Richard Attenborough and Wyggy’s Crusaders

05 September 2014


From Dr John A. Florance
Sir, - The Revd Stephen Brown's tribute to Richard Attenborough (Comment, 29 August) is right, I am sure, about the great director and actor's mistrust of organised religion. As a producer and presenter at BBC Radio Leicester, I met and interviewed him many times. In 2007, I asked him about his religious affiliations, and for once he was a little hesitant. But here, in part, is his answer.

"I'm not a religious character, I'm afraid. I'm apprehensive as far as religion is concerned. I feel that in the name of the great religious figures the most terrible things have been wrought. . . That I find very distressing. I am not a sacrilegious person. I dislike very much the ridicule and derision and antagonism created by some forms of religious belief. . . I'm a mess as far as religion is concerned."

Having said that, he went on to say that he considered Shadowlands was his best picture as a director. This might seem slightly odd. But at one time Lord Attenborough knew Christianity from the inside.

A friend of mine, Glyn Haines, tells me that his cousin, Malcolm Rowland, was Richard's contemporary at Wyggeston Boys' School, Leicester. "While at Wyggy Malcolm led a group of Crusaders in the school. When he was about to leave he was given a Book of Common Prayer and Hymns A&M. Inside is written 'To Malcolm J. Rowland with best wishes for the ensuing years. From two of his converts Richard and Arthur, Christmas 1940.' 'Richard' is indeed Richard Attenborough, and I understand 'Arthur' became an Anglican priest, later at St Mary's in Melton Mowbray."

It is possible that Lord Attenborough came to know of C. S. Lewis through his involvement with the Crusaders, and that Shadowlands was the fruit of that experience.

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