Often when I sit down at my desk, where my laptop is, my gaze falls on Gabriel Hershman’s book, which has stood there for over a year. I regularly re-read it, since the landmark figure of actor Ian Hendry has intrigued me for many years. Many of his famous films have been shown in Russia, something that I cannot say about Patrick Macnee. I admired the movies "The Hill", "Repulsion", "The Southern Star" and "Doppelganger" among others. An outstanding actor, Ian was regularly the most memorable aspect of his many works.
I've often wondered why nobody thought to release a biography of Ian. Years passed and I thought it would never happen, until one day in 2013, I went to Neil Hendry's website and saw the information about it. I bought the book and discovered many new details in it, especially concerning Ian’s early years before "The Avengers". The book was written expertly with love and reveals the life story of a wonderful actor in an entertaining and honest way. I felt the same gusto many years ago when reading a biography of Sean Connery in Russian.
When, in September 2014, Alan Hayes told me that Gabriel Hershman, the book’s author, was interested in being interviewed for Steedumbrella, it came as a real surprise for me. I instantly agreed, though was unable to start the interview immediately as I was heavily involved in revamping the website at that time. So I contacted Gabriel and we agreed to conduct the interview later, starting towards the end of October and finishing in early November.
It's my second interview for Steedumbrella and I am grateful for the help of Alan and also Christine Stutz, who have composed some of the questions and also helped in other ways. I wish everyone an enjoyable read.
(Denis) Gabriel, I am very pleased that you have written the biography of Ian Hendry, one of the finest actors of a remarkable era of British cinema and television. I have been waiting for many years, like others, for such a book, not least because Ian seemed until recently to have been unfairly overlooked. What first drew you to Ian Hendry and what was it about his work that made you want to write about him?
Thanks for your first question.
I was only 17 when Ian died. I knew little of his work at that point. A few years later I was watching a channel called UK Gold which screened old programmes from the 1970s. Ian featured quite a lot, mostly in supporting roles, and I realised he had an extraordinary gift, to establish a character straight away, within seconds. He had an amazing sensitivity to the material. He was also a forceful screen presence and very charismatic. His work in “The Hill” was extraordinary. I also became a particular fan of “The Lotus Eaters” (first shown in 1972) when it was shown on UK Gold in 1993.
I started to watch all the Hendry "oeuvre". I concluded that he was very underrated, but in a way I have come to hate that word. It doesn't really apply to Ian because in his case he was (more) ''criminally overlooked". He really deserved a biography.
It also helped that I lived near Hampstead and could get a 'feel' for the guy by visiting his old haunts. I became more and more interested in his life. I also, by the way, liked the work of his second wife, Janet Munro, and felt she was unfairly neglected too.
In a strange kind of way I always felt like I knew Ian. It was in about 1988 that I first visited Pharaoh's Island where he lived between 1963 and 1970 at the height of his fame. Ian's house, known as The Sphinx, was on an island in the River Thames in Shepperton, a secluded area just southwest of London.
I felt some of his story sweeping over me. But it was many years before I put pen to paper.
In short, I feel that Ian was probably Britain's greatest television actor and far more versatile than many of his contemporaries who became more famous.
Born and raised in London, Gabriel Hershman moved to Portugal in 2001 where he met his Bulgarian wife at Lisbon university. They moved to Bulgaria in 2007.
Gabriel has worked for most of his life as an editor and journalist, including almost five years from 2007 on The Sofia Echo, an English-language publication in Bulgaria.
He first contacted Neil Hendry, Ian's nephew, in 2011, a happy virtual meeting that resulted in his biography of Ian Hendry.
(Alan) It’s sad that many people who worked with or knew Ian are no longer with us, but the book has a very healthy selection of interview subjects, all with great stories about Ian. How did you go about contacting these people, and which ones gave you the most help?
There were certain people, such as Bruce Montague (Leonard in a BBC TV situation comedy series called “Butterflies”), whom I knew were still alive and had been very friendly with Ian. I was very keen to hear from Bruce, in particular, because I'd heard from the late Ronald Fraser (Ian's Hampstead drinking pal) that Bruce had spoken to Ian on the day he died. I contacted Bruce, and many others, either through their agents (an actors' directory called Spotlight is very helpful here) or through the websites of the actors themselves. Bruce was very helpful.
I have to single out a few other people:
Anthony Read had attended the Central School of Speech and Drama with Ian. He gave me so much help on the background to Ian's time at Central. In addition, Tony - as he is called by most people - later went on to become a BBC producer. He produced the first series of one of Ian's most famous TV series, “The Lotus Eaters”.
Martyn Chillmaid gave me a very thorough account of making a film with Ian called “Assassin” in 1972. He really went into great detail, providing me with some very amusing anecdotes. I always found these anecdotes to be very interesting and insightful, often for the picture they painted not only of Ian's character but also of, for example, the London of 40 years ago. It has changed so much!
Robert Duncan, still very much a working actor, was also very helpful. He was great because he gave me so much background information on a TV series called “For Maddie with Love” which Ian made in 1980. This series, although somewhat forgotten now, was very important in that it was the last really big role of Ian's career. Everyone associated with this show (the director and Ian's co-stars) had died, so it was a relief to find Robert very much with us and so helpful and able to provide such vivid details.
Ian's old singing partner, Bob Ponton, was very helpful.
Julia Goodman and Wanda Ventham both gave me long interviews over the phone. I admired and respected them because their recollections of Ian were clearly so honest. Neither tried to make out that Ian was a saint but they remembered him fondly.
As I said, Neil Hendry was invaluable in filling me in on Ian's background. And Liam Byrne, who runs a website devoted to Ian's second wife, Janet Munro, was particularly helpful in supplying photographs.
You often find, by the way, when writing a biography that one leads to another. For example, an associate of Ian's would say "have you spoken to such and such?" and then that would jog me into finding the person concerned. Sometimes he or she would still be in touch with someone else who played a significant role in Ian's life. I appreciated the fact that even actors who crossed paths with Ian only over the course of a few days often took the time to offer their recollections. It is often the small details that are the most telling.
Several of Ian's associates did not want to contribute. Perhaps they were wary of me. Perhaps they felt that it was all a bit painful. I hope that they found the finished book was written in a sensitive way.
I must add that I had some great contacts in the UK, such as Richard Buckman at London's newspaper library, who dug out information from the archives and Lesley Robinson (archivist at Ian's old school). These people are invaluable if it's difficult for you to be on the scene. So many other people helped me. If I have not mentioned them here, that certainly doesn't mean they have been forgotten! They were very much appreciated.
(Chris) Personally, as a historian, I'm always surprised that people seem to have strong memories of what they said or did over 50 years ago. Were you always able to verify information of this type and how did you go about deciding which questions to ask of each interview subject?
These are good questions.
The fact is that memory does indeed diminish with the passage of time. It's well-known, for example, that Ian did not get on with Michael Caine on “Get Carter”. The story I have read, countless times, was that Ian had been drinking and was aggressive to Caine during rehearsals. Mike Hodges was there but, more than 40 years down the line, he couldn't actually remember what Ian said! I suspect that Caine would remember because his memory is apparently excellent but no reply was ever given to my request for an interview. So the whole incident remains murky.
There were other incidents that people remembered differently or simply recollections that did not match at all. For example, actor Paul Gregory remembered Ian delivering lines while in a drunken state on something called “Murder at the Metropole” in 1976 and then collapsing. The director denied this but, it transpired, he was unaware of Ian's behind-the-scenes drinking because Ian was so good at disguising it. Also Ian had collapsed out of the director's view. I quizzed actor Paul Gregory several times about this incident. He then said. "Ask (actor) Jeremy Young. He was there." I did. Young had no recollection of this at all! But Gregory's detailed account was so vivid that I decided it must have been true.
Also, you start to get a feel for your subject. And an account of someone's behaviour tends to ring true. For example, it was no secret in the business that Ian could drink an enormous amount (enough to place someone else on the critical list!) but still deliver a great performance. It was as if, when the cameras rolled, Ian suddenly went into autopilot mode and he functioned well. As soon as the scene was over, and the cameras stopped rolling, Ian would exhibit the signs of inebriation.
Take “The Lotus Eaters”. This was a tempestuous series in every way. There is no question that certain dramatic events happened off-camera. But there was a slight disagreement about how these events should be interpreted. For example, was Michael J Bird "serious" when he took a gun to Ian? Olive Bird (Michael's wife) says it was probably tongue-in-cheek.
Opinions varied about Ian, as they do about everyone. For example, I was told that Janet's late stepmother, Lilias, did not like Ian at all. But then you have to realise that with everyone there are different perceptions.
(Chris) Did you ask each person similar questions? Were there some that people maybe did not want to answer?
Sometimes it was difficult to corroborate certain things that had happened because only one person was still around to remember the incident.
Yes, there were some questions that people did not want to answer. I never really approached people with a set series of questions. I decided to ask fairly general things at first, see their response and take it from there.
(Denis & Alan) There are some dark passages in the book. Some of the most interesting concern Ian’s family life with his first wife Joanna and the tempestuous relationship with his second wife Janet. What difficulties did you face in covering sometimes unpalatable topics?
I don't know if Joanna is still alive. She was several years older than Ian and so she would be about 85 now. It's clear that Ian had several affairs while he was married to her. Carol White was certainly one. Janet was another.
Ian's relationship with Janet was intense and tempestuous - as you say. It's clear that he adored her, but both were alcoholics. Janet hit rock bottom with her drinking around 1967 and then she (admirably) "came out" as an alcoholic. (This would have been a VERY big deal back then). Everyone seems to agree that she stayed sober for the last few years of her life. However, she had many other health issues which were undiagnosed at the time. Janet's decision to give up the booze would have brought her face to face with Ian's addiction - perhaps even more poignantly so. There is some evidence that she tried to make him cut down and that - around 1969-1970 - he did indeed try to do so. But I think that Ian might have resented Janet's sobriety. At that time Ian tried to pass himself off as just a very heavy drinker. It's important to remember that, back then, alcoholism was regarded as a serious illness only in limited circles.
It's clear that Ian could be difficult but then again perhaps Janet was too? The nearest equivalent was perhaps Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They couldn't live with each other but couldn't live without each other either. The same with Ian and Janet. Although, I have to say, at the time of their divorce, it's clear that Janet wanted to create "distance" between herself and Ian.
I don't know what went on behind closed doors, but I do know that Ian still loved her, even after the divorce. I think it's difficult to take sides in such a situation and it would be inappropriate for a biographer to try to do so. It's clear that Janet was regarded as one of the nation's "sweethearts" and her premature death tore Ian apart. It also cost Ian his friendship with his father-in-law, Alex Munro. This relationship was broken for a considerable time after her death although the two were eventually reconciled. What is clear is that Ian never really recovered from the tragedy of her death.
One of the problems for a biographer is that it was such a long time ago. Hence it was much easier to write about what happened in the 1970s than it was to write about the 1960s - if only because more people were around to comment on the 1970s.
I think that the stresses and strains of an acting life are enormous. Writing the book really brought this home to me. But the stresses for a married couple, both of whom are actors, are even greater. And if you add the booze in as well then you have a really explosive/toxic mix.
(Alan) It seems to me that Ian took a serious approach to his career, not the sort of actor who would be interested in turning a quick buck by doing commercials. Was this the case, and did his career focus lead him to see self-publicity as something that would take care of itself?
I think Ian was a bit too honest in interviews in talking about his 'vulnerabilities'. This was a time before addiction was perceived to be a serious illness. He tended to wave a brandy glass around too much! He also had no compunction about describing himself as an 'idiot' on occasion. This was a time when people didn't generally go in for such devastatingly candid self-portraits!! But this was typical of Ian Hendry. Artifice and self-concealment were strangers to him. He believed in telling the truth.
We don't know if Ian was ever sought after much for commercials. He certainly advertised cigars in 1973 on a poster campaign. Other than that, what would he have advertised? Ian's reputation for drinking might have gone against him a bit.
I am very surprised that Ian was not used more for narrations. He had one of the finest voices in British show business.
I don't think Ian thought much about his image. My impression of him was that he was without vanity. He could have taken steps to look better when he turned 40. He could have worn a toupee, for example, but apart from a short period, he declined to do so.
I think, to conclude, that there was a bit too much of the wrong kind of publicity surrounding Ian.
(Alan) Ian first came to public attention while studying at London’s Central School for Speech and Drama. It seems to have been a positive experience for him...
Ian was already a mature student (22) when he entered Central, having worked as an estate agent and also served two years' National Service.
In those days Central was based in the Royal Albert Hall. Ian took a bedsit in a nice part of Kensington. He quickly emerged as a leader and mentor to the other students. There's no doubt about that. He met Coco the Clown, who used to park his caravan near the Albert Hall, soon after he joined. In that respect it was a happy time for him. Ian also met a lot of people at Central who became lifelong friends - Glynn Edwards, Heather Sears and Tony Read, to name but a few.
If you read Picture Post from 1954 you can see that he also met Laurence Olivier while he was a student there.
(Chris) The book’s list of Hendry’s works shows that he was more focused on film and TV productions than on the theatre. What is the reason that he seems to have been less interested in playing "classic" repertoire or contemporary pieces?
Ian was on record as saying that he preferred film to theatre. There could be various reasons for this. Obviously stage acting requires a very different set of muscles. In the 1960s Ian simply got out of the habit of acting on stage. He was more focused on pursuing a film career. The longer you stay out, the harder it is to get back in. I guess that applies to most things in life.
Perhaps Ian's health problems made him a bit wary of the stage. Jenny Quayle, who acted with him in “Lady Windermere's Fan” in 1978, told me that she thought that Ian no longer felt particularly comfortable on stage. That was actually his last stage role. He was taken ill during the run and had to leave. Perhaps that deterred him from accepting roles in the theatre after that.
Between 1976 and 1978 Ian appeared in several productions that toured around the UK - for up to three months at a time. Ian's widow told me that he hated these protracted absences from home. That could have been another factor. These kind of tours are stressful.
I think that Ian was essentially a modern actor. There was something about his appearance, manner and style of acting that was ideally suited to television. Perhaps it's surprising that he didn't do more light comedy in the theatre. He seemed to enjoy a popular stage run in “The Owl and the Pussycat” in 1977. I think we can assume, however, that Ian accepted some stage roles in the late 1970s because he wasn't offered anything better on TV or film.
(Denis) One of the aspects that has always interested me is Ian’s association with Coco the Clown, whom he greatly admired. Considering their rapport and Ian’s natural abilities, it’s strange that Ian was rarely cast in comedic roles. Why do you think his comic talents were ignored, since comedy was obviously a genre he got a kick out of it?
Actually I think that many of Ian's roles required a comic's timing. If you see him in “The Sandwich Man” (where he plays a policeman) he probably gets more laughs with his dry delivery than any of the other characters who were playing it much broader. He was also very funny playing a policeman in a Tommy Cooper sketch from 1975. Other roles where he showed great timing included that small part as a hood in “The Bitch” (1979) and in supporting roles like TV's “Village Hall” (1975) and even in “The Sweeney” (1975).
But, yes, Ian had ambitions to do more comedy. His gift for light comedy was noted at drama school. Yet he was so good at the heavy stuff that that's what he was given. I think that, in a way, an actor's face determines the kind of parts he gets. Somehow, as Ian's face cracked, his features were suited to heavy drama and even villainy.
Certainly, off-screen, Ian was a great entertainer, whether doing his one-legged golfer sketch, walking on his hands or balancing with his head on the side of a bar. He always wanted to make people laugh.
Ian adored Coco and even considered becoming a professional clown. I think that, more than anyone else, Coco was his hero. If you remember his “This is Your Life”, in 1978, he said that he thought that circus people were "the finest people in showbusiness".
(Denis) Thanks for a detailed response, Gabriel. As you wrote in your book, Ian thought his role in the film “The Hill”, where he played one of his least sympathetic characters in film, was one of the best of his career. It's a really challenging role, but it often makes me wonder what character types or roles were close to him personally? What else did he single out in addition to “The Hill” and his work with Coco?
Ian was particularly fond of his work in The Lotus Eaters. Several reasons for that. One was that the character he played had a bar- and-boat kind of lifestyle which reflected the kind of life Ian was leading when he resided on Pharaoh's Island. His house was on an island in the Thames. Ian used a boat to get to the mainland. He was always happy surrounded by water. Before he lived in Shepperton he lived on a houseboat moored in Chiswick, also in the London area.
Ian also had a kind of fantasy of running a bar and using a boat to go about his daily business. The character he played, Erik Shepherd, was close to his heart. Although he never made this clear, it's also possible that the character's alcoholism made the portrayal all the more poignant. I think he wanted the series to continue and hoped that it would be resurrected. Ian always seemed to function better when he had an attractive co-star to keep him grounded, an actress he liked and respected, whether it was June Ritchie, Wanda Ventham or Nyree Dawn porter.
It's clear that he also liked Patrick Macnee very much. He probably wished he had stayed a bit longer in that series. Everyone always wanted to talk to him about “The Avengers”. Even at the very end, when he was appearing in “Brookside”, people always asked him about it, probably because it was such a pioneering kind of show and he was there right at its inception. He was very proud that it was - in some ways - the forerunner of the Bond-type series.
Ian was on record as saying that he believed than an actor should always keep moving. He was also quoted as saying that he did not like doing roles that he knew he could do easily - by which he probably meant one-dimensional, villainous roles.
Other than that, I'd say that, like so many actors, Ian always hoped his best role was around the corner!
(Alan) Ian clearly had the potential to play a wider range of roles than he was ultimately cast in throughout his career. Did he find being typecast in, for instance, villainous roles frustrating? What do you think are the best examples of Ian being cast against type?
I think he did find playing villains too often a bit restricting. He sometimes expressed this frustration in interviews - that he was always trying to shake off the heavy image from films like “The Hill”. I think he was rather disillusioned with the roles he was being offered.
One of Ian's great roles in cinema was in “The Internecine Project”. He played a very nervous, sweaty twitching type who's blackmailed into committing a murder. There's a pivotal scene with James Coburn in which they talk over each other and interrupt each other, just like people do in real life, but you seldom see that on film! His Alex Hellman role in that movie was so very different from his roles in films like “The Hill”, “Get Carter” or “The Southern Star”.
I like “Theater of Blood” because he doesn't really play a villain and there's a sophisticated touch to his character. Ian was so versatile but he tended to play 'man of the people' types. That's why his part in “The Persuaders!” is quite funny, playing the aristocratic, tweedy Lord Croxley. That's another favourite of mine.
His role in the little seen TV series “For Maddie with Love” was a welcome change because it showed his sensitive side. By then he tended to be rather typecast as slightly seedy characters and so it was good to see him in a leading role again. “Repulsion” is also interesting for his subtle portrait of a philandering husband.
“Bergerac” is a favourite of mine too. He didn't look well but gave a superb performance as a bumbling, drink-sodden army officer who's definitely seen better days!
(Alan) Ian’s alcoholism and how it affected his life and career is the saddest element of his story. I suspect he didn’t realise at the time that what once was a social pastime started to become an addiction. Clearly his condition affected his health, career and how casting directors viewed him, but do you think he ever had much chance of cleaning up his act and returning to the top?
This a very difficult question to answer.
I think that Ian was in a difficult situation in that respect because his whole social life was centred around pubs and drinking. And almost all his friends were drinkers. Having been a heavy drinker for 30 years makes it a hard habit to break. You know what they say about addicted people, that they themselves have to really want to stop.
But, of course, if he had managed to get off booze completely there is no doubt that this would have helped him to win more parts. This is what happened with, for example, Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris. They both drank very heavily but either quit or cut down dramatically in their late forties. They managed to revive their flagging careers as they turned 50 as a result.
Ian's hard-living lifestyle took a great toll on his health. He looked older than his years and he had a throat condition. Perhaps he would have won a regular long-running role in a soap opera like “Eastenders”. A terrible thought!!!
In order to get decent movie roles again, Ian would have had to really convince people that he had cleaned up his act.
(Chris) You mentioned in your book that Don Leaver spoke of how Hendry suggested amendments to scripts of “The Avengers” many times and often expressed his opinions about scripts that he thought to be inadequate. Did Hendry ever seriously consider a career as a writer, producer or even director?
Ian frequently talked about branching out into writing, producing and directing.
Ian was indeed always suggesting ways to improve scripts, often by substituting the odd word here and there, as Ian's co-stars often recalled. He often tried to re-write scripts on the first series of “The Avengers”. Patrick Macnee credits Ian with contributing a great deal to those early “Avengers” scripts. On the set of “The Lotus Eaters” it's also clear that Ian had many ideas for scripts or dramatic developments. The photo in the book of him with Michael Bird (many thanks to Dave Rice!) where they are both hunched over a typewriter (remember them?!) indicates that the script was something of a collaborative process.
You must remember also that Ian wrote and produced some marvellous songs in conjunction with Bob Ponton. It's just probably bad luck that they didn't become more famous. For example, Bing Crosby was about to sign up one of them just before he died. He also wrote a lot of poetry and there is evidence that he had gathered material together to begin writing an autobiography. His widow, Sandy, gave an interview after he died in which she said that she had read some of the material and it was very "funny". I did read Ian's two-part Sunday People memoir that he wrote in conjunction with Sandy in the summer of 1980. This contained some elements that I incorporated into the book.
In a 1980 newspaper memoir he spoke of wanting to "produce" other people but there is no real evidence that Ian was involved in production in any way. He never directed a production on a professional basis either - as far as I know - although, as I wrote in the biography, he stepped in for Dennis Vance when Vance was late on the first day of “For Maddie with Love”.
Ian probably nurtured ambitions to do all kinds of things. He was a very versatile and talented fellow.
(Chris) One of the chapters of your book is called "Alpha male", suggesting that Ian Hendry was a leader rather than a follower. Did this lead to Ian being headstrong in his acting career, and if so, did this cause problems for his co-actors and directors?
I think that Ian was naturally a very charismatic person. This is one of his characteristics that everyone commented on. It's a strange thing but there was a kind of 'electricity' in the air whenever Ian appeared. He was certainly a natural leader. But most of his associates didn't see this as a 'problem' per se. Ian clearly had strong ideas about all the roles he took but it seems that his input was mainly constructive, not destructive.
Almost everyone I interviewed said they liked working with him. The only exception was Honor Blackman who acted with him in a stage production called “Motive” in 1976. She recalled that Ian changed the performance between rehearsal and opening night drastically and that this rather 'threw' her and George Cole, Ian's other co-star in that production. She said that “with George, you always knew what you were going to get”. I was intrigued by that. She intended that as a compliment to George Cole. Perhaps that was more 'comfortable' for other actors but, it seems to me, that this could stand as an (unintended) tribute to Ian Hendry as an actor! He always liked to surprise people and was wary of staying in a kind of comfort zone. That's how I like to interpret it anyway!
There were clearly some disputes on the set of “For Maddie with Love” in 1980. But I think that exhaustion and ill-health played their part in this. I don't think that Ian was particularly difficult as an actor. But it is true that his drinking might have unnerved directors. Simon Langton, who directed him in “Contract” (a 1974 episode of the BBC series “Dial M for Murder”) also noticed the difference in Ian's acting when he was drinking. This is something that Roman Polanski also made fleeting reference to in his autobiography, namely that Ian's facial expressions changed when he had been drinking. But he was a great actor either way!
(Chris) Sydney Lumet’s “The Hill” was enthusiastically received by critics and won noteworthy awards but was overlooked by the Academy Awards, who in 1965 seemed more impressed by light-hearted fare such as “My Fair Lady” (Best Picture) and “Topkapi” (Best Supporting Actor – Peter Ustinov). Do you think the anti-war theme of the film at a time when the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War possibly robbed Ian Hendry of a deserved Oscar?
“The Hill” is one of the most affecting but punishing films I have ever seen. Actually, I have sometimes avoided watching it when I get depressed for fear that it will just make me feel worse! The reason is that it speaks volumes about man's inhumanity to man and the tendency for the bully to seek out the most vulnerable prey. It's a chilling indictment of institutionalised sadism, brilliantly acted by everyone and, of course, sadly, relevant today when one thinks about the activities of Islamic State. Or even (cough!) some would say, the behaviour of those who keep prisoners at places like Guantanamo.
Ian had a very difficult role in this. To play such a psycho is not easy. And he was extraordinarily good. It's the voice, rising to the end of every sentence, but also his posture and bearing. Military people will tell you it was absolutely spot-on perfect. But, at the end of the day, the movie depicted the behaviour of BRITISH authorities in a military prison. We, by which I mean us Brits, are supposed to be more civilised than that, aren't we? The movie depicts incompetence and barbarity, not among heathens, but in the upper echelons of the BRITISH armed forces. Hence it's very controversial.
I think the film, in addition to being anti-war, is saying that not all orders are essentially worth obeying. (Connery's character had disobeyed an order to go on a suicide mission). It's also saying that not all people are suited to go to war. (I'm thinking of the Stephens character played by Alfred Lynch). This is very strong stuff.
The relentless dourness of the film might have upset the Academy - no music, no women, just continuous brutality. So perhaps the film was not to all tastes. It's certainly very punishing. I think those of us, rather like myself, who are naturally suspicious of rank, can certainly appreciate the message of the film. You would have thought that the Academy, which tends to be rather 'liberal', would have appreciated this film more. I don't understand why they didn't.
I also don't understand why Ian was not even nominated. Michael Jayston (not in the film) couldn't get it either. Perhaps Ian made it all look too easy. But his performance is so truthful. The way I think of it is - you never catch him acting!! Yes, he should have had an Oscar!
(Alan) Do you think Ian’s career and life could have been very different if he had received an Oscar award for “The Hill”?
Absolutely, for sure. Any actor who says otherwise is a liar. Even an Oscar nomination could have made a difference.
The way I see it, “The Hill” should have opened up some great movie roles for Ian. He should have had the pick of the best. As it was, because Ian didn't get the credit he deserved for that movie, he started to 'regress' to supporting roles and TV series like “The Informer”.
“The Hill” should really have been Ian's breakthrough movie, his path to international stardom. That never really happened although there were moments when you could say he was on the cusp of international stardom, appearing in a good role alongside Orson Welles in “The Southern Star”, for example, filmed in 1968. “Doppelganger” was another interesting film the same year but his role was not substantial enough.
Ian SHOULD have been offered better stuff between 1965 and 1968.
(Alan) You make the suggestion in the book that perhaps Ian left “The Avengers” too soon. Did he ever admit to this, and what is your personal view on how leaving “The Avengers” after one year affected his career?
Ian apparently confided in Bruce Montague that he regretted leaving “The Avengers” so soon, but Ian was never the kind of person to stay in a role for too long. Staying in any role too long is not good for the development of an actor. But it can be VERY good for your bank balance if the series is successful and especially if it is sold overseas! Also the public identify you with the character in such a way that you almost become like an institution to them.
When you think of Patrick Macnee - and I ask you to name some other prominent roles of his other than in “The Avengers” - you may be hard-pressed to do so. With Ian there were several roles that immediately spring to mind, “Live Now Pay Later”, “The Hill”, “Get Carter” and “Theater of Blood” etc.
But the good thing about staying in the same role/genre/series for a very long time is that the British public come to think of you as part of the diet, a bit like fish and chips!! Hence people like Sid James, Arthur Lowe, Leonard Rossiter, Kenneth Williams and John Le Mesurier are, in a way, more famous than Ian Hendry even though they did not have Ian's varied film career and tended to be restricted to one genre.
I think that Ian's was a restless spirit. He believed in moving on. But perhaps - and I think he might have agreed - he should have stayed for another year or two.
(Denis) When quoted in later years, Patrick Macnee was often ambiguous on the topic of his favourite “Avengers” partners, so as not to denigrate any of his female colleagues. It served as a curiosity for many when Patrick called Ian Hendry his most favourite partner. I suppose they did have something magnetic together on screen. How do you view Ian and Patrick’s friendship and why was it so special?
It's interesting that Ian and Patrick got on so well. Their screen personas were quite different. Patrick was suave, sophisticated, debonair, smooth, elegant, dandy-like and upper-class. Ian - although similarly educated in the private sector in the UK - was more the rugged, streetwise, rough diamond type. But they complemented each other very well on screen.
Off-screen, there was a lot of mutual ribbing and joshing but they clearly liked each other very much. Ian and Patrick both liked Scotch. This apparently helped to cement the friendship! I think that Patrick respected Ian's contribution to the scripts and respected his creative input.
I wish I'd been able to interview Patrick for the book but I decided against approaching him on account of his advancing years.
I think that Patrick was not exactly angry but slightly irritated that Ian's contribution was often overlooked in discussions of “The Avengers”, so he liked to mention Ian's contribution whenever he got the chance to rectify this. It's fitting that Ian's last public appearance was on Patrick's “This is Your Life”, but Ian's appearance was rather fleeting compared to Patrick's other co-stars. This reveals how people somewhat undervalued Ian's contribution. I hope that this is now being rectified!!
(Denis) “Avengers” fans might be surprised to read your comment in the book about the “Avengers” episode “Girl on the Trapeze”. Whereas many view this episode as one of the best of the videotape years of the series, you felt that Ian looked lost without Patrick and the result was very odd. Does it follow, in your opinion, that “The Avengers” could have gone the same way as “Police Surgeon” if Patrick Macnee had unexpectedly left the show?
I think that the chemistry between Ian and Patrick was so good in “The Frighteners” that it's rather strange to see Ian on his own in “Girl on the Trapeze”. But Ian certainly had the star quality to carry “The Avengers” on his own. I guess that, like so many people, I view Patrick Macnee as so synonymous with “The Avengers”, that seeing an episode of the series without him in it seems...well...weird – but perhaps that is all with the benefit of hindsight.
I'm sure that “The Avengers” would still have been a success if Ian had appeared alone. But the point is that Ian and Patrick kind of bounced off each other so effectively that one seems rather diminished without the other.
(Chris) Partnerships often exist in modern TV series which involve quite different partners, who nevertheless work together quite successfully due to their differences.
The concept of a partnership in Series 1 of “The Avengers” between a professional (agent Steed) and an amateur (Doctor Keel), which was continued during Series 2 to 6, was something quite modern at the time. It always reminds me a bit of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, who were also unequal partners in mind and method, but very successful nonetheless and close friends.
Do you think that this chemistry was key to the success of “The Avengers” Series 1?
Let's first say that when you have a partnership in any TV series the chemistry is vital, both on-screen and off. Taking British TV shows, John Thaw and Dennis Waterman had a good chemistry in “The Sweeney”, likewise Don Henderson and Leslie Grantham in “The Paradise Club”. But in these cases they were all tough, streetwise types. Sometimes the partnership has an element of mentoring, such as in “The Streets of San Francisco” with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas - older cop takes young, impulsive rookie under his wing. Sometimes the chemistry is just perfect. I'm thinking of “Starsky and Hutch” - David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. They just gelled completely. By all accounts all the people I have cited were actors who also got on well off-screen. Sometimes the actors may have good chemistry on-screen but not get on very well off-screen. A classic example would be in the British situation comedy series “Steptoe and Son”. By all accounts Harry H Corbett and Wilfred Brambell did not socialise out of hours. I always liked the chemistry between Basil Rathbone (incisive, forensic, orderly, objective, razor-sharp) and Nigel Bruce (bumbling, slow-witted, rambling, vague) in the original “Sherlock Holmes” films. In “The Avengers”, yes, there was a marked difference in approach. Ian Hendry served as the conscience of the team, if you like, whereas Macnee was more the polished professional who gets the job done. They certainly worked well together and I only wish we could have seen more of that in other episodes!
(Denis) Were there any particular aspects of Ian’s life and career that brought you special pleasure to research? On the other side of the coin, what did you find disappointing and what were you unable to include in the book?
I particularly enjoyed re-visiting some of Ian's performances on the internet. In the old days, when I started to watch Ian's work, you had to stick huge video cassettes into bulky machines! Or you had to wait for Ian to appear on channels like UK Gold. Now it's so much easier and faster. It's Ian's extraordinary body of work that gave me more pleasure than anything else.
I didn't know much of Ian's early life and I was so grateful to Tony Read for filling me in on Ian's exploits at drama school. Somehow this was not a surprise - that Ian was the leader of the group, a natural innovator and always brimming with new ideas. That coincided totally with my impression of him.
I was disappointed not to get the co-operation of Ian's widow and of his agent. That would have made the biography more rounded. I was a little upset that the final three or four years of Ian's life were so unfulfilling for him. I could almost feel his frustration. There were a few sensitive details - as there are in everyone's life - that called for some discretion from me. That always applies in biographies.
(Denis) I remember that for some time there was misinformation that Ian had starred in "The October Wedding", a 1959 movie by cult director Yuri Gadyukin. Many believed in it, and despite the whole movie being an invented hoax, information about it even got published in mainstream resources. How did you react to this information? Did you take it at face value or did you harbour some doubts?
I read about “The October Wedding” and at first assumed it must be true because there was no reason to consider otherwise! It was mentioned as a fact on IMDb and Wikipedia etc. But I was puzzled when my contacts were unable to find any record of this film. For example, a great person named Richard Buckman, who worked at the British Newspaper Library, was very helpful in sending me reviews (cuttings) of every film Ian was involved in. But nothing for “The October Wedding”! Yet the people behind this scam had also invested a great deal of time in creating a website dedicated to this supposed great filmmaker - who never existed!! In other words, they made it seem convincing.
I was deep in the editing process - and very busy - when Neil Hendry informed me that Alan Hayes had warned him that this supposedly great art-house film did not exist at all. I was very grateful for that. I promptly deleted any reference to this film from Ian's credits in the book. It was all very unnerving.
(Denis / Alan) Some of Ian’s credits are somewhat doubtful, such as the film “The Big Money” which does not appear to feature Ian on screen at all. Did these little mysteries present you with problems when researching Ian’s filmography?
I can tell you that Ian himself could not remember the names of the films in which he had walk-on parts. That's because film historian David Quinlan, when he compiled his illustrated directory of film stars back in 1981, asked Ian to check his filmography. Ian told Quinlan that he remembered a couple of walk-on roles "but not the names of the films".
(Denis) What films of Ian’s have you not seen but would love to track down and watch?
The one film of Ian's that seems to be truly lost is “Assassin“. Ian had a good role in this film and by all accounts was very good in it. It's a shame. That is a film I would really like to see. I just love all films from that period - like “Sitting Target“ with Oliver Reed and “Villain“ with Richard Burton. But of Ian's work I would really like to watch “Assassin“.
There are some other films that are very rarely seen like “The Jerusalem File“. Ian had a small role but it was quite pivotal to the story. It was filmed in Israel. I have seen it and he was very good in it.
(Denis / Alan) “Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry” is your first book. Did you find the process more or less difficult than you expected? What lessons did you learn while the writing and interviewing progressed?
I had, by the way, experimented with writing a novel when I was much younger but, in the end, I found that journalism/biographies were more my strength!
I knew a lot about Ian's career before I started, so I was prepared, in my mind, to write about his film and TV career. But I realised, in the process of writing, that getting the chronology right was very important. I wanted the biography to mention, if possible, even if only briefly, virtually all the projects in which Ian was involved. I thought that was very important because I have always hated reading biographies of stars where you find that your favourite film is hardly mentioned at all!
I also tried to find people involved in almost every major project of Ian's, people who would talk to me.
The actual process of writing was quite smooth. Whenever I interviewed people I wanted to learn more about Ian's working methods and their view of his talent or contribution. I often found that I had to steer the conversation back from their accounts of his personal problems.
The other, purely practical, problem was finding people who were alive 50 years ago who had worked with Ian in the early part of his career. Hence, for obvious reasons, I think I was able to write more comprehensively about the 1970s than I could about the 1960s.
I think a biographer has a difficult path to tread. I am an unabashed fan of Ian as an actor but I couldn't allow my admiration to "eclipse" the fact that his drinking must have caused some problems for those around him and that, sometimes, he was his own worst enemy.
However, I came away with a feeling that almost everyone I interviewed recognised his enormous talent.
(Denis) The choice of title for biographical books is very important as the potential reader can guess the author's emphasis and angle. Why did you choose the title you did, and did you consider any alternatives?
Ian was very attached to clowns and the circus, as you know. If you watch his “This is Your Life” it was noticeable how he wept at the mention of Coco's name. Ian also liked the Stephen Sondheim classic “Send in the Clowns”. It was even played at Ian’s funeral. I thought it would be natural to include something about clowns in the title. Also, I thought that, in a way, the clown was something of a metaphor for Ian's own life, the sense in which Ian's love of practical jokes - and his tendency to want to entertain people - concealed a certain amount of tragedy and bad luck. I included the reference to the 'yo yo' because Ian's own provisional title for his autobiography was “Life is a Yo Yo”.
I had originally considered a rather controversial title “Pissholes in the Snow”. This was because Michael Caine's line from “Get Carter” (where he accosts Ian at the race track) has become so legendary and so widely quoted. I think this title would have been perhaps more arresting and unusual but ultimately I decided against it because it could/might have been deemed disrespectful.
(Denis) Considering that you toyed with using the title “Pissholes in the Snow”, were there any other ideas for a book that you planned but ultimately rejected?
Before I came to the project I had assumed that Ian was generally difficult to work with. In fact, there was little evidence to support this theory. Nearly everyone I interviewed liked Ian and found him quite professional on set and fun to work with. He may have been drinking but he was generally professional. So that was a conclusion that I thought I would have to explore in the book but, in the end, it really didn't have to be explored at all.
I think one of the problems with Ian was that he had a run-in with Michael Caine on “Get Carter” and this is one of those incidents that is endlessly rehashed on the internet - as though it typified his whole career. In fact it didn't.
To be honest my original plan was not to discuss Ian's drinking so openly. But Ian's descent into alcoholism (or the degree of it) made it an essential part of the book in a way. I'm sad about that but it was inevitable because so many recollections of Ian were peppered with anecdotes about his drinking.
(Denis) Your book is illustrated with a variety of interesting and rare photos, some of which have never been seen in public before. How did you go about obtaining these?
I wish I could have included more! Some came courtesy of Culford School, Ian's school in Bury St Edmunds. Others came courtesy of Neil Hendry's private collection or the collection of Liam Byrne who runs the Janet Munro tribute website. Others I bought through Rex Features or other photographic agencies but these tended to be expensive.
I regret that I was not able to include any photos of Ian after 1980 onwards. These were difficult to find. Some of the photos did not appear in quite the quality I would have liked. But this tends to vary with each copy of the book printed.
I was particularly interested in Ian's early years and I'm so glad I got to see photos of him with his family. Ian's background interested me greatly and in a funny kind of way I feel like I got to know them through seeing their photographs!
(Denis) I assume you've been in different places with links to Ian Hendry’s life and career. For instance, you’ve been to Pharaoh’s Island more than once. What were your personal impressions of these places?
I lived quite close to Ian Hendry and know the pubs he used to frequent. I would recommend the Old Bull and Bush in Hampstead. It's been revamped recently so that it's more of a brasserie. Even the drinks area now has sofas and subtle lighting. But 30-40 years ago it was an old-fashioned drinkers and smokers' den where you'd see some well known faces propped up on bar stools - not only Ian but Ronnie Fraser and other regulars.
I've only been to Pharaoh's Island twice. I did feel something rather strange when I was there. The first time was in 1988, in the dead of winter. The tide was strong and when I looked towards The Sphinx I got a kind of frisson, a sense of the isolation that Janet must have felt there. The second visit was many years later, around 2003, in the summer.
Ian's old house must be worth a lot of money now. But, of course, one thing has not changed. You still need a boat to get from the island to the mainland and this can sometimes be dangerous.
(Denis) You made several appearances on radio to publicise the book. Did you find the interviews enjoyable and did they lead to anything interesting?
I think most of the questions I have had were not especially original, or at least none that would prove particularly illuminating but I will tell you something.
I learned that Ian was always very friendly to ordinary people. When I did the radio interview with Robert Elms someone emailed Mr Elms (while I was on air) to tell him that he had been a courier a long time ago. He apparently brought a script over to Ian's house. (This is long before fax/email). Ian opened the door and took the script. The guy said that, normally, when he brought a script over to famous people, they just opened the door and accepted it with a nod and closed the door. But not Ian. He invited the guy in and offered him some Guinness and they had quite a chat! Time again I heard that Ian was almost compulsively friendly to 'ordinary people'. This is something I also learned in the pubs around Ian's old area. For example, I would meet a busker who would recall how one day Ian bought him lunch. There were many anecdotes like this that I picked up during casual encounters.
(Denis) What books have caught your interest recently? What other biographical books do you consider well-written?
I do indeed like reading biographies. I think that David Sheward's biography of George C Scott was very well done, likewise Dwayne Epstein's biography of Lee Marvin. Right now I'm reading “With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes”, an enormously detailed and compelling account of the first series of “The Avengers” by Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes. I can highly recommend all these books.
(Denis) Did you approach any publishers before you opted to produce the book yourself? What made you follow the route you took?
I tried to interest conventional publishers but the book industry is in crisis at the moment. Publishers felt that Ian Hendry was not a big enough name to guarantee sales.
Many publishers were rather terse and sniffy about the whole project. Some simply didn't answer at all. So in the end I decided to self-publish, as it's called, via Lulu. This is not ideal in every respect because you have to do all the marketing of the book yourself but it is a good resource if mainstream publishers simply aren't interested.
One or two niche publishers who specialise in show business biographies said they would have taken on the book if economic times were better.
Self-publishing gives you the chance to publish exactly the text you want to publish without any interference at all.
(Alan) What difficulties have you faced, now that you live in Bulgaria, in writing and publishing a book which has its major market in England?
When I was writing the book there were not that many logistical problems. Most of the people who agreed to speak to me replied by email. Then there were the people who spoke to me over the phone. Sometimes the people concerned did not even know that I was in Bulgaria. I guess we now live in a world made smaller by technology! In this respect the internet has been very helpful.
There were a few people I met face to face, like Bob Ponton, during my trips to the UK.
But when I tried to market the book I did find it more of a problem being in Bulgaria. The fact that I couldn't always appear at speaking engagements/events to promote the book did hold me back a bit. I think I could have marketed the book better if I had lived in the UK. But you can't have everything ... life simply took me in a different direction.
(Denis) The book is very well-written, as you would expect from a journalist and editor. How did you come to the profession? Was it something you decided on in childhood or later in life?
I have always been interested in writing. English was my best subject at school. I experimented with writing a novel in my twenties but I felt that I was not especially gifted in that area.
I really fell into journalism by accident when I turned 30. I have now been writing and editing professionally for some years.
(Denis) What are you working on now and what future plans do you have?
I am currently working on a second book with an autobiographical theme. I hope to interest a publisher/agent but, if not, then Lulu offers a good service! Meanwhile I continue to work as a journalist/editor, mostly on a freelance basis.
Gabriel, a big thank you for the interview. Your openness and thoughtful answers have revealed many interesting things about Ian and your book, which we at Steedumbrella highly recommend. We wish you good luck and success and are sure that the new book on which you are working will also interest readers of this website.
Interviewers by: Denis Kirsanov, Alan Hayes & Christine Stutz Resumé: Gabriel Hershman
Sequence of questions & answers: Christine Stutz Image material: Gabriel Hershman & Neil Hendry
Editorial board: Alan Hayes, Denis Kirsanov & Gabriel Hershman Designers: Denis Kirsanov, Christine Stutz & Alan Hayes
(Denis) I felt it too. You may be surprised to hear this, but I became interested in the works of Roman Polanski after seeing Catherine Deneuve and Ian Hendry in “Repulsion”. Their performances were vital to the impact of that movie. I remember Ian well from this film. He had some kind of energy, which resonated through the screen. Regarding the biography, Gabriel, as you have been interested in Ian for such a long time, why is it only recently that you undertook to write the book?
It was simply that my day job took up all my time! But then I suddenly saw a window of opportunity when it was clear that the publication I worked on was going to be closed down about three years ago. So that was purely a practical concern!
I also knew that Ian's life had not been easy, that he had been dogged by ill-health and personal problems. So that was another reason I hesitated. But the emergence of Facebook (and the opportunities for networking that triggered) gave me an impetus to start the project. Getting Neil Hendry on board (Ian's nephew) was a decisive factor pushing me towards "lift-off". Without him it would have been very difficult. I found him on Facebook and then he gave me access to all kinds of information about Ian's parents and background.
But it's amazing to think that 30 years have passed since Ian's death. From a purely practical point of view it might have been easier to have written the book - say - 15 years ago when more of Ian's contemporaries were still around. But better late than never...