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Richardson, Tony (1928-1991)  

British film and stage director Tony Richardson was instrumental in challenging the censorship codes of the Lord Chamberlain's office, which--until the 1960s--held tremendous and repressive powers over the language and subject matter that was allowed to be presented on the British stage and screen.

While Richardson had a long history of controversies with this government office, one of his most notable victories resulted in the first sympathetic portrayal of a homosexual character in British film; indeed, one of the first in international cinema. Although Richardson himself was publicly heterosexual, he had a quiet--if not completely closeted--gay life as well.

He was born Cecil Antonio Richardson on June 5, 1928, in Shipley, Yorkshire, the son of a pharmacist. He was interested in the stage from an early age, and, as a student at Wadham College, Oxford, became involved with the Oxford University Dramatic Society.

At college he also began to write for various drama and film journals and became acquainted with Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert, who, like Richardson, would be instrumental in advancing British New Wave cinema (or "Free Cinema"), film based in social realism and focusing on the lives of the lower classes.

After receiving a baccalaureate in English in 1952, Richardson became a television director for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and even as he continued his career there, began as a stage director at the Royal Court Theatre and helped found the English Stage Company. In the latter capacity he directed the first performances of John Osborne's plays Look Back in Anger (1956) and The Entertainer (1957), which spearheaded the "Angry Young Men" trend that swept through British drama, film, and literature in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1956, Richardson began his career in cinema with Momma Don't Allow, a short film about young people in a jazz club, which he co-directed with Karel Reisz. Soon thereafter, Richardson and Osborne founded Woodfall Films, mostly for the purpose of filming Look Back in Anger (1958) independently.

The film's critical success led to more works of the New Wave genre, including The Entertainer (starring Sir Laurence Olivier, 1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). His rise to acclaim culminated with Tom Jones (1963), which won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

Of these works, A Taste of Honey, adapted from Shelagh Delaney's controversial play (1958), made film history by shattering many long-standing taboos regarding the representation of illegitimacy, miscegenation, and homosexuality.

In this film, Jo (Rita Tushingham), an unwed pregnant teenager, abandoned by her mother and separated from her black sailor boyfriend, is befriended by Geoff (Melvin Murray), a gay art student who, in spite of the abuse he receives from other characters, remains consistently kind and dignified.

Although Geoff might seem stereotypically effeminate by today's standards, it is a tribute to Richardson's determination in fighting censorship that so obvious a gay character was portrayed with complete sympathy.

From 1962 to 1967, Richardson was married to Vanessa Redgrave (whose father, Sir Michael Redgrave, was also bisexual) and had two children with her, the actresses Natasha Richardson and Joely Richardson. Even though he was married, and subsequently had a well-publicized affair with French actress Jeanne Moreau, he nonetheless had various relationships with men.

After a severe reversal of his previous successes, Richardson relocated to Southern California in the early 1970s, where fellow British expatriates Christopher Isherwood and David Hockney were among his closest friends.

His two French films with Moreau, Mademoiselle (1966) and The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), were commercial and critical failures, as was his epic The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), a ferocious deconstruction of military bravado and blind obedience.

None of Richardson's subsequent films, including Ned Kelly (starring Mick Jagger, 1969), Joseph Andrews (1977), The Border (1982), Hotel New Hampshire (1984), and Blue Skies (1994), achieved the acclaim of his earlier work.

Richardson died of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles on November 14, 1991. His memoirs, discovered after his death by his daughter Nastasha, were published in 1993.

Patricia Juliana Smith


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arts >> Overview:  European Film

Since the 1960s, European film has included significant gay-themed films, many of them directed by openly gay and lesbian directors.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

arts >> Anderson, Lindsay

Influential in shaping British cinema in the 1960s, director Lindsay Anderson, who often presented homoerotic elements in his films violently and disturbingly, was tormented by his homosexuality.

arts >> Hockney, David

One of the liveliest and most versatile visual artists of his generation, David Hockney not only has helped break down resistance to the erotic gaze directed at the male body but also has presented gay male couples in domestic--rather than sensational or sexual--images.

arts >> Hytner, Sir Nicholas

British director Sir Nicholas Hytner is acclaimed for his work on musicals and plays in London as well as New York, and also for directing films and operas.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

arts >> Lambert, Gavin

Best known as a screenwriter, Gavin Lambert was also a novelist and biographer who captured the essence of life in the film community in a perceptive and witty fashion.


Aldgate, Anthony. Censorship and the Permissive Society: British Cinema and Theatre 1955-1965. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Radovich, Don. Tony Richardson: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Richardson, Tony. The Long Distance Runner: A Memoir. New York: William Morrow, 1993.

Welsh, James M., and John C. Tibbetts, eds. The Cinema of Tony Richardson: Essays and Interviews. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Richardson, Tony  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 21, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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