December 30, 2013

Ian Hendry - the actor's first biography

An acting talent, a premature death - too typical of the time

You might know Ian Hendry from playing opposite big names like Sean Connery in The Hill (1965), Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (both 1965) or Michael Caine in Get Carter (1971).

Ian Hendry (without sunglasses) in Get Carter

You might know him from cult, sci-fi or horror films. Astronaut training with Roy Thinnes on the Journey To The Far Side of the Sun (1969, UK title Doppelganger). Facing his destiny and his reflection in one of the Tales From The Crypt (1972). Picking a sword fight in a pub with Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (made in 1972 but not released until 1974). Trapped with Leo McKern learning the secret of Damien: Omen II (1978). One of the teachers tangling with the Children of the Damned (1964). Because of all these roles, and more, Hendry is a familiar face, synonymous with seemingly effortless, poignant, tough performances.

Alan Badel and Ian Hendry in Children of the Damned
Perhaps he's best represented as the leader of the critics' circle that was picked off by Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood (1973). Besides standing out against an amazing cast, he also gets an amazing, bouncy sabre duel with Vincent Price.

Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) really doesn't like bad reviews
Hendry landed far more leading roles in TV series, where he impressively racked up over five hundred episodes and TV plays. He left after the first ever season of The Avengers (1961), leaving Patrick Macnee to become the star. He quit in search of film roles, one of many turning points in his life that may not have been for the best. He met John Steed again in an early episode of The New Avengers (1976, To Catch A Rat) playing an over-the-hill secret agent.

Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry in The Avengers
This new biography of Ian Hendry, the first ever, tells the turbulent story of the actor's life and how aspects were often reflected in his many screen roles. His increasing alcoholism becoming a large factor in his suitability for subsequent work.

But this is a fierce defence of Hendry's abilities as well as a diary of his declining health. The tragedy is that this was a familiar lifestyle of the time, so many dying prematurely because of unrecognised and largely untreated addictions. In the book, Hendry's problems are constantly compared to other alcoholics whose acting careers somehow suffered less. It's interesting for the many stories about the similar behaviour of many of his contemporaries and co-stars, who also aged visibly because of nicotine and alcohol dependency. Something all too evident now that we can review entire film careers so easily.

In Theatre of Blood as the critic paying for his scathing reviews
Much has been written about the "hellraisers" of the 1960s and 1970s, usually biased towards the actors who (somehow) managed to keep working successfully, like Richard Burton. But here is an actor with similarly destructive habits and a comparable talent who never got as big a break.

A fascinating read, highlighting his near misses and a growing sense of what might have been. This celebrates the body of work he achieved, points out much that I'd missed and sensitively narrates his increasingly disastrous private life. Hendry's painful decline is capped with an incredibly sad death that has haunted me since. A terrible way to go and a formidable warning against the glamour of hellraising.

Gabriel Hershman's extensive research was backed with an impressive roster of interviews with those who knew or worked with Hendry. A thorough filmography lists all his known appearances and throughout the book, it always notes their availability (or existence).

'Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry' on sale here from AbeBooks.

Author Gabriel Hershman has his public Facebook page here. There's an interview with him about the book here on RetroSellers.

There's also a professional-looking fan website for Ian Hendry here with rare photos and YouTube links. They also have a Facebook page regularly updated with contemporary press clippings and more photos.

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