At various events I’ve done with Mike Hodges (the director of the best of all British gangster movies, Get Carter), he has mentioned that his original choice for the title role – before Michael Caine – was the late Ian Hendry, one of our most underrated actors whose self-destructiveness (largely due to drink) compromised a career that really should have seen him on a par with his more successful contemporaries. As it is, Hendry has a relatively small role in Get Carter— but is undoubtedly one of the finest things in the film, as the actor was in virtually everything he appeared. This film, and Hendry’s resentment against Michael Caine (who the former felt had the career that he should have had) is one of the areas fascinatingly covered in Gabriel Hershman’s assiduously detailed book, the first biography of the actor. Hendry’s life makes for compelling reading – even if in his career is largely a story of missed opportunities (as was that of his wife, the actress Janet Munro, similarly given to alcoholism — her character is as vividly evoked here as Hendry’s). Hershman has spoken to many of the people involved in the actor’s career and throws intriguing light on much that will be unfamiliar to even Hendry admirers (such as this writer). And Send in the Clowns: The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry is particularly perceptive in celebrating just how telling he is in most of his parts (such as, as Hershman points out, a small role as Yvonne Furneaux’s married boyfriend in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion — again a modest amount of screen time, but Hendry is comfortably one of the most astrigent aspects of the film). The book is both a fascinating and informative read (although a good copy editor might have spotted some typos and errors — ‘psyche’ instead of ‘psych’ for instance, and Errol Garner was a pianist, not a singer), but anyone interested both in Ian Hendry’s career as an actor who never quite received his due and British cinema of the 1960s — will find this a book to be consumed at several sittings – but perhaps not while sipping a glass of wine. Needless to say, there is a comprehensive filmography.
Send in the Clowns: The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry Gabriel Hershman