Richard Todd, born as Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd 11-06-1919 in Dublin, Ireland. the son of, Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, who was an Irish physician and an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for his country. Richard spent a few of his childhood years in India, where his father, a British officer, served as an army physician. Later his family moved to Devon and Todd attended Shresbury. Upon leaving school, Todd trained for a potential military career at Sandhurst before beginning his acting training at the Italia Conti Academy. This change in career led to estrangement from his mother. When he learned at age 19 that she had committed suicide, he did not grieve long for her, he admitted in later life. Todd first appeared professionally as an actor at the Open Air Theatre’s Park in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He played in regional theatres and then co-founded the Dundee Reportory Theatre in 1939. During the World War II, Todd joined the British Army, receiving a commission in 1941. Initially, he served in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry before joining the Parachute Regiment and being assigned to the 7th Light Infantry Parachute Battalion under command of Colonel Hilaro Nelson Barlow, as part of the British 6th Airborne Division under command of General Sir Richard Nelson “Windy” Gale. Gale died at his home in Kingston upon Thames on 29-07-1982, just four days after his 86th birthday.
Colonel Hilaro Nelson Barlow was killed by a mortar shell when he was sent forward to take command of 1st Parachute Brigade and co-ordinate an advance to the bridge. His body was never positively identified. Colonel Barlow died on 19–09-1944, aged 37 years, and he is now commemorated on the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery Memorial, in the Netherlands.
On 6 June 1944, as a captain, Todd participated in the British Airborne Operation Tonga during the D-Day landings. Todd was among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. His battalion were reinforcements that parachuted in after glider forces had landed and completed the main assault against Pegasus Bridge near Caen. Todd later met up with Major John Howard
on Pegasus Bridge and helped repel several German counterattacks. As an actor, Todd would later play Howard in the 1962 film The Longest Day, while Todd himself was played by another actor.
After three months fighting in Normandy, the 6th Airborne Division returned to the UK to reconstitute and went back to the continent three months later as emergency reinforcements to halt the Battle of the Bulge the German offensive in the Ardennes. Short of transport as they advanced into Germany, Todd, as the motor transport officer, was responsible for gathering a rag-tag selection of commandeered vehicles to ferry troops forward. After VE day, the division returned to the UK for a few weeks, then was sent on counter-insurgency operations in Palestine. During this posting he was seriously injured when his Jeep overturned, breaking both shoulders and receiving a concussion. He returned to the UK to be demobilised in 1946.
After the war, Todd returned to repertory theatre in the UK. He was appearing in a play when he was spotted by Robert Lennard, a casting director for Associated British Picture Corporation. That company offered him a screen test, and subsequently signed him for a long-term contract in 1948. His active acting career extended into his eighties. The Dam Busters (1955) by the 617 Squadron in which Todd played Wing Commander Guy Gibson,
here with his dog Nigger , which would become the defining role of his movie career for which he would be remembered. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Both Todd’s marriages ended in divorce. His first was to actress Catherine Grant-Bogle, whom he met in Dundee Repertory and was married to from 1949 until 1970; they had a son Peter (1952–2005) and a daughter Fiona.
Nigger was a male black labrador retriever belonging to Wing Commander Guy Gibson of the Royal Air Force, and the mascot of No. 617 Squadron. Gibson owned the dog when he was previously a member of 106 Squadron. Nigger often accompanied Gibson on training flights and was a great favourite of the members of both 106 and 617 Squadrons. He was noted for his liking of beer, which he drank from his own bowl in the Officers’ Mess.
Nigger died on 16-05-1943, the day of the famous “Dambusters” raid, when he was hit by a motorist. He was buried at midnight as Gibson was leading the raid. “Nigger” (Morse code: -. .. –. –. . .-. ) was the codeword Gibson used to confirm the breach of the Möhne Dam. Nigger’s grave is at Royal Air Force station Scampton, Lincolnshire. In July 2020 the headstone was replaced, with his name removed. The RAF said it “did not want to give prominence to an offensive term that went against its ethos”.
In 2023, the RAF’s request for listed building consent to move the dog’s grave to another airbase was refused.
Todd was a supporter of Second World War commemoration events, particularly those associated with the Normandy landings and 617 Squadron RAF, nickname “the Dambusters” He continued to be identified in the public consciousness with Guy Gibson from his portrayal of him in the 1950s film, and attended 617 Squadron anniversaries up to 2008. He narrated a television documentary about the Squadron, and contributed forewords to several books on the subject,
Death and burial ground of Todd, Richard.
In 1960 he had a son Jeremy with model Patricia Nelson. He was married to model Virginia Mailer from 1970 until 1992; they had two sons, Andrew and Seamus (1977–1997). In retirement, Todd lived in the village of Little Ponton and later in Little Humby, 8 miles from Grantham, Lincolnshire. Two of Todd’s five children committed suicide. In 1997, Seamus Palethorpe-Todd shot himself in the head in the family home in Lincolnshire. An inquest determined that the suicide might have been a depressive reaction to the drug he was taking for severe acne. On 21-09-2005, Peter killed himself with a shotgun in East Malling, Kent, following marital difficulties. His sons’ suicides affected Todd profoundly; he admitted to visiting their adjoining graves regularly. He told the Daily Mail, that dealing with those tragedies was like his experience of war, “You don’t consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for.” Todd, who had been suffering from cancer, died in his sleep at his Little Humby home on 03-12-2009, old age 90.
He is survived by his daughter Fiona and two of his four sons, Jeremy & Andrew. Richard Todd was buried between his two sons Seamus and Peter at St. Guthlacs the church in Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England.
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