The early work of Richard Attenborough is strongly linked with one character which saw him crowned a star of both stage and screen: young south-coast criminal Pinkie in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. He first played the villain at the Garrick on 11 March 1943.
Greene’s thriller, originally a novel, follows the razor-wielding teenage sociopath Pinkie as he attempts to cover his tracks following a vengeful murder, but also explores ideas of sin and morality. Dulcie Gray starred alongside Attenborough as waitress and love interest Rose. Hermione Baddeley played amateur detective Ida, who gets drawn into the web of violence and lies.
Attenborough made his professional stage debut in 1941, arriving in the West End a year later in 1942’s Awake And Sing, but it was his performance as the fledgling gangster that first marked him as a major acting force. Four years later he reprised the role in a film version directed by John Boulting, for which Greene wrote the screenplay. Considered one of Britain’s best film noir offerings, it marked Attenborough’s arrival as a celluloid star. Baddeley reprised her role as Ida, while West End regular Harcourt Williams also appeared.
As Attenborough’s career picked up pace, he moved further away from the stage and towards the big screen, though not before opening as the Detective in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has gone on to become the world’s longest running production.
Attenborough went on to direct films including Oh What A Lovely War! and Gandhi – which won eight Academy Awards – receiving a knighthood in 1976 and being named a life peer in 1993.
The latest twist in the tale of Attenborough and Brighton Rock came in 2004 when his son Michael, now Artistic Director of the Almeida, staged a musical version of the show at the Islington venue. Featuring lyrics by Don Black, music by John Barry and a script by Giles Havergal, it ran for two months of the autumn season.