Staff Sergeant Williams’ Hat – The Hill (1965) : Article

Staff Sergeant Williams’ Hat – The Hill (1965) 

 

Roberts (Sean Connery): “Funny looking hill, nothing grows on it”
Williams (Ian Hendry): “Soldiers grow on that hill…they grow weary!”

In the summer of 1975, I was just a typical 8 year old boy living in Ipswich, Suffolk. I loved football and I loved things to do with the war. Life was very simple for me then.  I lived with my two sisters, Karen and Sue, and my parents in a brick-built detached house in Whitby Road. We were near to the local shops, the local school and the local park which must surely have completed the equation of what defined a suburban ‘heaven’.  We had a small garden, with a grass lawn that became scorched by the sun in summer and two medium-sized apple trees that provided ‘missiles’ in the form of miniature apples, that could be launched with a tennis racket into orbit and onto the roofs of the surrounding houses. In one corner, there was a wood and wire-mesh cage full of white guinea pigs with ruby eyes that ‘bred like rabbits’ ……… and an actual rabbit, called Georgie Bobtail.

(Uncle) Ian was visiting the family. In between work, he had driven up from London with his wife, Sandy, and our cousins Sally and Corrie. It was always an exciting time, we were the ‘country cousins’ and they were from the ‘big city’. We only lived 70 or 80 miles apart, but back then they seemed like ‘different worlds’ to me.

I remember that day quite clearly. I was upstairs in my bedroom when there was a knock on the door. (Uncle) Ian entered the room with a gift for me that he had brought with him from London. I opened the bag and there, inside, was a khaki coloured army hat.

The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams's Hat
The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams’s Hat

 

Ian Hendry - The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams's Hat
Ian Hendry – The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams’s Hat

‘Great,’ I thought as I took it out and put in on. I was 8 years old and loved anything to do with war…..well it was football and playing ‘war’ games that made me and most of my friends tick at that age. He mentioned that he had worn it in a film once and maybe he told me it was when he played Staff Sergeant Williams in The Hill. I really don’t remember that bit. My main focus was on the fact that it was a cool army hat, a real one, not some cheap plastic copy.

[On the front of the hat is a silver and gold coloured badge bearing the words ‘East Surrey’ on the ribbon. Inside the hat, in white ink, are the details that it was made by J. Compton Sons & Webb, London in 1963, size 7 and one eighth.  The hat is lined with black industrial grade plastic, far from Ideal for filming in the desert heat. Perhaps, though, it added fuel to the part he played as Staff Sergeant Williams, where the use of cruel treatment and the suffering of the prisoners was seen as the means for his (hopeful) promotion.]

I tried it on but it was a poor fit for me.

I remember my uncle telling me that it had been fitted specially for him. It may have been,  but on me it had a pincer like grip, cutting into both the fore and the back of my head. Head shape was obviously not something that ‘ran in the family’.

Ian Hendry The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams A

 

The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams Hat (worn by Ian Hendry)
The Hill (1965) Staff Sergeant Williams Hat (worn by Ian Hendry)

 

Back then, in 1975, he was family and my uncle first. I knew he was in films and television and that he was ‘somebody’, but when you are 8 years old you have a fairly limited and mixed up understanding of the world. At home, we had a black and white valve television set which took at least ten minutes to warm up and become operational. Timing was everything if you wanted to actually see the start of a programme. From time to time, he would appear on it in films or in television programmes and it was always fun to see him.  I knew that didn’t happen with my other friends uncles. That certainly made him ‘special’.

Then and now….

It was only years later, when I became interested in his work and watched The Hill for the first time, that I began to really ‘put all the pieces together’. And with that the significance of his gift to me changed.

When I was 8 years old, it was just a cool army hat from my uncle, which would be a great addition to all my other ‘toys’. When I was older I realised that he had given me what must have been a treasured memory from one of his greatest moments on film. He’d obviously kept it after the filming was over and had held onto it over the years. Then one day, he decided to give it to me.

With time many things have come and gone in my life, but fortunately this hat is one thing that I have always held onto. It’s older now of course. There is a tiny hole in the fabric on top, where a moth has enjoyed a meal and it’s also a little crumpled from a long spell in storage.

But some things haven’t changed. Firstly, after all these years, it’s still a really cool army hat that he gave me when I was 8 years old. And secondly, I will always think of him as family and my uncle first.

 

Neil Hendry

Editor, The Official Website of Ian Hendry

 

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Further Reading

A detailed account of Ian’s friendship with Coco The Clown and his early encounters with The Bertram Mills Circus is included in the new biography of his life.

Read:  ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

 

 

Comment and Share Please! We love to read all your comments and appreciate it when you take time to share the articles. It really helps a site like ours in the search engines too! Please share and comment on this article using the form below:

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The Hill (1965) Background:

 

Staff Sergeant Williams

Staff Sergeant Williams is new to the prison, and his ambition is matched only by his cruel treatment of the prisoners; he seeks to use their suffering as means for promotion. “And what are you supposed to be,” Roberts asks him when he is accused of cowardice in battle, “a brave man in a permanent base job?” The RSM seems to agree; in another scene, he slyly mentions the fact that the Germans were bombing the UK (including the civilian prison Williams worked at) just as Williams was volunteering for prison duty in Africa.

Plot

In a British Army “glasshouse” (military detention camp) in the Libyan Desert, prisoners convicted of service offences such as insubordination, being drunk whilst on duty, going AWOL or petty theft etc. are subjected to repetitive drill in the blazing desert heat.

The arrival of five new prisoners slowly leads to a clash with the camp authorities. One new NCO guard who has also just arrived employs excessive punishments, which include forcing the five newcomers to repeatedly climb a man-made hill in the centre of the camp. When one dies a power struggle erupts between brutal Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry), humane Staff Sergeant Harris (Ian Bannen), Regimental Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews), and the camp’s Medical Officer (Michael Redgrave) as they struggle to run the camp in conflicting styles.

 

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2 Responses to “Staff Sergeant Williams’ Hat – The Hill (1965) : Article”

  1. Chris Williams

    Great story about the hat which I really enjoyed reading. Such great memories for you of your Uncle’s kindness and what a treasure for a little boy of eight. I too remember whacking little apples with a tennis racket and sending them high over someone’s house! Great fun. Boys today with computers just don’t know what they are missing! The Hill is a great film and one of the best British films of it’s era. Quite expensive on DVD now with prices as high as £24.99 but if you shop around you can get it for £8.99. Clearly a rare film now with a cult status which is testament to the success of the film. A great part of that is because of the excellent portrayal of the key character Staff Sergeant Williams by Ian.

    • Neil Hendry, Editor

      Thanks for the comment Chris. Yes, a wonderful memory for sure.

      Agree it was great film with a great cast. Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Michael Redgrave were all superb and also that guy called Connery wasn’t too bad…! One of his best performances outside of Bond. I’ve seen the film available on iTunes for 8.99….

      If only whacking apples with tennis rackets had been made into an Olympic Sport there is no knowing where we would be right now!

      Neil

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