Robert Hardy through the years: From Winston Churchill to Cornelius Fudge

Robert Hardy: Getty Images
Robert Hardy: Getty Images

A meticulous linguist, artist, lover of music and literature, Robert Hardy was undoubtedly one of Britain's most distinguished and versatile actors.

From early parts in the Shakespeare Memorial Company, to performing on stage in his late eighties with a broken rib, Hardy was an determined figure.

Known to an older audience as snappy vet Siegfried Farnon from All Creatures Great And Small and younger fans as Harry Potter's Cornelius Fudge, Hardy also carved out the role as go-to man for distinguished Sir Winston Churchill portrayals - he played the wartime leader nine times.

The son of Jocelyn and Henry Harrison Hardy, he was born Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy in Cheltenham on October 29 1925.

Studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, were interrupted by service in the Royal Air Force before he returned to gain an English degree he would later refer to as "shabby" during an appearance Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Shabby perhaps, but it included tutoring from two of the finest writers of their generation in CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.

Launching his career as a stage actor, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1949 at the age of 24 and continued treading the boards until recent years.

He ventured into cinema in 1958 as a naval officer in Torpedo Run and seven years later was reunited with university friend Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

A year later he was given his first continuing role of cut-throat businessman Alex Stewart in series The Troubleshooters.

A cameo in the finale of Upstairs, Downstairs as wealthy and influential bachelor Sir Guy Paynter followed before he landed cantankerous and eccentric Siegfried in All Creatures Great And Small.

The programme became a hit, with furry animals and the countryside escapism attracting audiences of around 20 million.

Not only did 1981 bring the appointment of a CBE, but it also launched his four-decade affair with the role of Sir Winston, a responsibility he once called "undoubtedly the greatest challenge of my acting career".

The first came in TV series The Wilderness Years, set in the 1920s and 30s when Churchill was exiled from political power and his warnings over Hitler went largely unheeded.

In 2013 when - performing as Churchill for the eighth time - he was forced to pull out of The Audience opposite Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II after a fall.

Eighty-seven at the time he appeared in a week's worth of previews with cracked ribs but was eventually replaced by Edward Fox.

His final, and perhaps record breaking, ninth performance as the wartime leader came in the 2015 ITV drama Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain.

Hardy once said of the man he loved to portray: "His leadership, indefatigable spirit and wonderful oratory helped inspire the nation to resist - his greatest moment perhaps being the day in 1940 when he made an extraordinarily impassioned speech to the rest of the Cabinet."

Robert Hardy died aged 91 (Getty Images)
Robert Hardy died aged 91 (Getty Images)

In later years he endeared himself to a younger generation of viewers with his role as the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter.

A keen historian - he wished he had studied the subject instead of English - Hardy sold off an enormous collection of antiques in 2015 as part of a £100,000 auction and was a leading specialist on the longbow. He was also part of the team that raised the great Tudor warship The Mary Rose.

Hardy was married and divorced twice. The first was the daughter of Sir Lionel Fox, Elizabeth Fox in 1952. A son, Paul Hardy, followed before the marriage ended after just four years.

In 1961 he wed Sally Pearson, with the relationship lasting 20 years.

Along with Paul, Hardy had two other children - Justine, a journalist and activist, and Emma, a photographer.

Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy born October 29 1925, died aged 91 on August 3 2017.

Reporting by Press Association