and then with the RSC in some magnificent performances that toured the world. He joined the latter in 1969 and made a strong impression in the demanding role of Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale. Pasco became particularly close to Judi Dench; his wife, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, was a close friend of Dench and she and Pasco created a formidable partnership on stage.

Their professionalism was tested when the company was on tour in Australia in 1970 and the actor playing Orsino in Twelfth Night died. Pasco agreed to learn the role in three days but refused to wear the dead actor’s costume. The two delivered superb performances and trusted each other’s theatrical judgment implicitly. This was particularly seen two years later when the RSC mounted The Duchess of Malfi in which he played Antonio, who has a disfigured face. When Dench saw Pasco on stage she got the giggles. He recalled: “The first time I appeared Jude just collapsed and she couldn’t stop laughing.”

As a result of their success in Edinburgh Princess Grace and Pasco teamed up for another recital evening: Birds, Beasts, and Flowers – which they committed to disc – after a few live performances. One of the delights was the Princess and Pasco reciting The Owl and the Pussycat.

In the 1990s Pasco was often on stage at the National Theatre in London. He appeared in David Hare’s hugely successful trilogy that made sharp observations on the Church (Racing Demon) with Pasco as a hilarious Bishop of Southwark; the law (Murmuring Judges) and politics (The Absence of War).

In the latter, Pasco’s MP to John Thaw’s prime minister was outstanding. All three plays were seen on television.

Pasco appeared in several movies, but one that gave him special pleasure was to play Dr Jenner in Mrs Brown with Dench as Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly as Brown. Much of the film was shot in Scotland and Dench pleaded with Pasco to play the small role of Dr Jenner as “we will all have such fun in Scotland”.

Despite the rain they did have much fun and the film was a huge success.

Pasco, who was made a CBE in 1977, married Barbara Leigh-Hunt in 1967. She and their son survive him.

ALASDAIR STEVEN

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