Book review: Send in the Clowns – The Yo-Yo Life of Ian Hendry

Gabriel Hershman’s book, published through as an e-book or print on demand, is called ‘Send in the Clowns – the Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry‘. The title can be explained thus – Ian started as a clown and a mentee of the great Coco, while his unfinished attempt at writing his own life story was called ‘The Yo Yo Life’. It seems an appropriate, and affectionate, description of a complex character.


It has been over twenty-nine years since the British actor Ian Hendry died at the age of 53 on Christmas Eve, 1984. During the intervening years there has been considerable critical analysis of the work of his peers – Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine – but Hendry has been something of the ‘forgotten man’, with much of his work lost (‘The Avengers’ series 1, in which he was the lead character, Dr Keel) or unavailable (the film ‘Live Now, Pay Later’).

Ian Hendry was born with many advantages and gifts – his family was fairly well-heeled, he went to a good school, and he was blessed with both good looks and talent. Movie stardom seemed a given – and following ‘The Avengers’ he was featured in a number of memorable pieces including four films and an Armchair Theatre play ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’.

Hershman focuses on each performance in turn, offering his own critical opinion for pieces he has seen, and sharing contemporary analysis for material which is lost or unavailable for viewing. His views on whether Hendry’s talent was squandered or simply subject to a sequence of bad luck are interesting – and his frank discussion of the impact of the decision to leave his first wife Jo for fellow alcoholic Janet Munro perfectly catches the destructive love-hate nature of their relationship.

In his introduction, Hershman notes that he has worked closely with Ian and Janet’s younger daughter, Corrie, in writing the book, but has not enjoyed the cooperation of Ian’s third wife, Sandy. This is a shame and unbalances the book just a bit (I would have liked to have heard more from Sandy’s point of view of Ian’s last decade); however, the text never becomes a depressing spiral into self-destruction, and treads a fine line when it comes to issues such as alcohol dependency, bankruptcy, and the void in Hendry’s life after the death of Janet Munro. If I had just one criticism I would say that the description of Hendry’s final moments is perhaps a little too frankly written, but others may disagree.

If Ian Hendry had been granted the leading role in ‘Get Carter’ (which was written for him in mind) we would have had a truly great performance in a British classic film. Whether this slight pushed Hendry into a downward spiral he could not reverse, or whether he simply grieved too much for his second wife, remains unclear, although Hershman quite rightly gives this hypothesis some thought. Despite his dependency on alcohol rarely showing on screen (and even less rarely on stage) it appears even in the late 1950s Hendry was ruled by the bottle.

Hershman does hint at the imbalance between Ian Hendry’s professional reputation and that of some of his fellow hard drinking peers like O’Toole, Burton and Harris. All these three were given chances to ‘reform’ in leading roles despite concerns about their ‘hell-raising’. All three were equally as accomplished and attractive as Hendry at the start of their careers – and yet only he has fallen by the wayside. But look at ‘The Internecine Project’ and ‘The Hill’, to name but two of the roles where this actor truly shines and yes, he was as great as anyone. It is time to give this man’s work some serious re-evaluation.

Due to the sterling work of the DVD label Network in particular, we can now view and appreciate a range of Ian’s performances from early appearances in ‘The Invisible Man’ through to comedy support roles in ‘The Sandwich Man’ and classic TV such as ‘Jemima Shore Investigates’, ‘Smuggler’ and ‘Village Hall’.

‘Send in the Clowns’ boasts a number of rare images and has recently been supplemented by an official website created by Ian Hendry’s nephew, Neil. For those familiar with Hendry’s work, it is a must buy. For those who are vaguely aware of him, this will tell you all you need to know, and hopefully will point you towards the work which is commercially available.