Professional Debut – ‘Reluctant Heroes’ At Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (August 1955) – With Bernard Cribbins + Ronnie Fraser

Picture above: Ian Hendry, Bernard Cribbins, Michael Simpson, Haydn Jones and Ronald Fraser (far right!).

This is the first picture of Ian Hendry working as a professional actor!

In terms of his acting career, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch is really where it all began for Ian Hendry.

In mid-1955, Ian landed the part of Tone in the play Reluctant Heroes – his professional debut as an actor after graduating from the Central School of Speech + Drama.

This is also likely to be when Ian met Ronnie Fraser for the first time – the start of a life-long friendship.

Ian appeared in 5 plays during his first spell at The Queen’s Theatre in 1955 and returned a year later – in December 1956 – to perform in the Christmas pantomime, Davy Crockett!

He worked alongside a number of other notable actors who were also starting out in their careers at the same time. Patsy Byrne, the accomplished Shakespearean actress, also made her professional stage debut in Hornchurch; she is perhaps best known for her appearance as the lovable and dim-witted Nursie in the second series of Blackadder. Patsy’s debut was as Mrs Soames in the play Our Town (October 1955) by Thornton Wilder – in which Ian played the part of Professor Willard.

She then played the part of Rose, a country wench, in George Farquhar’s the Recruiting Officer in which Ian was cast as Coster Pearmain – his fifth and penultimate play at the Queen’s Theatre.

Of course, Bernard Cribbins and Ronald Fraser went onto much bigger and better things too!

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Queen's Theatre Hornchurch 1950s

Picture: Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch c. 1955

The idea for the theatre’s creation started back in 1948 and was a ground-breaking event at the time. It was the first time a local authority in the UK had decided to open its own theatre.

Located in Station Lane, Hornchurch, the building was originally a warehouse before being converted to a cinema in 1913. It was purchased for £4,200 converted to use as a theatre and renamed after the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II – finally opening on September 21st, 1953.

queens theatre hornchurch c.1953-interior-old

Picture: Interior – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch c. 1955

Queen's Theatre Hornchurch 1955

Picture: Programme Cover 1955 – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Queen's Theatre Programme 195555

Picture: Programme Cover 1955 – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

The theatre remained in Station Lane until 1975, when it moved to a new location in Billet Lane.

Reluctant Heroes by Colin Morris

Dates: 1st – 13th August 1955. Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch


The extract below is from Queen’s Theatre archive:

This play is a lively caricature of life in the Army as lived by National Servicemen. It recalls the cream of barrack-room humour and reintroduces some favourite army types. The Officer with the Sandhurst accent, the inevitable very eloquent Sergeant (!?) and three green rookies, cockney, yokel, and public school. There are also ATS girls to complete the party.

Artistic Credits
Director: Stuart Burge
Designer: Jean Love
Stage Director: Richard Dowsett
Electrician: Albert Sheldrick
Properties: Winifred Allen & Violet Griffith

Morgan: Hayden Jones
Tone: Ian Hendry
Sergeant Bell: Julian Somers
Gregory: Bernard Cribbins
Sergeant McKenzie: Ronald Fraser
Medical Orderly: Ralph Ball
Pat Thomson: Jane Walker
Penny Raymond: Anita Wuest
Captain Percy: Graham Crowden
Gloria Dennis: Jan Miller
Scots Soldier: Michael Simpson

Best wishes

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

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