Ian Hendry

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Ian Hendry Pencil Portrait
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The late Ian Hendry is one of the UK’s lost screen stars, only really remembered now by archive film and television anoraks.

Several of his contemporaries at the Central School of Speech and Drama, like Dame Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave in particular, have enjoyed long and illustrious careers, whilst his own ‘star’ would flounder in character parts, after a strong initial start. But since we all turn to dust in the end, perhaps there will eventually be some restored parity to his relative position in the pantheon of film greats – it would be the very least this talented and enigmatic actor deserves.

A useful synopsis of his life can be located at


What becomes more apparent when undertaking any research on Hendry, is that fine line between professional accomplishment and stardom. On more than one occasion over a decade long period, he might well have joined the ranks of stellar immortals yet critical film choices, shifting consumer tastes and escalating alcohol dependency, would ultimately derail his career.

Failing health and financial problems ultimately led to his untimely death at the age of fifty three. At the time, he looked twenty years older; a 1984 ‘This Is Your life’ appearance for old friend Patrick MacNee, indicating all too clearly, that time was indeed short. His physical appearance suggests chronic ascites, a common side effect when the liver can no longer effectively filter toxins and the fluid build up in the blood stream begins to affect the kidneys. Hendry’s swollen stomach in this television clip is not indicative of a man with a weight problem. The deterioration in his looks from his own ‘This Is Your Life’ appearance a mere six years earlier, is palpable. Perhaps most poignantly, it appears his professionalism and courtesy towards fellow actors was never compromised by his alcoholic dependency, and there seems little doubt that many of his contemporaries were greatly saddened by his demise.

Such was his addiction to the sauce, that when filming ‘The Sweeney’ in the mid-70′s, he would disappear to the nearest watering hole to consume half pints of brandy. Following the tragic death of his second wife Janet Munro, herself a chronic alcoholic, at the early age of thirty eight, Hendry was by now committed to a course of ‘full-on oblivion’.

Alcohol abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and contribute to cancers. In addition, much like smoking, it affects people in different ways. Genes, environment, and even diet can play a role in whether an individual develops an alcohol-related disease. On the flip side, some people actually may benefit from drinking alcohol in small quantities.

Actors drink to help them get onstage; the word ‘stage’ used here in more than the theatrical sense. Since what they do is so unique, so difficult and perilous, they appear in a form of near permanent turmoil. Whether learning their lines or blocking out their moves; they have to be in character. Their performance must be on time, whether responding to a rising curtain or a directorial call to ‘action’.

Ian Hendry’s childhood dream was amateur dramatics, despite being groomed for a very different career than the one for which he eventually became famous. His father, a Scottish industrial chemist who had settled in Ipswich, envisioned Ian embarking upon a career in business, and lined up work for his son with an estate agent’s firm in Cambridge. Whilst pursuing his thespian leanings at Culford College, Suffolk, he became a stunt motorcyclist, before completing his obligatory National Service with the Army.

Living at this time in Edgware, Middlesex, he displayed a flair for negotiation, becoming a successful estate agent. However, whilst generating numerous house sales, his heart wasn’t in the work, and after three years, his father displayed commendable support and understanding by paying for his son’s three year stint at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. He started there in 1953 and by the time he left in 1955, he was tipped for the top. The ultimate accolade was receiving the Laurence Olivier award at his final production for Central. The rising star went into repertory in Hornchurch in Essex and on to Oxford Playhouse. His first appearance on British TV came in 1956, in ‘This is Show Business,’ in which he played a clown; a role which mirrored his fascination with circus life, and clowns in particular. Watching his appearance on ‘This is your life’ in 1978, is testimony to the emotional connection he felt for this nomadic existence. Subsequently, he would star in his first prominent TV role as a polio patient in seven episodes of ‘Emergency Ward 10’ in 1958.

Hendry was married by his late twenties, but his union with Jo, a make-up artist, was coming apart at the seams by 1960. For a man noted for having many a beautiful woman adorning his arm, he had clearly settled down prematurely.

A starring role in ‘Police Surgeon’ earned him a ‘TV Times’ front cover in 1960, thereafter becoming the initial star of ‘The Avengers’ before departing for larger film roles, leaving the development of this iconic series in the hands of a quartet of iconic women and a bowler-hatted ‘toff’ who became synonymous with its success. In the first full blown biography of the star, Gabriel Hershmasn explains that Patrick Macnee (John Steed), was never the original star. Ian was the lead and Macnee the sidekick, the pair working well together throughout the initial twenty five episodes. The character of John Steed became the focus of the series, providing MacNee with high profile work throughout the next decade and a half.

Hendry subsequently married the actress Janet Munro, perhaps best known for her co-starring role opposite a pre-Bond Sean Connery in the Disney film Darby O’Gill and the little people (1959). They were kindred spirits, being alcoholic, generous and spendthrift. Their burgeoning romance was front page fodder for the ‘Daily Mirror’ in the autumn of 1961, just as Ian would commence his major career breakthrough in the film Live Now – Pay Later,’ a role that would secure him a Bafta- award as the most promising newcomer of 1962. He would return to his native Ipswich to attend the film’s premiere at the ABC cinema in the Buttermarket.

In 1964, his first child Sally was born; and that summer, he was in Spain delivering possibly his finest performance, playing Staff Sergeant Williams in ‘The Hill opposite Sean Connery, in Sidney Lumet’s study of institutionalised brutality.

Home was a house on Pharaoh’s Island in the Thames, which left Janet feeling isolated. She had a miscarriage, and another child was stillborn. Drink, pills, a near-drowning, an overdose and spells in sanatoriums followed. Janet managed to quit booze, but her husband was drinking more, whilst being pursued by the taxman.

In 1968, Hendry played the lead in Gerry Anderson’s ill-fated sci-fi movie ‘Doppelganger.’ Anderson thought Ian a lovely fellow but sometimes shockingly drunk, his adolescent circus training still providing sufficient agility for him to walk up to the bar on his hands! Yet, for the first time it appears that his drinking was no longer fun but an irritating spoiler. He and Monro separated, then reunited and had a second child Corrie. Hendry was one of Britain’s most respected actors, yet somewhat bitter about his failure to become a major film star. To his chagrin, the leading role in ‘Get Carter’ went to Michael Caine, a man who at the top of his game in 1970. Hendry, without a starring role since Doppelganger two years earlier, was now playing a chauffeur. “The hot property of 1963, whose creativity and talent had once been compared to Charlie Chaplin, was now playing a secondary role to Caine.” Not yet forty, he looked much older. As Hershman writes; “His battered face reflected his boozy lifestyle, his voice a gravelly mix of brandy and smoke. The charisma and authority were as strong as ever but the handsome young man who made women swoon was gone. Comparisons with Caine only made it worse.”

Director Mike Hodges remembered rehearsing a key scene the night before filming. It’s set at a racetrack, and Caine’s character removes Hendry’s sunglasses. It symbolises where the power lay. Hodges describes Hendry arriving very drunk for the run-through and behaving aggressively towards Caine, who was “incredibly gracious and generous” in dealing with it. Shooting the next day went well – helped, the director felt, by that underlying tension! Perhaps if Ian had only been capable of projecting forward decades, the transcient benefits of stardom would have paled into insignificance. Once the ephemerality of fame has passed, future generations simply critique an actor’s body of work on its merits alone.

Domestically, the Hendrys’ marriage ended in 1971.

For Ian, art imitated life as he played a recovering alcoholic and expatriate in ‘The Lotus Eaters.’ He should have been wealthy, but “profligacy, over-generosity and high taxation meant he was broke”.He was still busy, though – including “a one-man charity gig, complete with clowning and backflips, at Ipswich Arts Theatre… The show was organised by Ipswich Rotary Club, of which James Hendry (Ian’s father) was a member”.

In 1972, in a pub, he met Sandra Jones, a 23-year-old nanny who had that day broken up with her boyfriend. They would marry in 1975, the union producing a daughter the couple would christen Emma. A few weeks before Christmas, 1972, Hendry’s former wife Janet Munro died of heart failure, which “certainly exacerbated his drinking”. As time went on, Hershman writes, “Ian seemed to be losing the battle with his demons and good parts were dwindling.”

The actor sometimes visited his parents at Little Bealings, near Woodbridge. “The relationship with Ian was occasionally tense… James and Enid Hendry viewed Ian’s London existence as rather debauched, far removed from their self-respecting, thrifty lives in sleepy Suffolk.” That said, they were proud of his success – Enid subscribing to a media cuttings service and amassing a large collection charting his career.

At the end of 1979 the Inland Revenue sought £35,000 and Hendry was declared bankrupt early in 1980.
A new twice-weekly serial called ‘For Maddie with Love’ offered a chance to get back on his feet, but the demands of soap, six days a week, 17 hours a day. took their toll. He asked for a fortnight off to recharge his batteries. When ATV refused, he quit.

Offers became fewer and fewer, though he did fly to Jersey for an early episode of ‘Bergerac,’ with John Nettles. By now, the drinking had taken its toll on his looks, his once handsome features irreparably weather beaten beyond repair. The 50-year-old appeared twenty years older yet was still capable of delivering a Herculean performance.

A twenty five year habit was broken in 1981, the beleagured star bereft of work in the theatre, television or film.

There was the prospect of work in Thailand early in 1985 but tragically, on Christmas Eve, 1984, his daughter Corrie found him on the bathroom floor with blood everywhere. Hershman writes that the actor had died of a massive stomach haemorrhage, but the more likely cause for a chronic alcoholic would have been oesophageal varacises.

My drawing of Hendry dates from his appearance in “The Beauty Jungle,” a technicolour release fom 1964.

Recommended viewing

Live Now-Pay Later (1962)

‘We never mention prices – shilling in a pound per week – that’s all it is – you won’t miss that – what you don’t miss you don’t see – that’s what makes it free.’

This is Albert’s cri de coeur, his rallying cry to housewives everywhere, to rise up and embrace the new Britain, as it shifts uneasily on its axis from postwar austerity into the swinging 60’s and rampant consumerism. Ian Hendry plays a seedy, on-the-make, door-to-door salesman who pressurises his customers – usually housewives – into bed and into hock. He runs around the council estates in a van filled with rubbish, has an illegitimate child and is himself deeply in debt.

His Albert Argyle in ‘Live Now – Pay Later’ was a cockney charmer, an endearing ne’er-do-well living on the never never, whom women found irresistible against their better judgement. Hendry described the film as “a smash and trend-setter” in his memoir. “I’m sure Michael Caine wouldn’t mind me saying snap when I saw him in Alfie,” he added. The two films, however, were in different orbits. ‘Live Now – Pay Later’ was a low-budget, black-and-white satire, whilst ‘Alfie,’ in all its technicoloured glory, would garner Caine an Oscar nomination.

Like millions of men and women, I’m a nightmare for credit card companies. Their most profitable credit card customers are those perpetually in debt, never defaulting, but always meeting the minimum repayment. Conversely, most of my generation were still hungover from the 50’s- if you couldn’t afford it then you went without it. Repayment in full, underusage of the credit facility, and a constant shift to 0% cards, bears the hallmarks of guaranteed rejection. I am happy to be treated that way. Archie and I wouldn\‘t have transacted business, but I’d have laughed affectionately with him.

In the film, he’s not all cut and thrust – the unconditional gift of a dress to Liz Frazer, and his reaction to her tragic death, suggests a character with redeeming qualities. He can’t resist the ladies of course, despite his aspirational yearning for emotional and domestic stability. This character trait is touchingly acknowledged in an early scene with Grace (Jeanette Sterke), who has borne him a son, and married elsewhere for emotional and financial security. She’s genuinely grateful for her life now, and concerned for Albert’s welfare. ‘Don’t you think he’s grown?’ she enquires when their son Peter runs into the kitchen. ‘Well what else can you do at his age’ Hendry hilariously ripostes. Now emotionally embroiled with Treasure (June Ritchie), with whom he also has a chld, Grace tells him that ‘Time’s running out Albert.’“Yeah, I know” he wistfully replies.

Even at the film’s finale, he’s true to type whilst working on Justine Lord, in the briefest of roles as the coquettish housewife Coral. Hendry is all smarm and charm as he peddles the latest black negligee, at a special knock down price. Exhorting her to feel the material, Albert closes out the sale with a lascivious smile – ‘I’ll give you my personal guarantee – if this doesn’t drive your husband raving mad, then send for me!’ She’s not prepared to wait, inviting him inside for more than just a private fashion show……………

This is my street (1963)

Hendry is the archetypal boarder with an eye for the ladies, in particular June Ritchie, the frustrated housewife whose husband lacks sufficient aspirational drive.

Mike Pratt, five years from “Randall and Hopkirk (deceased),” is affability itself, completely out of tune with his spouse’s disenchantment, but ever hopeful of an opportunistic ‘quickie’ with her when the moment arrives. She can’t articulate exactly her needs, whilst Hendry’s predatory instincts are perfectly focused – he wants her because he cannot have her. The thrill of the pursuit climaxes with the temporary loss of Ritchie’s daughter, whereupon his omnipresence becomes the focus of her yearnings. She falls in love at the precise moment Hendry’s climax heralds his waning interest; after all, as he later reasons, it could have been anyone to reignite her dreams. She wants commitment and he wants lightness and fluff, to enjoy life with no shackles to bind him.

Bored with Ritchie, he turns his attentions to her educated sister, played by Annette Andre. The two plan to marry, but Ritchie stops their plans with a failed suicide attempt and a written expose. Hendry and Ritchie exude interesting chemistry together, and the movie spins right along during their screentime together. As she returns home from hospital, he invites her to his new club, still focused on the renewed prospect of unconditional sex. She declines his offer, older, wiser, unforgiving, still unsure of what the future holds. Long missing from terrestrial television screens, the movie is a monochrome reminder of the kitchen sink drama, a once popular genre rapidly losing favour with cinema audiences by ’63, as the technicoloured world of 007 took hold.

The Beauty Jungle (1964)

For those old enough to remember the days before ‘political correctness’ ran amok over every aspect of our lives, the ‘Miss World’ beauty contest was an annual event; a compulsive viewing experience broadcast on the BBC, and for myself, a two hour opportunity to revel in my father’s amusing commentaries. The evening would invitably culminate with the late Eric Morley’s immortal words – “And now I’ll announce the winners in reverse order.”

“The Beauty Jungle” boasts a stellar cast and remains wonderfully evocative of a different age. The central character, Don McKenzie (Ian Hendry), is one of life’s chancers, always looking for an angle, and happens upon Shirley Freeman, a very pretty provincial but alas, very naïve typist, played by Janette Scott.

Shirley is encouraged by Don to enter a beauty pageant while on vacation. He persuades her that she has what it takes in the world of beauty contests, and so it proves. Ditching her predictable fiancée and having to leave home, Shirley moves to London to continuing success. Increasingly smitten by her, Don reckons he should be more than just her manager but Shirley has other ideas.

Hendry is impressive as the impassioned svengali, confusing lust with love, whilst Scott remains singularly focused on her own destiny until fate intervenes. Shot on location in England and Monaco, the film is a damning indictment on a backbiting industry.


The Hill (1965)

Hendry’s cinematic tour de force as Staff Sergeant Williams, an inhumane despotic monster with a measured march, and a barely concealed contempt for his commanding officer. “(He) signs bits of paper. He’d sign his own death warrant if I handed it to him. But I run this place!” Keen to expand on his experience of the ‘civvie’ prison system, Roberts cuts his teeth on the new arrivals placed under his control with a zealous devotion bordering on psychosis. A classic bully; Williams is a racist, a man who immediately zones in on the softest target.

Encircling Alfie Lynch on parade he enquires – “One of these shy lads are you Stevens?” “One of these cads who can’t make up his mind whether he’s a boy or a girl?”

Consumed with blind ambition, Williams will stop at nothing to achieve promotion and that includes breaking Roberts (Sean Connery). He’ll test his own fitness level on the man made hill at night, but he’ll drive his charges to near exhaustion, even death, on the same contraption in the blistering mid day sun. Like a clockwork toy, he sleeps off his late night binge drinking, only to wind up again to mete out the next day’s punishment.

As Stevens slowly caves in to the punishing routine, he seeks solace in Robert’s underlying compassion. Observing this comraderie, Williams offers to get the preacher in to marry them before issuing the order to his prisoners to double outside. Without an ounce of humanity in him, he adds an obvious aside to Connery’s character – “Drag that fairy out.”

Stevens eventually dies whilst Williams is away admiring a belly dancer’s obvious curves.

Andrews is the RSM whose bark is ultimately worse than his bite, as he tries his best, within his limited scope of understanding, to rehabilitate his charges simply by irrationally, following orders to the point of absurdity. Redgrave is the staff medical officer, who has the clout to change things for the men, but is too weak to do so whilst Roy Kinnear, so often cast in light comedy roles, here brings genuine pathos to his role as a man who simply should not be there. Ian Bannen is the moral compass of the film, the only man capable of seeing the whole sordid cycle of prisoner and captor turning itself inside out, but is perhaps too late in his actions to really make a difference.

Hendry works effectively with his hat, utilising this obvious prop to great effect, in order to mask his impenetrable eyes and escalating paranoia. Eleven years later, he would gift the hat to his nephew.


It’s arguably his best performance, in the RSM’s own words – “a bloody revalation.

The Lotus Eaters (BBC TV) 1972/3

The BBC’s mediterranean-set espionage series, first broadcast in 1972, brought Hendry his greatest television success. Available since 2006, when region-2 DVD sets of the the two seasons were issued, the series is a timely reminder of the much missed talents of screenwriter Michael J. Bird, whose best work spanned a decade and included such series as ‘Who Pays The Ferryman?’, ‘The Aphrodite Inheritance’, and ‘The Dark Side of the Sun..

Depicting the lives of a group of British expatriates living on Crete, each with something to hide, their tales are skilfully interwoven with the faltering marriage of principals Erik and Ann Shepherd. Huddled together in the sanctuary of a Mediterranean island over 1,000 miles from home, the residents’ cozy little community is undermined as semi regular cast members meet an early demise.

The second series consisted of a single six-part story developing and extending the Shepherds’ espionage sub-plot. Bird packed in twists at every point, keeping viewers guessing, and the ending was charged with emotion, as police chief Michael Krasakis is forced to banish his friends from Crete.

A fuller appreciation of the series can be located at:


I recall Hendry’s appearance on the front cover of The ‘Radio Times’ when the series was launched.


Recommended reading

Send in the Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry (Gabriel Hershman) 2013

Think of hell raisers and the names O’Toole, Burton, Harris, and to a lesser extent Reed, trip easily from the tongue. All four were equally as accomplished and attractive as Hendry at the start of their careers and yet in comparison, only he fell by the wayside. The sheer joy of Hershman’s text is the serious re-evaluation his work is given. This is no ‘scissors and paste’ hack biography but a piece of work based on incisive critical analysis and the heartfelt recollections of his fellow actors, family memebers and friends.

The Internecine Project and The Hill,’ are but two prime examples of roles where Hendry truly shines, proving conclusively that he was as great as his contemporaries.

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.


Ian Hendry Official Website


The official website is run by Neil Hendry, the late actor’s nephew. It is a lovingly and thoughtfully compiled site that one has both the distinct and occasional pleasure of encountering whilst internet surfing.

Created in order to both support the publication of the first ever biography on Hendry, and to satisfy the growing interest in the actor, the site includes ‘The Official Ian Hendry YouTube Channel’ which brings together a selection of videos from his career. This listing includes several rare television episodes which have only recently been located.

Reflecting on the site’s launch, Neil Hendry reiterated his late uncle\‘s credentials stating that:

“Ian was a tremendously gifted actor and the publication of this new biography and creation of the website serve as ways in which his contribution to film, television, stage and radio can be remembered and shared with fans, old and new.”

Sadly, much of Hendry’s early television work was wiped with the advent of colour transmissions but fortunately, the original scripts for ‘The Avengers’ debut series remain intact.