Richard Griffiths attended drama classes at Stockton & Billingham College and then studied at Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama -- today the Manchester School of Theatre. He worked in small theatres, sometimes both acting and stage managing, and won a spot on BBC Radio. He built up an early reputation as a Shakespearean clown with his portrayals of the Constable in The Comedy of Errors and Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He eventually began to get lead roles on stage and television, and got his big break in the film in It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1975). He went on to roles in a number of major films, including The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Gorky Park, and Withnail and I. He was Harry Potter's cruel uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter series of films. He starred as Inspector Henry Crabbe in the British detective drama Pie in the Sky, a part created for him. In 2004, he originated the role of Hector in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, for which he won the 2005 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Tony Award. He reprised his role in the film version released in 2006.
In April 2012, he co-starred in a revival of the Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys. He died at age 65.