ITV Playhouse: A Splinter of Ice (BFI Southbank)

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Ian Hendry (Tony) and Judy Loe (Clemence)

Fay Weldon’s absorbing play teams a small cast headed by Ian Hendry and Annette Crosbie to explore the problems of middle-aged marriages and the preoccupations of the younger generation.

Tony (Hendry) is a writer and TV personality who has been married to Joy (Crosbie) for twenty years. She is a brittle and bitter woman of forty who regrets not having a child, and her closest friend Bridget (Zena Walker), is also her biggest irritation.

Bridget, a ‘suburban housewife’ with a dull marriage and four children, ‘two with asthma’, and a couple of weeks away puts the smile back on her face when she has a fling with Tony’s agent, Jude (Norman Eshley).

In the meantime, we know that young Clemence (Judy Loe) has got herself pregnant from her affair with Tony, fifteen years her senior, and isn’t keen on keeping the baby. Throw in a bohemian girlfriend for Jude, Julia (Amber Kammer), a randy cat, generational attitudes towards love, commitment, and abortion, and you have a provocative drama which may not feel entirely contemporary in the 21st century, but which still engages audience empathy even if the majority of the characters are dreadful, self-obsessed, selfish and stagnant.

Hendry, Loe and Crosbie in particular shine as the unhappily married couple and the ‘slut’ who the wife first tolerates, then sees as a threat, then realises her usefulness. Walker’s frumpy mother lights up when a chance to relive her girlhood offers itself, while Eshley and Kammer are quietly obnoxious twenty-somethings abjecting themselves of any responsibility.

Utilising several extreme close-ups and some clever scenes with minimal dialogue, we see the unfolding plot from each point of view, and get a measure of what the future holds for each and every character.

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TV series still without a DVD release

These titles are still missing in action, surviving but with no video release. They are also, with one or two exceptions, completely absent from the bootleg circuit.

Is any company out there interested in securing the rights to get these out in the world for archive TV lovers to enjoy?  Would lovers of comedy, drama, or period adaptations buy?

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Phyllis Calvert and Penelope Keith in Kate.  Photo via Nostalgia Central.

Kate – starring Phyllis Calvert.  38 episodes across three series, 1970-1972.  Made for Yorkshire Television.  Kate is an agony aunt who has a knack for getting into trouble.  Also features Penelope Keith and Jack Hedley.

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Helen: a Woman of Today – starring Alison Fiske and Martin Shaw.  13 episodes in a single series, 1973.  Made for London Weekend Television.  Helen is approaching middle-age and decides to end her marriage.  Also features Sharon Duce and Sheila Gish.

Bel Ami – starring Robin Ellis.  5 episodes, 1971.  Made for the BBC.  Adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel about the amoral Georges Duroy.  Also features Elvi Hale, Garfield Morgan, Arthur Pentelow and Peter Sallis.

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Stanley Baker and Daphne Slater in Jane Eyre.  Photo via Bronte Blog.

Jane Eyre – starring Daphne Slater and Stanley Baker.  6 episodes, 1956.  Made for the BBC – my thoughts on seeing it at a BFI screening here.  Rich adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel, in fact one of the best I have seen.

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Liza Goddard and Dinsdale Landen in Pig in the Middle.

Pig in the Middle – starring Liza Goddard, Joanna Van Gyseghem, Dinsdale Landen (and later Terence Brady).  20 episodes across three series, 1980-1983.  Made for London Weekend Television.  Comedy about the middle-aged Barty who is torn between two glamorous women.

Foxy Lady – starring Diane Keen and Geoffrey Burridge.  12 episodes across two series, 1982-1984.  Made for Granada Television.  Daisy joins a Northern newspaper in this breezy comedy.  Also features Gregor Fisher, Milton Johns and Patrick Troughton.

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The Informer – starring Ian Hendry.  21 episodes made across two series, but only 2 survive, 1966-1967.  Made for Associated-Rediffusion.  Alex is a former lawyer now released from prison, making a living on both sides of the law.  Also features Jean Marsh.

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Neil Innes as the Wizard with Toby Spelldragon in Puddle Lane.

Puddle Lane – children’s series with Neil Innes.  75 episodes, 1985-1989.  Made for Yorkshire Television.  A magician tells stories with the help of his cauldron and dragon. Also features Kate Lee.

Great Expectations – starring Dinsdale Landen.  13 episodes, of which 12 survive, 1959.  Made for the BBC.  The first television adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.  Also features Colin Jeavons, Michael Gwynn, and Helen Lindsay.   The atmospheric opening episode is accessible at the BFI Mediatheque.

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Article from the Radio Times.  Janet Munro in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Scan via Britmovie.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – starring Janet Munro and Corin Redgrave.  4 episodes, of which 3 survive, 1968.  Made for the BBC.  Adaptation of the Anne Brontë novel, clips were shown on ‘The Brontës at the BBC’.  Also features Bryan Marshall, Megs Jenkins, and Felicity Kendal.

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Nicol Williamson, George Segal and Will Geer in Of Mice and Men.  Photo via eBay.

Of Mice and Men – starring George Segal and Nicol Williamson.  A two-hour drama, 1968.  Made for the American Broadcasting Company.  Adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel.  Also features Will Geer, Don Gordon and Joey Heatherton.

The Coral Island – with Nicholas Bond-Owen and Richard Gibson (I know of the German release without English soundtrack).  9 episodes, 1983.  Made for Thames Television.  Ralph, Jack and Peterkin find themselves shipwrecked.

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Ian Hendry and Nyree Dawn Porter in For Maddie With Love.

For Maddie With Love – starring Ian Hendry and Nyree Dawn Porter.  48 episodes over 2 series, 1980-1981.  Made for ATV.  Maddie is terminally ill and her husband and children have to come to terms with change.  An excellent and overlooked series, only one episode has been officially released on Network’s Soap Box set. Also features Colin Baker, Robert Lang and Bruce Montague.

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Dinsdale Landen in Devenish. Photo via Memorable TV.

Devenish – starring Dinsdale Landen.  14 episodes across 2 series, 1977-1978.  Made for Granada Television.  Prufrock Devenish is an amoral social climber in this nutty comedy.  Also features Doran Godwin, Terence Alexander, Geoffrey Bayldon and Michael Robbins.

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Clive Dunn and Michael Bentine in It’s a Square World.  

It’s a Square World – with Michael Bentine.  56 episodes, of which 45 survive, 1960-1964.  Made for the BBC.  Zany and influential sketch show .  Also features Frank Thornton and Clive Dunn.

Thirty Minute Theatre – just under 50 episodes survive from 285 (many never filmed), but only a handful have been released.  Includes key work from a variety of writers and directors.  Made for the BBC.

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Benedict Taylor and Paul Rogers in Barriers.

Barriers – starring Benedict Taylor.  20 episodes, 1981.  Billy seeks his adopted parents.  Made for Tyne Tees Television.  This has turned up on YouTube so I rewatched it in a poor quality copy, but it has stood up well.

Hamlet – starring Ian McKellen.  One-off film, 1970.  A co-production between the BBC and Prospect Theatre Company.  Also features John Woodvine, Faith Brook, and Susan Fleetwood.  One of the few colour Shakespeares that remains resolutely in the archives.

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David Swift and Richard Beckinsale in Bloomers.  Photo via Nostalgia Central.

Bloomers – starring Richard Beckinsale and Anna Calder Marshall.  5 episodes recorded of the planned six, 1979, this series was curtailed with Beckinsale’s death.  Made for the BBC.  A comedy in which a resting actor starts work in a flower shop.  I have seen the episodes in poor-quality copies, with thoughts here.

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William Windom in My World and Welcome to It.

My World and Welcome to It – starring William Windom.  26 episodes, 1969-1970.  Made for Sheldon Leonard Productions.  John Monroe observes and comments on his wife and family in this comedy based on artist/writer James Thurber.  I first saw this in the 1980s on Channel 4, and have seen the whole series on poor quality copies.

That’s my twenty most wanted at the moment – what’s yours?

Book review: With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes – an unauthorised guide to The Avengers series 1

I well remember my first viewing of a series 1 episode of ‘The Avengers’, in fact the only one in existence at that point, which was 1993.  Channel 4 showed this episode, called ‘The Frighteners’, and my perception of the series as being around Steed with his bowler hat and umbrella, with a lady sidekick who wore leather and displayed some keen karate moves, was dispelled completely.  Also shaken, and just a bit stirred, was my perception of Ian Hendry, the actor who had died a decade earlier and who I only really knew from his guest appearances in ‘Jemima Shore Investigates’ and ‘Brookside’.  Here, as the main man in ‘The Avengers’, as Dr Keel, was this young, vital, and rather attractive chappie.  And thus was my interest piqued.

Sadly, since that day twenty-one years ago only an episode and a half from the first series have come to light, both in 2001 (‘Girl on the Trapeze’, which did not feature the character of Steed at all; and the first act of the opening episode, ‘Hot Snow’, which gave us the answers to the questions “Why is the show called ‘The Avengers’ at all?” and “What is ‘hot snow’ anyway?”).  They are good enough to leave the question ‘if only’, regretfully hanging in the air, and in some ways the missing Series 1 episodes are only just behind ‘Doctor Who’ in the holy grail of archive television’s ‘most wanted’ titles.

Fast forward to 2014, and this book has been released, written by Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes, both devoted enthusiasts of the series, who previously collaborated (with Alys Hayes) on a sister book, ‘The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes’.  This time ‘With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes’ (what a great title!) looks at production, transmission of and reception to the twenty-six episodes taped as Series 1, and as such is brim-full of facts, figures, opinion, insight, and line drawings (one has to go to books like Dave Rogers’ ‘The Complete Avengers’ to see still photographs from the show, even if one or two of those were mistakenly identified as belonging to episodes where no archive exists).

Those of us who eagerly purchased the Optimum DVD release of ‘The Avengers’ series 2 just to get the surviving series 1 episodes as extra (and the wonderful accompanying book of John Cura telesnaps from the missing episodes) are aware of the work which has gone into restoring many of the episodes from still photographs and from-script narrations.  More on this particular activity can be found at The Avengers Declassified, where Hayes goes into detail of the work he and Jaz Wiseman put into bringing 14 of the missing episodes back to life.  (A minor quibble on this might be that one has to purchase the whole of ‘The Avengers’ series on disc to get to see all of them, but a true fan would not begrudge the expense).

So Hayes has proved his credentials before this book made it to press, along with fellow fan McGinlay, and together they have produced a piece of work that will make any fan of ‘The Avengers’, however casual, hungry for more.  Those missing episodes are brought to life using a system of sectioning for the chapters – from ‘production brief’ and ‘field report’ to ‘matters arising’ and ‘mentioned in dispatches’ (where contemporary sources such as interviews and articles are discussed).  The sections on the stars themselves are interesting, but peripheral – Hendry fans can refer to the engrossing book ‘Send in the clowns: the yo-yo life of Ian Hendry‘, by Gabriel Hershman, to gain more insight on ‘the original Avenger’, while Patrick Macnee has written his own autobiographies which touch on his long association with the character of Steed throughout ‘The Avengers’ and its successor ‘The New Avengers’.

If you are at all interested in the genesis of a series which many simply associate with Steed and Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), or Tara King (Linda Thorson), this book should make you look again,  If you watch one of the surviving episodes, with the John Dankworth score, you can almost smell the cigarette smoke and feel the smog of a city in conflict, where the doctor and the stranger who is slightly aside of and above the law start by ‘avenging’ the murder of a girl who has simply been in the wrong place and the wrong time, and then put themselves in various dangerous situations throughout the series. The same feeling comes across as you read this book.

The character of Dr Keel was written specifically as a vehicle for Ian Hendry when his previous TV outing, ‘Police Surgeon’, was cancelled (a series which has fared even worse, with only one surviving episode) – when he left to try his luck on the big screen it must have seemed as if the big time was calling, and while it never did, the body of work he left behind does prove there was a gifted actor who was simply passed by (see ‘The Lotus Eaters’, made for TV in the 1970s, for proof of that).

This book brings us back to a time when ‘The Avengers’ was a very different series, with Steed as second fiddle and a far grittier style than that we saw in the Gale-Peel-King days.  Both styles have their place, but it is a real shame that we cannot properly assess the contribution of the Dr Keel years.  So hooray for this book, which fills the gap in an entertaining and informative way.  Highly recommended, and available from www.hiddentigerbooks.co.uk.  Incidentally, an ad at the end of the book hints at a similar venture in planning for the missing episodes of ‘Police Surgeon’ – they have an interested buyer-to-be right here.

Miss Julie (Theatre 625, 1965)

This entry in the Theatre 625 series was adapted and directed by Alan Bridges, from the play by August Strindberg.  ‘Miss Julie’ is a heady and melodramatic mix of class rivalry, sexual lust, and psychological breakdown which is all the more intense from happening within the space of one night and day (or as in the running time here, 70 minutes).

Jean (Ian Hendry) is a valet who has ambitions to rise in the world and open a hotel, but lacks the capital (and probably the initiative) to live out his dreams.  He freely helps himself to wine from his employer’s cellar, but admits that the sight of the Count’s boots makes him feel ‘servile’.  Into this frustrating setting steps his mistress, Miss Julie (Gunnel Lindblom) who is bored with her privileged existence and physically drawn to Jean, despite the class differences between them.  She orders him to dance with her, and then teases and taunts him until eventually things progress to a head and their relationship clearly crosses a line which will eventually be fatal to one of them.

My initial feeling was that Lindblom (a Swedish actress) was too over the top in her role, and Hendry too reticent and modern, but as the play developed their styles began to gel, and in Jean’s character we saw that combination of vulnerability, arrogance, cruelty (the killing of the greenfinch) and sensitivity which characterised many of Hendry’s early roles.  Remember at this point it was still possible to imagine him succeeding in major leading film roles, even romantic ones, before fate placed him into the realms of character playing.  There’s a moment where Jean jokes about drinking being something you do to keep your partner company which may have echoes of the actor’s real life situation at the time, and I found this a rather sad moment of coincidence; still, this was a good role for Hendry – who looks great, speaks the dialogue well, and is eventually convincing in all the nuances of this complex role.

Bridges’ direction does not hold back on bringing the audience into the heart of the play, with extreme close-ups (sometimes of just eyes or mouths), odd flashbacks in vision and sound, and heightened dramatic performances especially as Julie realises a moment of madness has cost her far more than a fleeting moment of pleasure away from her position of privilege.  Her fall is ultimately tragic, the more so as you feel it will have no real consequences for Jean and his cook fiancée, Christine (a small role for Stephanie Bidmead, but she’s good, and you feel she really is the driving force in their relationship).  He is a weak man who will probably again rise to the bait if he is tempted, but he is destined to be answering the ring of bells in the servants’ hall for life.

 

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

Gabriel Hershman’s book, published through lulu.com 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.

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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.

The original Avenger: a tribute to Ian Hendry

Born in Ipswich in 1931, the late Ian Hendry is one of the UK’s lost screen stars, only really remembered now by archive television buffs.  While others in his peer group became household names (Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave in particular, who were both in the same year at Central School of Speech and Drama), his career floundered into character parts after a strong initial start.

Now thought of as something of a cult actor (if at all), he seems to have been a complex character, ambitious, something of a hellraiser (but one who wrote songs and poetry), and with a love of the sea (spending most of his life in the spotlight living on Pharaoh’s Island in the River Thames, near Shepperton).

His full name was Ian Mackendrick Hendry, reflecting his roots with a Scottish father.  His early jobs included working as an estate agent, a stunt motorcyclist, and working in amateur dramatics as a clown’s stooge – his professional debut took place in 1956, when he was already a mature twenty-six years old, with an uncredited role on screen in the film ‘Up in the World’, and the following year appearing in a succession of stage roles at the Oxford Playhouse.

Further small roles in 1957 (in the film ‘The Secret Place’), 1958 (in a succession of episodes of the early medical soap ‘Emergency: Ward 10’), and 1959 (a small role as a rehearsing actor in the Laurence Harvey film ‘Room at the Top’; an appearance in the film ‘The October Wedding’, and episodes of ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Television Playwright’) led to his first major role, as the physician assisting with crime in ‘Police Surgeon’, in which he played Dr Geoffrey Brent – the surviving episode shows an actor with a raw sex appeal and personality.  Also in 1960 were appearances in episodes of ‘Probation Officer’ , ‘Inside Story’, and ‘In the Nick’, with another uncredited role in the film ‘Sink the Bismarck’ as a naval officer.

But it was the role of Brent, in a dozen episodes of ‘Police Surgeon’, that led directly to his breakthrough role in one of the great iconic series of the 1960s, ‘The Avengers’.  We may think now of this series as being about the bowler-hatted John Steed and a succession of strong-willed and physically-adept ladies, but the original premise was avenging the murder of the fiancee of Dr David Keel (Hendry), and Steed was simply a second lead.  Of the twenty-five episodes recorded for series one of ‘The Avengers’ only two and a half remain, a sad reflection of the policy of wiping unwanted television programmes no longer required for repeat screenings or overseas sales.  The sole remaining episode for years was ‘The Frighteners’, which was a revelation to me when viewing on a Channel 4 repeat screening in 1993.  It was exciting stuff, it was proper action, cops and robbers yes, but not a comedy as the series became in its later seasons.  The loss of most of the first series of ‘The Avengers’ and thus of Hendry’s compassionate, calm and yet tough Dr Keel is one of the great tragedies of archive television wipings.   He is the embodiment of my ideal television hero.

At the same time as ‘The Avengers’, Hendry would be cast in a television play called ‘Ben Spray’, an entry in the ITV Television Playhouse.  This would seem to have survived, but I have been able to track down very little information about it.

Production of ‘The Avengers’ being held up during the 1962 Equity strike, the dazzling young actor would gain the prize of a film contract, and temporarily turn his back on the security of a television lead role.  In hindsight it might be true to say that this was a huge mistake, but surely at the time it must have seemed the pinnacle of a career which had begun to catch fire – and the first film in which he played the lead, ‘Live Now, Pay Later’, a prototype of the now more familar ‘Alfie’, would seem to support that theory.  As Albert, a salesman who ascends the ladder while romancing the lady clients he encounters, Hendry is a mix of charm and energy, a wide boy who overreaches himself but picks himself up again to try another day.  In support were names like June Ritchie, Nyree Dawn Porter, and, making his screen debut, a very youthful Peter Bowles.  The film stands up well today but because of ownership issues and poor distribution is not remembered and has become rather obscure.

A frustratingly missing television role in the play ‘A Case for Treatment’ (later filmed with David Warner), followed, then an ‘Armchair Theatre’ entry, ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’ (which paired him with the actress Janet Munro, who would become his second wife, following his divorce from film make-up expert Joanna), and ’54 Minute Affair’ (an entry in the Drama ’63 series) hot on its heels.  A trio of films which were really at best comfortable B entries premiered in 1963 – ‘Girl in the Headlines’ (a decent enough watch, but not spectacular), ‘This is My Street’, and ‘Children of the Damned’.  Although still gaining leads, Hendry’s career was beginning to slow down and his descent into a character player was already in evidence.  It could be argued that ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’ was his last really interesting leading role, a drama which is frustrating to watch but also extremely absorbing due to the obvious screen chemistry between him and Munro, with whom he would go on to have a turbulent and ultimately tragic marriage.

1965 saw two memorable supporting roles, as Michael, the married boyfriend of Yvonne Furneaux in Roman Polanski’s horror thriller ‘Repulsion’, and as the sadistic Staff Sergeant Williams in the tough Army prison film from Sidney Lumet, ‘The Hill’.  In both he was excellent and managed to upstage his more showy co-stars, particularly Sean Connery in the latter film.  During the same year he appeared in two plays for television on ‘Theatre 625’, Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ and Clive Exton’s ‘Are You Ready for The …’, plus a final appearance for ‘Armchair Theatre’ in ‘A Cold Peace’, and an excellent guest spot in the Patrick McGoohan vehicle ‘Danger Man’ in ‘Say it with Flowers’.

In 1966 Hendry again landed a major television role in ‘The Informer’ – of which all twenty-one episodes are sadly lost.  This was a very popular series which led to an appearance on the greatest showcase on children’s television at the time, the storyteller on ‘Jackanory’.   Then it was back to the familiar tread of character roles in the films ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘The Southern Star’, while also finding time to appear in Roger Moore’s tongue in cheek series ‘The Saint’ in the two-part episode ‘Vendetta for the Saint’, enjoyable fluff as you would expect for that series.

In 1969 he first teamed with his future ‘Lotus Eaters’ co-star Wanda Ventham in an episode of ‘The Gold Robbers’, while a sci-fi re-imagining of the story of Don Quixote in 1970 placed him in the comedy ‘The Adventures of Don Quick’ (of which one episode of six survives).  1971 was a year of some disappointment as he lost out on the plum lead role of Jack Carter in ‘Get Carter’ to Michael Caine (the second such loss, as he had been considered for ‘Zulu’ back in 1963; however, this time he had been cast before Caine came along).  He had to be content with a supporting role of driver Eric Pace instead, a pivotal role, but clearly a crushing disappointment, and the tension between the actors made for a couple of crackling scenes in the finished film.

By 1971 Hendry’s marriage to Janet Munro had disintegrated, with both of them reported as having problems with alcohol.  Their divorce was quickly followed within a year by Munro’s death at the age of thirty-eight from an heart attack, a blow from which her ex-husband never recovered.  They had two daughters together, Sally and Corrie.  Hendry went on to marry Sandra Jones, who had been the girls’ nanny, and a further daughter, Emma, was born to the couple.

Appearances in ‘The Persuaders’, ‘Suspicion’, the film ‘The Jerusalem File’, and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ eventually led to what he (and I) consider to be his best role on television, that of Erik Shepherd in ‘The Lotus Eaters’.  His portrayal of the recovering alcoholic settled in Crete with his mysterious wife was outstanding.  This series should have propelled him back to the public consciousness, but it does not seem to be the case, and although well received, the series ended in 1973 after 15 episodes, partly due to his failing health due to alcoholism and his growing reputation for being difficult to work with (a perception Wanda Ventham dismisses, however, in an interview on the DVD release of the series).

The Vincent Price film ‘Theatre of Blood’ was the first time I ever saw Ian Hendry in anything, as the head of a group of critics who had given their honest opinion on the acting talents of the ham actor Richard Lionheart, who then vows to dispatch them all in the manner dictated by Shakespeare.  Fellow critics include Harry Andrews, Dennis Price, Robert Morley, Arthur Lowe, and Coral Browne, and they were dispatched in inventive and gory methods.  In an interesting twist of fate, Lionheart’s daughter was played by Avengers lovely Diana Rigg.  Anyway, once I saw this film I was smitten by this attractive and dynamic actor (who had died by the time I first saw the TV showing) and I have been interested in him ever since.

His last really good film role was as the geek in ‘The Internecine Project’ in 1974, which starred James Coburn – another film which does not get much exposure nowadays.  Nervy and bespectacled, Hendry was as watchable as ever, and definitely a high point in a starry cast.  But by the time he guested in ‘The Sweeney’ (and played stooge to Tommy Cooper on one of his shows) he was starting to show signs of deterioration on the screen, which was sad to watch.  There would be occasional glimpses of the old Hendry in appearances in ‘Thriller’ (in the episode ‘Killer With Two Faces’) and ‘The New Avengers’ (in the episode ‘To Catch A Rat’, where he is greeted by Patrick McNee’s Steed as ‘old friend’) but they were getting few and far between.  A double episode of ‘Supernatural’ is probably best left in the past, as should his appearance with moustache as Thrush Feather in Joan Collins’ ‘The Bitch’ in 1979.  However in 1978 he appeared on stage at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, so he must have still be able to perform with lucidity at times.

The television series ‘For Maddie With Love’ reunited him with Nyree Dawn Porter and took some focus away from his widely publicised money problems (following attempts to pay off former wife Munro’s debts), and recent sight of an episode (on the Network release ‘Soap Box’) confirms that this was a good role for him – if perhaps a little insensitive, as he was cast as a husband dealing with the impending death of his wife – and I hope the series gets a full DVD release.  In the same year, 1980, he appeared in the film ‘McVicar’ in an uncredited role, but a memorable one.

His final years, it seems, were troubled ones but he remained employed to the end, in episodes of ‘Smuggler’ and ‘Bergerac’, in a recurring role in ‘Jemina Shore Investigates’ (from which he was unfortunately fired due to his drinking and unreliability), and finally, in the soap ‘Brookside’.  Perhaps he was regarded with fondness by colleagues in the business who made allowances for any shortcomings.  A sad final public appearance on Patrick Macnee’s ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1984 closed the curtain on a long but sometimes rocky career, and Ian Hendry died on Christmas Eve that year from an internal haemorrhage, his health and looks destroyed at the age of just fifty-three.

I don’t believe in dwelling on the personal problems on those in the public eye, but the story of Ian Hendry and his decline is a heartbreaking one.  Blessed with good looks and talent when he first appeared on the screen, his star quickly fell (some say due to his refusal to wear a toupee once he started losing his hair), and he was unjustly replaced in some key roles in which he would have shone.  Perhaps he just never found the right role to keep him up there as a leading star.  I feel he has also been dismissed as simply a drunk or a tragic figure when there was undoubtedly much more to the man.  Much of his work has been lost or become unavailable, which means he can not properly be assessed alongside his peers born around the same time (Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Michael Jayston, Ian Holm, David Janssen, Robert Vaughn, Robert Shaw).  I feel that were more work to come to light he would be reassessed as one of our great acting talents.

For me, Hendry should have been one of our greatest film exports, and whether it was fate or his own doing, the fact that this did not happen is a missed opportunity.  I salute the original Avenger, with affection.

Ian Hendry’s television roles – the ones which were wiped:

  • Emergency: Ward 10 (all his appearances)
  • Television Playwright (27 episodes of 20 missing, including Ian’s)
  • Inside Story (complete series missing)
  • Probation Officer (78 of 109 episodes missing, including Ian’s)
  • Police Surgeon (12 episodes of 13 missing)
  • The Avengers (only 2 and a half episodes of series 1 remain)
  • BBC Sunday Night Play: A Suitable Case for Treatment
  • Blackmail: The Case of the Phantom Lover / The Man Who Could See
  • ITV Play of the Week: Beyond the Horizon
  • The Informer (complete series missing)
  • Jackanory: Stories from East Anglia and the Fens (all Ian’s episodes missing)
  • The Adventures of Don Quick (5 of 6 episodes missing)
  • Late Night Theatre: We’re Strangers Here

Existing, but not commercially available:

  • Drama ’63: 54 Minute Affair
  • Armchair Mystery Theatre: Time Out of Mind / Flight from Treason
  • Theatre 625: Miss Julie / Are You Ready For The …
  • ITV Play of the Week: Crossfire / On the Island
  • Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph / A Cold Peace
  • ITV Sunday Night Theatre: A Summer Story / Dangerous Corner / Love Doesn’t Grow on Trees
  • ITV Playhouse: The Tycoon / A Splinter of Ice / The High Game / Thursday’s Child
  • Dial M for Murder: Contract
  • Churchill’s People: March on Boys
  • Shades of Greene: The Man
  • Killers (full series)