Monthly Archives: February 2012

Music film review: California Jam (1974)

Deep Purple’s appearance at the California Jam on 6th April 1974 was the fiery finale to an open-air concert that also included Earth Wind and Fire, The Eagles, Black Sabbath, and Emerson Lake and Palmer (who has the misfortune of going on after their co-headliners had raised havoc).

It was the first American show for the new line-up of Purple, who now had a new singer from Redcar, David Coverdale, and a new bassist/singer from the Midlands, Glenn Hughes.  Coverdale at 22 years old was a raw talent with a rich bluesy voice and in this show he really stands out – the highlight being ‘Mistreated’, a blistering song of lost love that he co-wrote with the band’s guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore.

The DVD we have today comes from the live broadcast on the ABC network, although a version released to laserdisc and VHS in the 1980s had different camera angles and a far more satisfying view of Blackmore demolishing one of the cameras that got too close.  However the most recent release has included ‘Lay Down, Stay Down’, missing from the 1980s releases, and has an alternate cut of ‘Burn’.

In their 117 minute prime, Deep Purple show themselves to be a vibrant and passionate band, totally focused on delivering the best of their catalogue to a huge and enthusiastic audience.  Coverdale in embryo before all the Whitesnake silliness is a delight, and Hughes’ soul vibrato rounds out the new sound.  After two albums, though, Blackmore walked from the band to join and rename Elf, which became Rainbow, and another chapter of music history was born.

Deep Purple – Live in California ’74 is available on DVD from Amazon and all other online retailers.  The print isn’t that great, and where the laserdisc had stereo sound, the DVD is mono … but it is still terrific, and their version of Smoke on the Water here can raise a goosebump or two.

Silent cinema review: Faust (1926), with Philharmonia Orchestra

The Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank was the venue for last night’s screening of FW Murnau’s ‘Faust’ (1926), starring Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings and Camilla Horn, which was also the premiere of a new score by Aphrodite Raickopoulou, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra with Gabriela Montero improvising on the piano.

Faust is a German classic, based on the story of the old man who sells his soul to the devil, initially so he can heal plague victims but eventually so he can snatch back his own youth.  But Mephisto is a clever chap who is one step ahead of Faust, tricking him at every turn.  At first this shows flashes of humour – Mephisto’s dalliance with Aunt Marthe, for example – but with the introduction of Gretchen (‘an innocent girl running to a priest’) the story takes a darker turn.

With primitive special effects and some ripe performances (mainly from Jannings as the Devil and Wilhelm Dieterle – who went to Hollywood to direct – as Gretchen’s brother) Faust can be said to show its age, but still, it has power, emotion, and energy, as well as some clever and imposing shots.  The death riders through the sky.  Mephisto enveloping a whole town with the Black Plague.  The wretched Gretchen’s visions which seal her fate.  The final shots, in which the Devil’s spell is broken, and he is cast out from the presence of God by the one word which blocks his power – ‘love’.

Raickopoulou’s score fits perfectly with the film, and was played beautifully.  I could have done without the lame puns of her celebrity friend, Hugh Grant, who showed a profound ignorance of the film and its period when he introduced it.  Best to let films of this age speak for themselves.  Faust was one of Murnau’s great silent classics – the others are Nosferatu (1922, based unofficially on Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Der letzte Mann/The Last Laugh (1924), both made in Germany, and Sunrise (1928), made in the USA.

Murnau never got to enjoy a career in the talkies as he died in a car accident in 1931, with his final film Tabu released a week after his death.

Classic cinema review: Laura (1944)

Otto Preminger’s film looks on the surface to be a typical murder mystery – Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) has been murdered by a shotgun blast in the face at her flat, and Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) has been assigned to the case.  There are a handful of likely suspects including Laura’s mentor and friend Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and friend Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson).  The film was started under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian but after his dismissal, Preminger took the film to a whole new level.

Parallels may be drawn with the likes of ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Angel Face’ if you wish, and Lydecker is a direct ancestor of the waspish Addison de Witt of ‘All About Eve’, but ‘Laura’ stands on its own merits.  Dana Andrews did much of his best work for Preminger, and here is a really good example: McPherson is a cop who doesn’t seem to be easily rattled, but it is clear that this particular case, and victim, has got under his skin.  Clifton Webb is a joy to watch in every scene, while Vincent Price is something of a curio – there is no sense here of his future to come in horror classics, but he is capable of menace in this early showy role.

But it is the mysterious Laura who rules this film, even before the delicious twist which turns the mystery on its head and McPherson into quite a different person than the one we first met who talks about dames with some distain.  The script (by Jay Dratler, Betty Reinhardt, and others) is sharp, witty, and complex, and so many rewatchings are possible without the chance of getting bored.  Gene Tierney’s Laura is mysterious, beautiful and compelling, just as she should be – and when the murderer is unmasked, we can understand why they have been driven to madness by her.

A wonderful, elegant, sexy and funny film, now showing at the BFI Southbank in an extended run into March 2012.

Sport review: FINA Diving World Cup

Yesterday’s Olympic test event, at the Aquatics Centre, was the FINA Diving World Cup, which acted partly as a qualifying event for Olympic selection.  The events in last night’s programme were the Men’s 10 metre Platform and the Women’s 3 metre Synchronised Springboard.

I found the first event by far the most interesting, purely because of the courage and skill it must take to dive and perform from such a great height (and because we had medal hopes which were realised when Peter Waterfield achieved bronze). China’s Qiu Bo was a worthy gold medalist though and will probably prove hard to beat in this summer’s Games.

The judging system is very complex and depends on the number and quality of the dive, as well as the degree of difficulty.  To me, a dive is a dive and for spectators the sheer speed of the drop means that you need the slow-motion replays to see the quality and execution of the dives, twists and somersaults.  An explanation of how the scoring works (although it is included, in part, in the programme), would have been very welcome.

The springboard event does not have the same draw of the platform – and the synchronised part of it gets a little dull after watching one or two rounds.  Perhaps the women’s event does not have the same cachet, or the fact that we were clearly not going to achieve one of the first three places meant that crowd interest flagged; in any case it was very much the first event which got the cheering up within the Centre.

Theatre review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

This new production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play (first staged in 1956) visits Richmond and Milton Keynes before a planned run in the West End from April 2012.

The plot can be described as somewhat melodramatic, and in a way a blueprint for what we now recognise as basic soap opera plotting – this in no way diminishes the stature or power of the original play, but gives it a contemporary relevance which could be lost in the many references to dope fiends, consumption, and the kind of reckless property profiteering which was engaged in at the time the play is set (around 1912).

James Tyrone is an actor who failed by becoming a great commercial success in one part; in one lengthy reflective speech he remembers being praised by the great Edwin Booth for the technique he brought to his Othello and other great parts.  He still retains three sets of Shakespeare’s plays but knows his chance has gone.  His wife Mary seems at first a bundle of nerves but we soon realise the truth is far more disturbing as she is a long-time addict to morphine, which disturbs and destroys her mind with every dose.

Their children are as dysfunctional as one might expect, growing up in the Tyrone household.  James Jr is a hard drinking loafer, with no job and a fondness for whores, while Edmund is sensitive and fond of poetry (Swinburne, Rossetti) and is suffering from consumption – just like his grandfather on his mother’s side, who died of it.  The brothers both love and hate each other, and their relationship, plus the relationship each of them have with their parents (and the parents with each other) are explored throughout the four acts (slightly abridged) of this play.

David Suchet, as Tyrone Sr, has been promoted heavily as the star of this play, and is largely effective, although his accent is a little unsettled (there’s American in there, and Irish, as you would expect, but also at times a hint of Jewish).  In the quieter passages of the play and those with flashes of humour he is more convincing than in the times where he is required to show passion and anger – still, this could change as the play’s run continues.

As Mary, American actress Laurie Metcalf is hampered by an unconvincing wig and at times inaudible delivery, choosing to speak some of the character’s passages rather too quietly or quickly.  But as a ‘ghost in the past’ she does convince as a hopeless addict slowly closing herself off from the world and her family.  There have been many great Mary Tyrones in the past, and she has a lot to live up to.  I found her part was not quite as powerful or moving as it should be, and that her scenes with younger son Edmund disappointed.

As the children, Kyle Soller shows himself to be a fine young actor in the difficult and pivotal role of Edmund.  He is quite mesmerising at times, even when on the sidelines observing the more vocal members of his family.  Trevor White is not quite at the same level and I found James Jr rather a tiresome character, rather one-dimensional – I didn’t really care much about whether or not he returned from his binge in the whorehouse or not.  And his speech about being jealous of his sibling doesn’t quite work.

Taken as a whole, I went to this production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with quite high expectations, which were not quite met.  However, I feel that any shortcomings might be addressed in its regional runs before West End opening, and look forward to seeing  what the professional press make of it.

Classic cinema review: The Girl of the Golden West (1938)

This film was one of the series of eight films featuring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, the MGM operetta songbirds.  ‘Girl of the Golden West’ was fourth in the series, made in black and white and set in the Wild West of California, where MacDonald runs a gambling saloon and Eddy is a bandit on the run (!).

Although it isn’t quite on the same level as their best films (‘Rose Marie’, ‘Maytime’, and ‘Sweethearts’), this film is enjoyable.  MacDonald is pursued by the town’s sheriff (Walter Pidgeon), and befriended by the simple Alabama (Buddy Ebsen, known most these days for The Beverley Hillbillies).  However once Eddy determines to pursue her – in disguise of course – she’s smitten, and the ending is fairly obvious.

Songs include Soldier of Fortune, Ava Maria, Dance With Me, and a number of others.  However Eddy’s make-up is faintly ridiculous and the set is a bit on the cheap side for Metro.  A mixed bag of pleasures, then.

For Merlin: a tribute to Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson (1936-2011)  was one of the most unique and dynamic actors to appear on stage or screen.  Born in Hamilton, Scotland, to an industrial family, he was brought up in Birmingham but never lost his Scottish burr or roots.  After training at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama, and completing his National Service, his professional debut came in 1960 at Dundee Rep.

By the end of the 1960s he was already marked out as a major and interesting performer on the stage, and with his film debuts in 1968 (The Bofurs Gun, Inadmissable Evidence, The Reckoning) a star was born – or at least should have been.  However Williamson was known for being difficult and often walked out in the theatre during performances.  His talent was perhaps eventually as legendary as his temper.  However, when he focused and produced the best of his work, he had no equal.

He played ‘Hamlet’ in the film directed by Tony Richardson (1969), and Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Seven Per Cent Solution’ (opposite Robert Duvall as Watson, 1976, directed by Herbert Ross).  For Richard Lester he appeared as Little John in ‘Robin and Marian’ (with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn in the leads) and acquitted himself well, producing a sympathetic yet tough character.  But it was in 1981 when he appeared as the sorcerer Merlin in the film ‘Excalibur’ where his edgy personality and unusual voice took centre stage and provided one of his most memorable roles.

By the 1990s Williamson’s career was taking some diverse directions – he appeared on stage as John Barrymore in the play ‘Jack: A Night On The Town’, while on film he essayed a great comic performance as Mr Badger in Terry Jones’ ‘The Wind In The Willows’.  His final film performance came in 1997 in ‘Spawn’ – since then, he has concentrated on his music (he was a fine singer) and recordings with his band were completed shortly before his death.

Williamson was married once (1971-77) to the actress Jill Townsend.  The official website for Nicol Williamson, run by his son Luke, can be found at, which includes a number of rare recordings and information.

Book review: Inside Updown (new edition)

This sumptuous revised edition of Richard Marson’s book, ‘Inside Updown’, published by Kaleidoscope, covers the original series of London Weekend Television’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, with appendices on its official sequel, ‘Thomas and Sarah’, and, new to this edition, the complete script of the proposed film (which would have featured Richard Chamberlain alongside key members of the television series cast).

A large hardback back running at over 300 pages, filled with photographs, episode synopses, and interviews with cast and crew, this is an essential tribute to one of ITV’s greatest period dramas.  Originally broadcast in 68 episodes from 1971-1975, it has become a popular ratings winner during repeat showings, and has also become successful in other countries, notably the United States, where selected episodes ran in the Masterpiece season.

One chapter which was considered too large to include in this edition – on the BBC reboot of the series in 2010 – can be downloaded via the official website for the series at

Sport review: UCI Track Cycling World Cup

This year the World Cup is staged in London’s new Olympic Park, at the Velodrome, as a test event for the main fortnight later in 2012.  The Velodrome (once you reach it, as it is a lengthy trip through security and then – as the site is not yet finished – on buses to the venue itself) is impressive, a large, bright space with a track of Siberian pine, a vast auditorium with underseat heating and good sightlines – but variable WiFi provision – and a variety of food and drink stands, a small Olympic shop, and a decent number of toilets.

It was my first track cycling event and although some of the races were hard to follow, there were decent enough scoreboards and a constant commentary.  There were Team GB world records and appearances from names which would seem to be household words for those who are sport afficiandos.  There was the added bonus of a twitter hashtag which allowed related messages to be posted on the big screens during the lengthy points race in particular.

Although I wouldn’t call myself a fan of this particular sport you can certainly appreciate the skill and preparation that goes into these races from the athlete’s perspective; it is also good to see so many younger names coming up, as well as the veterans who will be taking their final bows at the 2012 Olympics.

Concert review: Katherine Jenkins

Katherine Jenkins is a big favourite of my husband’s, so we went along to see her at Hammersmith’s HMV Apollo on Thursday night (incidentally the Apollo is a former Gaumont cinema and still boasts many original features in an auditorium that escaped sub-division in its screening days, including a vast foyer space and period lighting).

Jenkins is a crossover artist, which means she sings both opera and contemporary songs.  Muddy sound blighted her opening song ‘Your Silhouette’ (a rather oddly ranged song about a relationship break-up), and we were also treated to the theme of the evening, veiled references to her own personal romantic problems as she split with her partner just before the start of the tour.

Opera numbers fared rather well, although it is hard to judge the depth of a voice which is amplified by microphones; still, the ‘Carmen Gypsy Dance’, ‘Filles de Cadiz’, and the numbers from Kismet (‘And This Is My Beloved’) and Phantom of the Opera (‘All I Ask Of You’, nicely sung in duet with American new boy Nathan Pacheco) came across with some emotional punch.

From her most recent album, Daybreak, the songs ‘Ancora Non Sai’ (a pleasing waltz) and ‘Black is the Colour’ (a folk number I associate most with Christy Moore) were excellent – the radio-friendly number ‘Break it to My Heart’ less so.  And if I had one wish I would have Jenkins drop her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ as it quite painful to hear a complex song reduced to a simple pop ditty by a singer who doesn’t understand it!

After the interval we were treated to a comic interlude with questions and pointers from the audience (including a teenager who wanted to treat Jenkins to her ‘favourite pasty’ in Greggs, and a family who dedicated ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ to their ninety-year-old father).  And indeed, this was the song which ended a concert which clearly pleased her fans, but is unlikely to win any new converts.

Crossover artists are generally safe propositions who perform in overpriced shows (tickets here were an average price of £60) – and her special guest Nathan Pacheco is no exception, entertaining with the usual tenor fare of ‘Funiculi Funicular’ and ‘Nessun Dorma’, giving a good stab at ‘Danny Boy’, but coming a bit unstuck with ‘Caruso’ (which is perhaps forever associated with Pavarotti).

Classic comedy: Fawlty Towers – The Hotel Inspectors

This episode is the one where Basil is notified of the impending visit of a hotel inspector, and of course immediately goes out of his way to please the wrong person.  A lovely guest appearance from Bernard Cribbins (‘I’m not a violent man, Mr Fawlty’), a bit of farce with Polly over an omelette and a request to shut up, and a finely timed scream at the end. 

John Cleese undoubtedly found the role of his life in the bossy and unhinged hotelier, trapped in an awful Torquay hotel with his fussy and domineering wife Sybil (Prunella Scales).  Their waiter/dogsbody Manuel (‘from Barcelona’) may be a stereotype from a time when an international mix of neighbours was very rare, but as a comic creation he is so well drawn he remains amusing.

The Hotel Inspectors is one of the best of the series, tightly written, memorable, and doesn’t have a misplaced or unnecessary word in the scripts.  Just don’t choose that particular place of repose for your seaside holiday!

The original Avenger: a tribute to Ian Hendry

Born in Ipswich in 1931, the late Ian Hendry is one of the UK’s lost screen stars, only really remembered now by archive television buffs.  While others in his peer group became household names (Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave in particular, who were both in the same year at Central School of Speech and Drama), his career floundered into character parts after a strong initial start.

Now thought of as something of a cult actor (if at all), he seems to have been a complex character, ambitious, something of a hellraiser (but one who wrote songs and poetry), and with a love of the sea (spending most of his life in the spotlight living on Pharaoh’s Island in the River Thames, near Shepperton).

His full name was Ian Mackendrick Hendry, reflecting his roots with a Scottish father.  His early jobs included working as an estate agent, a stunt motorcyclist, and working in amateur dramatics as a clown’s stooge – his professional debut took place in 1956, when he was already a mature twenty-six years old, with an uncredited role on screen in the film ‘Up in the World’, and the following year appearing in a succession of stage roles at the Oxford Playhouse.

Further small roles in 1957 (in the film ‘The Secret Place’), 1958 (in a succession of episodes of the early medical soap ‘Emergency: Ward 10’), and 1959 (a small role as a rehearsing actor in the Laurence Harvey film ‘Room at the Top’; an appearance in the film ‘The October Wedding’, and episodes of ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Television Playwright’) led to his first major role, as the physician assisting with crime in ‘Police Surgeon’, in which he played Dr Geoffrey Brent – the surviving episode shows an actor with a raw sex appeal and personality.  Also in 1960 were appearances in episodes of ‘Probation Officer’ , ‘Inside Story’, and ‘In the Nick’, with another uncredited role in the film ‘Sink the Bismarck’ as a naval officer.

But it was the role of Brent, in a dozen episodes of ‘Police Surgeon’, that led directly to his breakthrough role in one of the great iconic series of the 1960s, ‘The Avengers’.  We may think now of this series as being about the bowler-hatted John Steed and a succession of strong-willed and physically-adept ladies, but the original premise was avenging the murder of the fiancee of Dr David Keel (Hendry), and Steed was simply a second lead.  Of the twenty-five episodes recorded for series one of ‘The Avengers’ only two and a half remain, a sad reflection of the policy of wiping unwanted television programmes no longer required for repeat screenings or overseas sales.  The sole remaining episode for years was ‘The Frighteners’, which was a revelation to me when viewing on a Channel 4 repeat screening in 1993.  It was exciting stuff, it was proper action, cops and robbers yes, but not a comedy as the series became in its later seasons.  The loss of most of the first series of ‘The Avengers’ and thus of Hendry’s compassionate, calm and yet tough Dr Keel is one of the great tragedies of archive television wipings.   He is the embodiment of my ideal television hero.

At the same time as ‘The Avengers’, Hendry would be cast in a television play called ‘Ben Spray’, an entry in the ITV Television Playhouse.  This would seem to have survived, but I have been able to track down very little information about it.

Production of ‘The Avengers’ being held up during the 1962 Equity strike, the dazzling young actor would gain the prize of a film contract, and temporarily turn his back on the security of a television lead role.  In hindsight it might be true to say that this was a huge mistake, but surely at the time it must have seemed the pinnacle of a career which had begun to catch fire – and the first film in which he played the lead, ‘Live Now, Pay Later’, a prototype of the now more familar ‘Alfie’, would seem to support that theory.  As Albert, a salesman who ascends the ladder while romancing the lady clients he encounters, Hendry is a mix of charm and energy, a wide boy who overreaches himself but picks himself up again to try another day.  In support were names like June Ritchie, Nyree Dawn Porter, and, making his screen debut, a very youthful Peter Bowles.  The film stands up well today but because of ownership issues and poor distribution is not remembered and has become rather obscure.

A frustratingly missing television role in the play ‘A Case for Treatment’ (later filmed with David Warner), followed, then an ‘Armchair Theatre’ entry, ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’ (which paired him with the actress Janet Munro, who would become his second wife, following his divorce from film make-up expert Joanna), and ’54 Minute Affair’ (an entry in the Drama ’63 series) hot on its heels.  A trio of films which were really at best comfortable B entries premiered in 1963 – ‘Girl in the Headlines’ (a decent enough watch, but not spectacular), ‘This is My Street’, and ‘Children of the Damned’.  Although still gaining leads, Hendry’s career was beginning to slow down and his descent into a character player was already in evidence.  It could be argued that ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’ was his last really interesting leading role, a drama which is frustrating to watch but also extremely absorbing due to the obvious screen chemistry between him and Munro, with whom he would go on to have a turbulent and ultimately tragic marriage.

1965 saw two memorable supporting roles, as Michael, the married boyfriend of Yvonne Furneaux in Roman Polanski’s horror thriller ‘Repulsion’, and as the sadistic Staff Sergeant Williams in the tough Army prison film from Sidney Lumet, ‘The Hill’.  In both he was excellent and managed to upstage his more showy co-stars, particularly Sean Connery in the latter film.  During the same year he appeared in two plays for television on ‘Theatre 625’, Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ and Clive Exton’s ‘Are You Ready for The …’, plus a final appearance for ‘Armchair Theatre’ in ‘A Cold Peace’, and an excellent guest spot in the Patrick McGoohan vehicle ‘Danger Man’ in ‘Say it with Flowers’.

In 1966 Hendry again landed a major television role in ‘The Informer’ – of which all twenty-one episodes are sadly lost.  This was a very popular series which led to an appearance on the greatest showcase on children’s television at the time, the storyteller on ‘Jackanory’.   Then it was back to the familiar tread of character roles in the films ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘The Southern Star’, while also finding time to appear in Roger Moore’s tongue in cheek series ‘The Saint’ in the two-part episode ‘Vendetta for the Saint’, enjoyable fluff as you would expect for that series.

In 1969 he first teamed with his future ‘Lotus Eaters’ co-star Wanda Ventham in an episode of ‘The Gold Robbers’, while a sci-fi re-imagining of the story of Don Quixote in 1970 placed him in the comedy ‘The Adventures of Don Quick’ (of which one episode of six survives).  1971 was a year of some disappointment as he lost out on the plum lead role of Jack Carter in ‘Get Carter’ to Michael Caine (the second such loss, as he had been considered for ‘Zulu’ back in 1963; however, this time he had been cast before Caine came along).  He had to be content with a supporting role of driver Eric Pace instead, a pivotal role, but clearly a crushing disappointment, and the tension between the actors made for a couple of crackling scenes in the finished film.

By 1971 Hendry’s marriage to Janet Munro had disintegrated, with both of them reported as having problems with alcohol.  Their divorce was quickly followed within a year by Munro’s death at the age of thirty-eight from an heart attack, a blow from which her ex-husband never recovered.  They had two daughters together, Sally and Corrie.  Hendry went on to marry Sandra Jones, who had been the girls’ nanny, and a further daughter, Emma, was born to the couple.

Appearances in ‘The Persuaders’, ‘Suspicion’, the film ‘The Jerusalem File’, and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ eventually led to what he (and I) consider to be his best role on television, that of Erik Shepherd in ‘The Lotus Eaters’.  His portrayal of the recovering alcoholic settled in Crete with his mysterious wife was outstanding.  This series should have propelled him back to the public consciousness, but it does not seem to be the case, and although well received, the series ended in 1973 after 15 episodes, partly due to his failing health due to alcoholism and his growing reputation for being difficult to work with (a perception Wanda Ventham dismisses, however, in an interview on the DVD release of the series).

The Vincent Price film ‘Theatre of Blood’ was the first time I ever saw Ian Hendry in anything, as the head of a group of critics who had given their honest opinion on the acting talents of the ham actor Richard Lionheart, who then vows to dispatch them all in the manner dictated by Shakespeare.  Fellow critics include Harry Andrews, Dennis Price, Robert Morley, Arthur Lowe, and Coral Browne, and they were dispatched in inventive and gory methods.  In an interesting twist of fate, Lionheart’s daughter was played by Avengers lovely Diana Rigg.  Anyway, once I saw this film I was smitten by this attractive and dynamic actor (who had died by the time I first saw the TV showing) and I have been interested in him ever since.

His last really good film role was as the geek in ‘The Internecine Project’ in 1974, which starred James Coburn – another film which does not get much exposure nowadays.  Nervy and bespectacled, Hendry was as watchable as ever, and definitely a high point in a starry cast.  But by the time he guested in ‘The Sweeney’ (and played stooge to Tommy Cooper on one of his shows) he was starting to show signs of deterioration on the screen, which was sad to watch.  There would be occasional glimpses of the old Hendry in appearances in ‘Thriller’ (in the episode ‘Killer With Two Faces’) and ‘The New Avengers’ (in the episode ‘To Catch A Rat’, where he is greeted by Patrick McNee’s Steed as ‘old friend’) but they were getting few and far between.  A double episode of ‘Supernatural’ is probably best left in the past, as should his appearance with moustache as Thrush Feather in Joan Collins’ ‘The Bitch’ in 1979.  However in 1978 he appeared on stage at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, so he must have still be able to perform with lucidity at times.

The television series ‘For Maddie With Love’ reunited him with Nyree Dawn Porter and took some focus away from his widely publicised money problems (following attempts to pay off former wife Munro’s debts), and recent sight of an episode (on the Network release ‘Soap Box’) confirms that this was a good role for him – if perhaps a little insensitive, as he was cast as a husband dealing with the impending death of his wife – and I hope the series gets a full DVD release.  In the same year, 1980, he appeared in the film ‘McVicar’ in an uncredited role, but a memorable one.

His final years, it seems, were troubled ones but he remained employed to the end, in episodes of ‘Smuggler’ and ‘Bergerac’, in a recurring role in ‘Jemina Shore Investigates’ (from which he was unfortunately fired due to his drinking and unreliability), and finally, in the soap ‘Brookside’.  Perhaps he was regarded with fondness by colleagues in the business who made allowances for any shortcomings.  A sad final public appearance on Patrick Macnee’s ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1984 closed the curtain on a long but sometimes rocky career, and Ian Hendry died on Christmas Eve that year from an internal haemorrhage, his health and looks destroyed at the age of just fifty-three.

I don’t believe in dwelling on the personal problems on those in the public eye, but the story of Ian Hendry and his decline is a heartbreaking one.  Blessed with good looks and talent when he first appeared on the screen, his star quickly fell (some say due to his refusal to wear a toupee once he started losing his hair), and he was unjustly replaced in some key roles in which he would have shone.  Perhaps he just never found the right role to keep him up there as a leading star.  I feel he has also been dismissed as simply a drunk or a tragic figure when there was undoubtedly much more to the man.  Much of his work has been lost or become unavailable, which means he can not properly be assessed alongside his peers born around the same time (Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Michael Jayston, Ian Holm, David Janssen, Robert Vaughn, Robert Shaw).  I feel that were more work to come to light he would be reassessed as one of our great acting talents.

For me, Hendry should have been one of our greatest film exports, and whether it was fate or his own doing, the fact that this did not happen is a missed opportunity.  I salute the original Avenger, with affection.

Ian Hendry’s television roles – the ones which were wiped:

  • Emergency: Ward 10 (all his appearances)
  • Television Playwright (27 episodes of 20 missing, including Ian’s)
  • Inside Story (complete series missing)
  • Probation Officer (78 of 109 episodes missing, including Ian’s)
  • Police Surgeon (12 episodes of 13 missing)
  • The Avengers (only 2 and a half episodes of series 1 remain)
  • BBC Sunday Night Play: A Suitable Case for Treatment
  • Blackmail: The Case of the Phantom Lover / The Man Who Could See
  • ITV Play of the Week: Beyond the Horizon
  • The Informer (complete series missing)
  • Jackanory: Stories from East Anglia and the Fens (all Ian’s episodes missing)
  • The Adventures of Don Quick (5 of 6 episodes missing)
  • Late Night Theatre: We’re Strangers Here

Existing, but not commercially available:

  • Drama ’63: 54 Minute Affair
  • Armchair Mystery Theatre: Time Out of Mind / Flight from Treason
  • Theatre 625: Miss Julie / Are You Ready For The …
  • ITV Play of the Week: Crossfire / On the Island
  • Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph / A Cold Peace
  • ITV Sunday Night Theatre: A Summer Story / Dangerous Corner / Love Doesn’t Grow on Trees
  • ITV Playhouse: The Tycoon / A Splinter of Ice / The High Game / Thursday’s Child
  • Dial M for Murder: Contract
  • Churchill’s People: March on Boys
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Silent cinema review: Salome (1923)

The Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre last night played host to a screening of the Nazimova classic silent ‘Salome’, based on the play by Oscar Wilde, and designed and costumed from the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley.

Charlie Barber’s percussion-based music, punctuated by singing in Hebrew, fits perfectly with the strange story of the daughter of Herodias and the prophet John the Baptist.  In a costume which includes a wig adorned with white globes glowing like stars, Nazimova (already a mature woman in 1923 and hardly the innocent child the part demands) pouts and grimaces at her stepfather’s attentions.    But he is the powerful Tetrarch and should not be disobeyed.

British-born Nigel de Brulier plays the mysterious Prophet John, the ‘man who has seen God’.  He is perhaps best known as a succession of cardinals, bishops, judges and other such characters in both silent and sound pictures up to his death in 1943.  His sad face and expressive eyes are perfect for the head which will drive Salome to frenzy and eventual destruction.

Mitchell Lewis is the randy Herod, who first lusts after Salome and then recoils from her in horror after hearing the price she demands for dancing in front of him.  Lewis would continue to make uncredited and small roles for the cinema for another thirty years after this film.  As his wife, and the mother of Salome, Rose Dione, the French actress, is effectively raging at the threat to her position as the first lady of the country.

But this is Nazimova’s film, and rightly so.  Her second costume change, to a silver wig and many veils as she dances, is stunning, and for a woman of over forty she moves like a young lady and passes (just about) as the picture of innocence.  Shown in a lovely tinted print, this film retains its power and is faithful to its source material.

Theatre review: Master Class

Fresh from Broadway with three of the original cast, this play focusing on the masterclasses given by the opera diva Maria Callas to fledgling singers is very much a star vehicle for Tyne Daly (still best known for playing Mary Beth Lacey in the famous cop series of the 1980s).

Callas, in the 1970s, had lost her voice by this time but still displayed verve, wit and energy.  Part of this play focuses on the classes but our eyes are always on Daly, who expertly works the audience to her advantage.  The remainder is set in a memory of La Scala, with the recordings of the real Maria Callas showing what a wonderful singer she was, as her later self shares memories of her childhood, affair with Aristotle Onassis, early marriage to a much older man, and life’s disappointments.

On a limited run at the Vaudeville Theatre until April, this play is written by Terrence McNally, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, and features (alongside Daly in the lead) Jeremy Cohen as the pianist, Gerard Carey as the stagehand, and Dianne Pilkington, Naomi O’Connell, and Garrett Sorenson as the student singers.  They sing well, but they are not the focus.

Master Class is enjoyable as a one-woman show with characters in the fringes.  In an odd way it reminded me of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which centred around the hard-drinking journalist and his social pastimes, and former lovers.

Theatre review: Travelling Light

Currently playing in rep at the National Theatre’s Lyttleton, this comic drama by Nicholas Wright about the birth of the movies and the influence of the Jews is a delightful mix of stage business and screen whimsy.  Although not in the lead role, Antony Sher has been topped billed and heavily publicised throughout the planning of this piece, which is crisply directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The story begins in 1936 as a successful director in Hollywood looks back at his youth in a small town in Eastern Europe, a place so remote that the advent of moving pictures and the stories they tell comes as an amazing surprise.  Motl Mendl (as he was originally known) inherits a projector and camera from his late father and a set of Lumiere prints – these spur him on to make his own efforts, first vignettes showcasing the daily lives of his neighbours, but then under the financial support of mill-owner Jakob (Sher) he starts to develop more elaborate stories, featuring pretty assistant Anna (Lauren O’Neill), who looks much more luminous in the camera’s eye than she does on the stage, saying something about the mystique and fakery of the silver screen.

The second half, once we move to Hollywood and start to unravel a story featuring a character played by the same actor as young Mendl, becomes a bit obvious and leads to an unsatisfying conclusion.  However, the main story has fizz, humour and charm.  And as the older Mendl Paul Jesson adds some finesse to an underwritten role, and Antony Sher is always worth turning up to see.


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

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Lover of good food, good wine and all things London-related - theatre, music, history and Arsenal FC being some of my particular passions. Join me on my travels around this amazing city and beyond...

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Uncovering the lost history of British TV Drama


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