Regular Cast Biography
by Pete Stampede, with David K. Smith, Alan Hayes and Ian Duerden
While watching the BBC news on that Christmas Eve night twenty years ago, the long-serving Moira Stuart announced that "Two well-known film and television actors died today - Peter Lawford and Ian Hendry." The news report which followed featured clips of Hendry working on stage, and from his early 70s BBC series, The Lotus Eaters. The picture quality on the latter was pretty terrible, with fuzzy colour and generally looking more like the US TV system of 525 lines (if you've seen the existing copies of early 70s Doctor Who stories like "Inferno" or most of Up Pompeii, you'll know what I mean). Hendry was personally fond of this series and his role as a sensitive, depressive, hard-drinking artist called Erik Sheppard. His co-stars included Carol Cleveland and, as his wife, Wanda Ventham, seen in "The Gravediggers" and a frequent blonde 'swinging chick' in 60s series and sitcoms; later, she was among the mourners at his funeral.
Born 13 January 1931 in Ipswich, England, Ian Hendry was 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 with an estate agent's firm in Cambridge. However, Ian preferred to follow a childhood dream and took up amateur dramatics while at Culford College, Suffolk, and also later became a stunt motorcyclist. After doing his National Service with the Army, reality struck and Ian ended up in an estate agent's in Edgware, Middlesex. While he sold a lot of houses, as he later professed his heart wasn't in it—it was still "set on the stage." Hendry spent three years as a house agent before his father realized that his son's destiny lay elsewhere, and paid for a three-year stint at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. During his training here, all the end-of-year prizes and general approval went the way of Rowena Cooper, a good actress but only ever really seen in character roles, and Hendry. By contrast, Judi Dench, who is probably the most wonderful performer in Christendom according to the Great British Public, went largely unnoticed on the same course at the same time, and so did Vanessa Redgrave. This kind of thing is not unknown in theatrical careers; it seems that, at RADA in the mid-1920s, the star pupil was Robert Harris, seen in "Love All" and a nice old trouper, but hardly a legend, while John Gielgud had to cope with comments like 'awkward' and left before finishing the course.
Despite the film ambitions that led to his quitting The Avengers, his best work was probably in television single plays, of the sort that are sadly hard to track down now, if they exist at all. He had a brief artistic partnership with the waspish playwright Peter Nichols, in the latter's social comedies Ben Spray (Granada, 1962) as a gauche schoolteacher, the sequel Ben Again (1963) and Joy (BBC, 1972), with Elizabeth Shepherd, about a family gathering that goes awry—the Radio Times' billing for the latter included a photo of Hendry, right under his credit line. A shame he doesn't seem to have done any of Nichols' stage plays. The late director Don Taylor (British, not to be confused with a Hollywood hack and former actor of the same name) commented in his book Days of Vision that at the time, it was quite a coup to get Hendry for David Mercer's A Suitable Case for Treatment; but he didn't do the subsequent film version, Morgan, and the TV original is presently Missing Believed Wiped. (It seems that Mercer was then viewed as the most important TV playwright, before his early death and the rise of Dennis Potter.) Just a couple of months before Police Surgeon, Hendry was in a single drama for ABC in which he had second billing to forgotten 50s film star John Gregson, while that great third-foreign-villain-from-the-left Roger Delgado was in it, too.
Hendry's next series after The Avengers was The Informer, cast as a dodgy lawyer working both sides of the law and order fence. Made for Rediffusion, who shared the London franchise with ABC, it co-starred Upstairs Downstairs' Jean Marsh, frequent Avengers doppelganger Neil Hallett and prolific Cockney character man Tony Selby, seen in "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues". One episode guest-starred Bob Monkhouse in a straight role. The Girl in the Headlines (1964) with Hendry as an inspector and Ronnie Fraser ("The Gravediggers") as his sergeant, was a nice little B-movie that felt more like a pilot for a never-made series.
Apologies for lurching into gossip territory, but it's been claimed that there was genuine friction between Hendry and Michael Caine on the set of Get Carter. Reputedly, on location, a boozy Hendry accused Caine of having stolen his career, and that Alfie was merely a pale imitation of Live Now - Pay Later (written by the very funny but wayward novelist Jack Trevor Story, the title summing up his view of life), probably Hendry's best starring role in the cinema, but now sadly obscure. Whatever one makes of Caine's endless boasting of how rich he is, his hypocritical social climbing, adoration of Margaret Thatcher and willingness to do any old rubbish for money, it remains true that Get Carter is probably the best known film Hendry appeared in, and viewed (in Britain itself, at least) as a true British classic. Hendry's nasty chauffeur Eric Paice (at one unforgettable point, Caine/Carter removes Hendry's dark glasses and says "What eyes you've got, Eric. Eyes, like piss 'oles in the snow", a line cut from TV showings until 1990) bore the name of a real life Avengers scriptwriter, I know a lovely old bloke in Oxford who actually knew Paice, but claims that success made the writer rather unpleasant.
Hendry's character in Tales from the Crypt was called Maitland; there's always someone of that name in anything written or produced by the splendidly schlocky Milton Subotsky. David Quinlan, whose film reference books are much under-rated claims in his entry on Hendry that his demotion to character roles may have been related to a refusal to wear a toupee as much as anything. It's been claimed by several sources that Hendry was in Casino Royale, but I've never been able to spot him in it; given the mess that was its production and end result, it's probable that he filmed a scene that was cut out. Similarly, I tried but honestly couldn't spot Hendry's early bit part in the wet comedy The Big Money, when it was on at three in the morning a few years back; the Rank Organisation were so embarrassed by it, they didn't bother releasing it for some years.
He was certainly easier to pick out in Room at the Top, appropriately as an actor rehearsing. The title of All Coppers Are... relates to an outdated piece of Brit slang, as the next word would be "...bastards." He was effectively cast against type as an ineffectual nervous wreck, blackmailed into murder by James Coburn, in The Internecine Project. Despite being for Brian Clemens, his scene as a malevolent sword-wielder in Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter was over almost as soon as it started. I'm afraid the various biographies of Gerry Anderson refer to the trouble Hendry's drinking caused during the making of Doppelganger/Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.
It's undoubtedly true that Hendry was fond of a drink off-screen, but name any British actor of the time who wasn't. Reputedly, the reason why he and his second wife, actress Janet Munro (his first was a makeup artist named Joanna), lived in the middle of the Thames during the 60s — variously claimed either on a houseboat or on a very small island — was in an attempt to keep away from London's numerous pubs. Janet had previously been a sweet young thing in several Walt Disney films, but despite several attempts to widen her range, such as a late 60s BBC2 early colour serial of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, she had trouble "growing-up" professionally and I'm afraid it's been claimed she had alcohol trouble as well. However, in a TV Times article the week "To Catch a Rat" aired, Hendry explained an off-screen fondness for painting by saying that when he had something to express, he didn't hit the bottle any more, or hit people, but hit the canvas. I believe the play in which he and Janet Munro first met was a satire on the film world, Armchair Theatre's "Afternoon Of A Nymph", with several other Avengers faces including Aubrey Morris; apparently, Sydney Newman was alarmed by some implied lesbianism in this and ordered cuts. The couple's appearance in a film for the Children's Film Foundation, Cry Wolf, was really only done as a favour to that organisation; dealing with a kid who stumbles into a plot to kidnap the Prime Minister, one of its other guest stars was the hilariously disgusting Wilfrid Brambell, the senior half of Steptoe and Son.
Series and single plays aside, Hendry's guest roles were variable. In two roles in Danger Man/Secret Agent, "Say It With Flowers", one a bespectacled nebbish and the other more assertive, one can sense him as being on a similar wavelength to Patrick McGoohan. Vendetta for the Saint was utter nonsense, of course and filmed in Malta instead of Italy, but he was enjoyable in it, threatening Fulton Mackay before the opening titles and later kidnapping the lovely Aimi MacDonald.
Ian portrayed Lord Croxley in The Persuaders! episode, "The Time and the Place," a show described by Frank Muir as being "the best bad series ever made." To my mind, Hendry seemed miscast as the tweedy, aristocratic villain and seemed visibly uncomfortable at times; in the climax in a TV studio, you can sense him counting the minutes until it's over. That scene featured Avengers faces Basil Dignam and Duncan Lamont as The Prime Minister and The Leader Of The Opposition, and not surprisingly with this silly, snobbish and sexist series, you could tell whose side our supposed heroes were on, politically. Much better was the first episode of The Sweeney, "Ringer", as a flat-capped, twitchy henchman to Brian Blessed; but although he had first guest-billing on the opening titles over Blessed (and accidentally shot him at the end!), the big loud man's role was actually more important to the plot. With Blessed in mind, it's a shame and an oversight that Hendry never did a Z Cars. He was again cast against type, as a gay assassin (at one point, getting into a victim's flat by posing as a hairdresser!) in an episode of Dial M for Murder (BBC, 1974), nothing to do with Hitchcock but a thriller anthology series in which the phone played a vital part in each episode. One other segment of this starred Patrick Macnee, in one of his very few roles for the BBC.
Around 1967 he was in one of three TV dramas, on similar themes, by a much-hyped but now completely forgotten writer called Kenneth Jupp, and Honor Blackman was in one of the others, all made for Anglia. In the mid-70s, a stage play called Menace, curiously written by Hollywood B-movie king Larry Cohen, starred Honor, Hendry, and George Cole - good grief, Cathy Gale and Dr. Keel confronting Arthur Daley! Maybe Hendry's fondness for Coco the Clown was a reason why he was a stooge to the much-loved Tommy Cooper in an edition of Cooper (Thames, 1975). Sorry to say, but a TV Times from 1979 lists him as one of the guests on the highly tacky Celebrity Squares, the British version of Hollywood Squares, his name coming just after commercials/soap star Lorraine Chase.
Regarding two of his film credits in later years — oh dear. I've honestly never seen Intimate Games, it's one of the very few British 70s sleaze films that I haven't (!), but again, it's very hard to find any character actors of the time who didn't appear in such piffle, because, apart from special effects for the Yanks' blockbusters, they were the nearest thing there still was to a British film industry. At first, I thought the review in the Time Out Film Guide's description of Anna Bergman, the blonde sexy Swede who played Hendry's niece, as Ingmar Bergman's daughter, was a joke; unbelievably, it wasn't, and she is. As for Joan Collins as The Bitch — the review in Variety commented on the presence of Hendry and Kenneth Haigh (the original Jimmy Porter in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger — in a rare acting role, Osborne played Hendry's boss in Get Carter) by simply saying "actors gotta work". As a grumpy, mustachioed Mafioso, Hendry didn't do anything naughty in it, which can hardly be said of Sue "A Surfeit of H2O" Lloyd; despite the final scene showing him having taken control of La Collins' disco, you didn't see him on the dance floor either, debatably the boogieing scenes in this were more embarrassing than the constant flesh shots.
I'm afraid to say that, like several other 60s TV actors who found the going tougher in the 70s (Peter Wyngarde, Derren Nesbitt, James Ellis), he was declared bankrupt in the late 70s. He promptly did a long article/interview in one of the dreaded tabloids — typically the headline was "Bankrupt Star Who Loves Two Women;" what this actually meant was that, although he had now remarried, he still loved and missed Janet Munro a great deal, although they had separated at the time of her sudden and tragic death of a heart attack earlier that decade. Eventually, he was discharged from bankruptcy following a year of record earnings, from the articles and For Maddie with Love, a daytime series in which the Cathy Gale who almost was, Nyree Dawn Porter, played the nominal doomed heroine, and he was somewhat tastelessly cast as her grieving husband.
Ian Hendry's career was cut short on 24 December 1984, as he died of undisclosed causes at the age of 53. A newspaper article in the early 80s reported that he had broken doctor's orders to do some TV work, possibly his stint on Brookside, in which he played Davey Jones, a hard-drinking sailor; he said he had a throat ailment — and his always deep voice was now definitely croaky — but denied it was cancer. One of Brookside's then stars, Ricky Tomlinson, now more familiar in comic roles, wrote in his recent autobiography that it was rather sad to see Hendry arriving for his stint, clearly unwell and needing the work. I understand that in Patrick Macnee's This Is Your Life, Hendry was very frail, as compared to his glory days. A couple of episodes of the now forgotten Jemima Shore Investigates, starring Daily Mail-readers' type actress Patricia Hodge, gave him a late role as a grouchy TV executive called Cy. Another mourner of his funeral was Nosher Powell, minder and mate to the stars, seen in "Mission... Highly Improbable." Hendry was scheduled to have appeared in the US mini-series Lace 2 at the time of his death.
You can learn still more at Ian Hendry's Official Tribute.
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