Born in Rugby, Warwickshire, he trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Appearing in a number of Shakespearean stage productions and small television roles, his big break came with the role of Ronald Merrick in ITV's The Jewel in the Crown, which saw him win Best Actor in the BAFTA Awards for 1985. Other notable appearances included Chief Constable John Stafford in The Chief (1990-1993), a recurring role in ITV drama The Vice as Ken Stott's nemesis, DCI Frank Vickers, Bloody Sunday and two separate adaptations of North and South. His film career included the 2004 film Alexander, The Four Feathers, Gangs of New York, Johnny English, The Remains of the Day, V for Vendetta, and also in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
However, his first speaking role on television was on Doctor Who, playing Captain Harker in the 1971 story The Claws of Axos: "I have my orders, Brigadier," he announced as he puts our heroes under arrest! He returned to the show in 1976, playing Duke Giuliano's friend Marco in The Masque of Mandragora. Speaking to Doctor Who Magazine about this role in Issue 187, he said:
My son had just been born, and my contribution to his upbringing was the night-time feed so, in the studio, everyone had to keep waking me up! But I have fond memories of The Masque of Mandragora. Actually, I nearly got fired, I think, for laughing. We had one of those terrible jokes about Scarlatti, the torturer - every time he came towards us with the branding iron, with an "S" on the end, we just cracked up! Rodney (Bennett) got a bit upset about that.
As well as his 1985 BAFTA, he also won the Directors' Week Award for Best Actor in 2002 for his role as
Major General Ford in Bloody Sunday. He received an OBE in 2017.
His agent said:
It is with deep regret that I have to announce the sad news that Tim Pigott-Smith died this morning. Much-loved and admired by his peers, he will be remembered by many as a gentleman and a true friend. He will be much missed. We ask that you respect the privacy of his wife, the actress Pamela Miles, his son Tom and the family.
The actor can currently be seen in BBC One's Decline and Fall.