Video above: Rare film of the Culford School Sports Day (1947).


Sometimes things work out perfectly – and this is one of those occasions.

This film is the result of an extraordinary discovery and the culmination of several months of work. It not only features rare footage of my family but also captures memorable moments of many of the students who were really only just at the beginning of their lives; it’s also a short historical record of a school and it’s teachers and the families who obviously valued it so dearly. Two years after the second world war had ended, this footage seems to encapsulate the sense of freedom, hope and rekindled belief of a generation.

A Message Is Received

In May 2015, I received a message from Simon Moreby, alerting me to a reel of 16mm film which had been listed for auction on eBay. What made this potentially so special was that it contained footage taken during the Culford School Sports Day in 1947.

Ian Hendry and his brother Donald (my father) were students at Culford School at that time and both were keen on sports. In 1947, Culford School was an independent boarding school for boys in the village of Culford, four miles north of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England.

Both Ian and Donald played rugby and cricket and they were also very good at athletics. Ian was captain of the 1st XV rugby team and also featured in the 1st cricket XI. It was whilst he was studying at Culford School that he really began to develop his love of acting and featured in several school plays. We will return to this subject in a future article.

In his biography on Ian Hendry, Gabriel Hershman explores this early period in his life with anecdotes and contributions from one of his best friends there – Ian Ferguson. Some great details are included on Ian’s sporting prowess, his involvement with the drama group and some humourous anecdotes from his schooldays. A time that many may know little about – a world away from TV, films and the ‘celebrity lifestyle’ that in some ways came to define him later in life.

Ian Hendry Culford School Admission Card

Picture: Ian Hendry’s Admission Card – Culford School


Ian Hendry 1st XL Culford School Cricket

In 1947, Ian was just 16 years old and my father was still a couple of months away from his 14th birthday. So could this old 7″ steel reel contain some long lost footage of them taken during their school years? The mere thought of the possibility sent all of our minds racing. What if? The decision to bid for the film had already been made.

The Auction

The eBay listing contained a few frame captures from the film, but none of people featured in them resembled either Ian or my father. We calculated that the reel contained about 400ft of film, which equates to just c.15 minutes. The final evening of the auction came and after some fierce last-minute bidding from someone who was obviously equally keen on winning it – we came away with the prize. The film was won and a few days later it arrived.

Culford School Sports Day 16mm Film

Picture: Some clips from the film included in the eBay auction listing – but no sign of Ian or Donald Hendry at this point

The Film Transfer

But that was only the first step. We still didn’t know whether the reel contained footage of either Ian or my father. The film was sent to a film company that specialises in the transfer of 16mm film to digital. Several weeks passed and I was getting a bit impatient so I sent them an email. An auto-reply message came back informing me that the company had just closed for a two week holiday! In hindsight, the waiting just added to the suspense.

Eventually the package arrived by recorded delivery – the original reel of film and a USB memory stick with the digital files on them. This was the moment of truth. What exactly did this film contain and would it have been worth all the effort and expense? I could barely bring myself to watch. Not knowing what was on the film gave me a sense of hope and anticipation. Now I could actually watch it and I feared for the worse. I clicked play…..and the silent film began.

First Viewing

The film flickered on my screen and with it the memories of that day came back to life again; almost as though the participants in the sports day had been waiting patiently for this moment of discovery when they could reenact their roles again. Some 68 years had passed since that day but the film brought it all vividly back to life. I felt extremely privileged. It soon became apparent that the film had been shot by a family member of one of the students – but this was not just some home movie – it contained creative footage of the day as a whole. A truly remarkable find.

The results were far far better than any of us could have hoped for. I saw my father dashing across the finish line in first place. Not once but twice! The film continued and I scoured the frames and the faces, trying to see if Ian was there as well. And then, the final proof that finding this film was meant to be. As a line of gymnasts waited for their turn to leap over the wooden vaulting horse – Ian walks calmly into the scene. Perhaps the earliest record of him on film.

I recognised him immediately. I had seen the 1st Cricket XI team photograph taken that very same year – in which he appeared in the back row/ far right. The same slight build, jet black hair and determined look.

Given that so many families were present, I then turned my attention to see whether I could see their parents (my grandparents) Enid and Jim. And yes, after a few minutes of searching I saw them too.

They were all there. How incredible. How complete.

Ian Hendry, Donald Hendry + Their Parents – Jim + Enid (Culford School Sports Day – 1947)

Ian hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 #1

Picture: Ian Hendry deep in thought as he prepares for his leap!

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 11

Picture: Ian Hendry – airborne!

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 5

Picture: My father, Donald Hendry wins race number two

Jim + Enid Culford School

Picture: The parents of Ian and Donald – Enid and Jim Hendry

Culford School Day Sports Day 1947 – Stills

But this film is not just about my family. It is a moment in time that captures the lives of many people – the teachers, the pupils and the families who came to visit for the day. The pictures below capture some of the great moments from the film.

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 1

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 3

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 6

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 7

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 8

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 9

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 12

Ian Hendry Culford School Sports Day 1947 13

In closing

Many thanks to Simon for first alerting me to this film. Without his discovery this footage may never have seen the light of day.

This film is very dear to me. To say that I have found it moving – watching and working with it – would be a great understatement. Seeing my uncle and father – and their parents – captured at this point in their lives brings out many different and mixed emotions. To have been able to also ‘share’ that day with the many students, staff and families present makes me feel very privileged and fortunate; almost as if I had been given my own special invitation to attend as well and join in the fun. I may never witness time travel, but perhaps this is as near to it as one can get.

This film also belongs to all the people who appear in it and their families and it’s an important documentary record. For these reasons it will be returned to Culford School for safe-keeping and so they can also share it as well. The circle will finally be completed.

This film is dedicated to the hopes and dreams of all the pupils and staff of Culford School. Past, present and future.

Carpe diem.

Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

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