was born in Salford, north of England, and was the youngest of three children. He studied law at the Manchester University. When he played in a student play the director was astonished by his performance and convinced him to study acting in Stoke-On-Trent. In 1964 he moved to London where he carried on with his theatrical career.
Robert started in the movies playing supporting parts. His first film was Walk a crooked path in 1969, which was followed by The Italian Job, with Michael Caine, in which he played one of the burglars. In1970 his great chance arrived when he took part in the first season of the cult tv series Doomwatch. Robert played Toby Wren, who became one of the tv viewers' favourite character. Nevertheless, the writers decided to "sacrify" him and kill him off from the series. The truth is that Robert didn't want to make more than one season, and leaving the series turned out to be very good for his career.
That's how Robert started his prolific career in the movies, as well as on tv and theatre. He played in two horror films that are today considered as cult films: Asylum and The Asphyx, but he had a supporting role in both of them.
In his private life Robert has always regarded himself to be someone who is extremely shy who wasn't lucky with girls. Indeed, he was very surprised at the popularity due to Doomwatch. Eventually, he used that popularity to help him to meet the love of his life Barbara Lord, a dancer from the group Pan's People from the television show Top of the pops. This is a sweet anecdote: as Robert was so shy, he didn't dare invite Barbara to go out, so he decided to invite all the dancers to a restaurant and he managed to sit next to Babs. And it was practically love at first sight. They saw each other again and three months later they moved in together... and the love story still continues. So romantic!
In 1974 Ken Russell gave him the leading part in his most beautiful film, Mahler, he also played in the successful Tom Stoppard's Travesties, and "without any enthousiasm" he went to the casting for Franco Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. Franco Zefirelli had in mind names such as Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman to play the role of the son of God and in fact Robert was cast to play Judas. But when Zefirelli looked at his eyes, he realised they could be Christ's eyes and asked him to do a screen test dressed as Christ. As soon as he was ready, everybody were astonished - Robert looked exactly as one had imagined Jesus to be.
Before playing Jesus Robert had to get married to Barbara because Sir Lew Grade, the producer, wouldn't accept that the actor who was to play Jesus Christ "lived in sin". In fact Robert and Babs had already considered marriage so this was no problem, and the couple are still happily married to this day. For Robert, Jesus of Nazareth was just another role, and as soon as he returned to London he shook off this image because he didn't want it to influence his career. Nevertheless, with Jesus of Nazareth he became known all around the world, a possible career in Hollywood was stopped by narrow-minded producers who couldn't conceive that the actor who had played Jesus should be permitted to commit any sin on screen. Robert actually didn't like the Hollywood system nor the roles which were offered to him. He feels much better in Europe than in America; indeed one of his favourite places is Italy. Robert is an international actor, not just because he's known all around the world, but because he has made a lot of films in many countries.
In 1978 Robert made one of his best films The Thirty Nine Steps, which was one of his favourite film and he enjoyed making it. For Robert the most important thing in any role he plays (except for Jesus) is to find the ironic side, to have fun in order to make it less tough.
Around about the time that he was filming 'The Thirty Nine Steps' his son Barney was born.
In the begining of the 80's Robert took part in two films which very important to his career - Harlequin, 1982, for which he was awarded best actor at the Paris film festival, and in the same year for his performance in Krzistof Zanussi's Imperative, he was awarded best actor at the Venice film festival. At around this time his daughter Kate was born.
All through this decade Robert took part in many films for Television. In 1989 Robert starred in a tv series based on his character from The Thirty Nine Steps: Hannay.
In the 90's, this exellent actor became the narrator of many documentaries and showed his talent as a comedy actor with the popular tv series The Detectives, with Jasper Carrott.
During the nineties, Robert received an honorary MA from Salford University, and nine months later he lost his father which affected him a lot because they had become much closer in those years.
Robert is a very decent man, he works with many charity associations and takes part in the events organised by them. Robert and his wife are also extremely adventurous. In 2001 both took part in the BT Challenge, the toughest yacht race around the world. While Babs completed the entire race, Robert just took part in one leg with the actor Jeremy Irons. More recently, Robert has appeared on stage touring in Britain with Murder by Misadventure and the successful Single Spies, both with Liza Goddard. More more recently he has toured England with a new adaptation of Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray.
Robert's agents are:
31 Percy Street, London W1T 2DD
Telephone: 020-7631 0400
Fax: 020-7631 0500
E-mail: [email protected]
He is also listed with Advoice at www.advoice.co.uk