Should Ian Hendry Have Stayed In The Avengers?

Article Update: New information added July 5th 2013, 10.30pm GMT

Recently, on The Avengers International Fan Forum, I was asked if I thought Ian regretted leaving The Avengers after the first series in 1961. It’s an interesting question for a number of reasons. Here are some thoughts.

I think Ian left the Avengers for two main reasons. Firstly, production of The Avengers had stopped due to industrial action at ABC which lasted several months. I am sure if there hadn’t been a strike he would have appeared in the second series and then who knows how the story would have developed and how The Avengers would have been affected. Would there even have been a Cathy Gale? It’s fun to imagine what might have happened as a consequence.

The second factor though is that Ian’s ‘star was rising’ at that time. Ian was both talented and ambitious and there were film offers that were coming his way. I am sure at that time he saw film as a huge opportunity to establish himself further and make a ‘break-through’.

Ian Hendry (Dr David Keel) Patrick Macnee (John Steed) The Avengers TV Series 1 1961

Picture: Ian Hendry (as Dr. David Keel) with Patrick Macnee (as John Steed), The Avengers 1961

In 1962, could anyone have predicted how The Avengers would evolve into being such a cult phenomenon?. Probably not. Also would The Avengers have evolved in the way it did with Ian still in the lead role? Maybe not. The New Avengers did work with two males and a strong female character in lead roles, so you could argue that Patrick (Steed), Ian (Keel) and Honor (Gale) could have been developed to work as well. But then again. if Ian had stayed, would the idea of having a strong female role in the series have become a reality? Possibly not. Interesting, though, to consider what might have been.

I think when you see Ian talk with Patrick and Eamonn about the first series (on This Is Your Life 1978) that it played a a very important part in both their careers, for quite different reasons. I think they both had very fond memories of that time, as seen in the clip below:

But there is no doubt that being associated with a series for a long spell can be beneficial to an actors career. Roger Moore played The Saint throughout much of the 60’s and ended up playing Bond. John Nettles long spell as Bergerac no doubt created stability and established him as a leading actor. Patrick Macnee’s long-time association as Steed. The list goes on and on. The public likes familiarity. They form a kind of relationship with their ‘stars’ and the characters they play. It becomes comfortable, like seeing an old friend again, albeit on the screen. Acting ability is just one aspect of becoming successful as an actor. Establishing a ‘public’, a following which helps guarantee viewing figures for programmes is just as important. Playing a familiar role for a long period of time certainly helps no end in this aspect.

Ian once mentioned to me that sometimes it is better to be in a supporting role, than be cast as the lead, as there is less chance of being type-cast. I think that was something that concerned him.

Also, I am not sure whether Ian would have been satisfied playing the same character in the same show for a large chunk of his career. He liked change and new challenges. So with that in mind I am not sure he would have wished to go back.

In hindsight, would he have wished he had stayed longer in The Avengers? Initially, probably not as his film career began to flourish. After leaving The Avengers, Ian had leading roles in a number if British films, including Live Now Pay Later (1962), Girl In The Headlines (1963), This Is My Street (1964), The Beauty Jungle (1964) and Children Of The Damned (1964). In 1965, he starred in two film classics, The Hill directed by Sidney Lumet and Repulsion directed by Roman Polanski. By the end of the 60’s he was on the cusp of breaking through in Hollywood. The Southern Star (1969) starred the legendary Orson Welles, George Segal, Ursula Andress and Harry Andrews was maybe as near as he came to doing so.

The following insight, however, is shared by author Gabriel Hershman on the Avengers International Fan Forum:

“Bruce Montague told me, after I had completed the biography of Ian, that Ian had once confided to him that he did regret leaving The Avengers too soon. But, as we know, that is with the benefit of hindsight. When Ian left he felt that he was on the brink of a lucrative film career. Ian was not the type of actor to stay too long in any one role. He always believed in moving on but I’m sure that he had some misgivings about his decision AFTER the event when he realised that The Avengers had become such a worldwide cult show.”

So it seems only natural that later on in his career he would have wished for something more stable. The 1970’s was a difficult time for many as the British film industry was in decline. Without an international breakthrough in film, the main source of work was television. The decade also coincided with his personal problems with drink becoming increasingly an issue.

Many colleagues have said though that Ian should have become an international film star. And he did so nearly make that breakthrough.

I think that is what he was aiming for when he left The Avengers all those years ago.

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

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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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