(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/26; Photo: Self-deprecating … Ronald Pickup in 1972. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images.)

The actor, who has died aged 80, had a thriving screen career but was also a terrific stage star and an essential member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company

Ronald Pickup, who has died aged 80, had the capacity to bring a gaunt gravitas to high-ranking establishment figures. It is no accident that he was cast as the archbishop of Canterbury in The Crown and Neville Chamberlain in Darkest Hour. Although Pickup had a thriving career in film and television, to people of my age he will always be remembered as part of the National Theatre company that Laurence Olivier assembled in its early days at the Old Vic. When you think that Pickup was one of a number of rising stars including Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon and Anthony Hopkins, you realise it was a golden generation.

Pickup caught the eye at the Royal Court in 1965 when he played the title role in Shelley: the first of a number of a real-life figures he was to play, including Verdi, Stravinsky and Einstein. Rejoining Olivier’s company at the Old Vic where he had started out in small parts, he was an extraordinary Rosalind in an all-male As You Like It in 1967. It was an odd production but Pickup’s Rosalind, in peaked cap and white trouser-suit, caught something of the poetic sexuality for which the production was ostensibly searching.

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