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Image: Ian Richardson
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Ian Richardson, the acclaimed British Shakespearean actor, played the silkily evil Francis Urquhart in three miniseries, "House of Cards" in 1990, "To Play the King" in 1993 and "The Final Cut" in 1995.
updated 2/9/2007 11:26:24 AM ET 2007-02-09T16:26:24

Ian Richardson, who brought Shakespearean depth to his portrayal of a thoroughly immoral politician in the hugely popular satirical TV drama "House of Cards," died Friday at age 72, his agent said.

In addition to his many stage, screen and TV roles, Richardson also appeared in one of the mustard commercials as the man in the Rolls-Royce who asked, "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"

He died in his sleep at his London home, said the agent, Jean Diamond.

Richardson played the silkily evil Francis Urquhart in three miniseries, "House of Cards" in 1990, "To Play the King" in 1993 and "The Final Cut" in 1995.

Urquhart's smooth riposte to any slur against another character — "You may think that; I couldn't possibly comment" — was picked up by British politicians and heard again and again in the House of Commons.

His other television roles included Bill Haydon in John Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"; Sir Godber Evans in "Porterhouse Blue" and Sherlock Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

In 2001, he starred in "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes," playing Dr. Joseph Bell, the mentor of Arthur Conan Doyle, in a miniseries that was broadcast in the United States on PBS' "Mystery."

He also portrayed the British spy Anthony Blunt in the BBC-TV play "Blunt."

On Broadway, he played Jean-Paul Marat in "Marat/Sade" in 1965, reprising the role in the United Artists film the following year, and Henry Higgins in a 1976 revival of "My Fair Lady," for which he was nominated for a Tony Award as best actor in a musical.

Other movie credits included "Brazil" in 1985, "The Fourth Protocol" in 1987, "BAPS" in 1997, and "102 Dalmatians" in 2000.

But it was his role in "House of Cards" that turned him "from a jobbing actor that the cognoscenti were aware of into a star that the country's entire viewing population knew," Richardson said in an interview last year with the Daily Mail newspaper.

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"House of Cards" was brilliantly, if accidentally, timed. It appeared in Britain in the same year that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was brought down by feuding in her Conservative Party.

The miniseries was shown in the United States as part of PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre."

"Urquhart was a wicked character but Richardson portrayed him in such a way that everybody loved it. In anybody else's hands, that role could have fallen flat on his face," said Michael Dobbs, who wrote the book on which it was based.

In the feverish atmosphere of Thatcher's downfall, "even John Major's leadership campaign in 1990 came to a halt at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night so that the whole campaign team could sit down and see what was happening," Dobbs said.

Richardson, born in Edinburgh in 1934, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960.

In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his many roles.

He is survived by his wife, Maroussia, and two sons. Funeral arrangements were not announced.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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