FEW famous actors have enjoyed a longer love affair with Brighton than Richard Attenborough who died on Sunday aged 90.
He became associated with the town in 1947 when playing the creepy gangster Pinkie in the film of Graham Greene’s pre-war novel, Brighton Rock.
The film brought him fame, not least because several councillors objected strongly to the portrayal of Brighton as a sleazy seaside resort full of vice.
Because of all the attention, the film proved a bonus for Brighton with thousands of people going to the resort as a result of the row.
Over the next 20 years, Attenborough became one of the most dependable British film stars appearing in movies such as The Great Escape.
But he wanted to do more than simply act and made moves to start a new career as a director during the 1950s.
Attenborough returned to Brighton in 1969 for his debut as director Oh! What a Lovely War. This was filmed largely on the West Pier, just still open to the public.
There was tremendous interest in the filming especially when Sheepcote Valley, then a rubbish tip on the east side of Brighton, was turned into a war cemetery.
Although he went on to direct bigger and better films, Attenborough always said that Oh! What a Lovely War was his favourite because it was his first.
In 1995, he became a director of the Brighton West Pier Trust and fought in vain to save the lovely old lady of the sea.
He also became Chancellor of Sussex University, liking both the ceremonial involved and mixing with young people.
It encouraged him that the new red brick campus was bringing renewed academic excellence to the town.
Never one to shirk his many duties, Attenborough often visited Brighton to promote the pier or the university. He also became president of the festival for a while.
He did far more for Brighton than many actors who lived there, especially the churlish and often complaining Lord Olivier.
It was easy to mock Dickie Attenborough, the original luvvie from stage and screen. He was seriously over sentimental and often naïve.
Those qualities were all too evident in his big films such as Gandhi and Cry Freedom, which have not worn as well as some of his earlier works.
Honours came his way over the years. He was knighted and then became a peer, taking the Labour whip. He was never a man to ignore a gong or a party.
His wife, Sheila Sim, played a key role in his life. They starred together more than once, notably in the original cast of The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie’s famous stage play, which is still going strong in London after more than 60 years.
He was a devoted family man, so when he lost several relatives in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, this was a blow from which he never really recovered.
Attenborough also had a bad fall at around this time which disabled him and his last years were undeservedly sad.
He was not the greatest actor in the world, although his role as Pinkie will always be remembered especially in Brighton. He was not the greatest director.
But he was a passionate advocate for the arts and few could resist his powers of persuasion when he was promoting one of his many good causes.
The public loved him – almost as much as his younger brother, Sir David Attenborough who is still active on TV in his late eighties.
Dickie Attenborough was also a kind man and my abiding memory of him is nothing to do with his plays or films.
I was with him when he was paying a visit to the derelict West Pier with an official group about 20 years ago. We all had to pass through security to get on to the main part of the pier.
On the way back, a security guard diffidently asked Attenborough for his autograph. Detaching himself from the main party, Dickie wrote a long message and chatted to him for about ten minutes.
It made that man’s day and possibly his year. It was a friendly, impulsive action typical of Dickie Attenborough and an example of why he will be badly missed.