Return of the Saint – Yesterday’s Hero

yesterday's hero

Several years ago, Simon Templar, Roy Gates (Ian Hendry) and Diskett (Tony Vogel) were part of an unofficial mission in Aden.  Mid-way through the mission something went wrong and Gates was captured by the Yemenis.  Simon and Diskett weren’t aware of this though – they thought he was dead.

But Gates was alive and, having lost an arm during the fighting, languished in an Arab prison until he was bought by the Bader-Meinhoff gang of terrorists (who wanted his expertise to train their people).  Gates was initially reluctant, but he finally realised that any life was better than the life he currently had.

Eventually he was caught by the Germans and ended up in prison there.  He’s shortly due to be released and Simon pays him a visit to caution him not to directly approach his young son Michael (Matthew Ryan) before his ex-wife Sandy (Annette Andre) has had a chance to talk to him (as Michael has grown up believing that his father is dead).

But Gates is a bitter and vengeful man and once released he’ll be set on a course of revenge.  Which will inevitably bring him into direct conflict with the Saint …..

This is a bleak and atypical Return of the Saint story.  The usual humour and byplay is pretty much absent and it’s also notable that there’s few “good” characters featured.  Gates does have his compassionate side (especially when we see him spend time with his son) but it’s obvious that his various imprisonments have warped his judgement.

Normally, you’d expect the character of the ex-wife to be written in a sympathetic way, but that’s not the case here.  Simon tells her that “in your own way, you’re as crippled and bitter as Roy is.  And that’s a pity.”

It eventually becomes clear that Gates is targeting Cleaver (Gerald Flood) who ran the Aden operation and betrayed Gates.  Cleaver (now an arms dealer) is yet another unsympathetic character (which robs his death of some of its impact).  Prior to this, we see him demonstrating some weapons to the military – although the stock footage is so grainy it’s not terribly convincing,

At the centre of the episode is Ian Hendry.  In another unusual move, he dominates the action whilst the Saint has to react to events and remains, until the end, a few steps behind.  There’s an undeniable sense of melancholy hanging over the whole episode – partly because of the script, but it’s also down to Hendry’s performance (and the reading that anybody familiar with his personal life will bring to the viewing).

Yesterday’s Hero is an uncomfortable summation of Ian Hendry’s life and career.  In the early sixties, as the star of The Avengers, he seemed to have a glittering career ahead of him, but various factors (most notably a dependance on alcohol) ensured that whilst he remained a familiar presence in films and television, he never attained the heights he should have done (and he also died rather prematurely, aged just 53 in 1984).

The following comments from Annette Andre (as quoted in the book Send in the Clowns: The Yo-Yo Life of Ian Hendry by Gabriel Hershman) about her work with Hendry on this episode tend to bear these observations out.

I didn’t have many scenes with him. In the morning he was fine. Then we broke for lunch and Ian went off on his own to the pub for lunch. When we went to get him later to take him to the location for filming he was falling down drunk. We managed to get him into the car and into the make-up room and then he walked out and did it.

There was an unhappiness to him. I never really experienced Ian being unpleasant – I was fine with him and he really liked me – but I could see that when I was trying to get him out of the pub that he could get difficult. He didn’t want to eat. I sensed a deep hurt, a sense of dissatisfaction that affected his whole career. He looked older than his age, he’d lost his hair and was on a downhill spin.

This real-life unhappiness is very much mirrored in his portrayal of Roy Gates, which means that the lines between fantasy and reality become somewhat blurred.  There’s a point later in the episode where Gates breaks into Simon’s flat and is clearly drunk – it’s an uncomfortable thought that there may not have been any acting involved.

But although this knowledge does make Yesterday’s Hero a rather hard watch at times, Hendry is always solid and professional – so whatever turmoil he felt off-screen, he still commands the frame when the camera is rolling.  Thanks to his performance, this rates four halos out of five.

7 thoughts on “Return of the Saint – Yesterday’s Hero

  1. great blog and interesting/sad about Ian Hendry. He quite often seemed to play this kind of refracted version of himself. In the Lotus Eaters for example he was a recovering alcoholic given to bouts of melancholia. Makes me wonder what it was that went so wrong for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it’s always bittersweet whenever I catch an Ian Hendry performance from the 1970’s or eaerly 1980’s, especially when the art seems to be imitating his life. One theory is that his post Avengers career, especially in films, never really took off – but it’s difficult to know for sure.


    • I think he was just an alcoholic from early on and when alcoholism is that severe there is no real explanation except the nature of the addiction itself – I’m not sure that a more ‘successful’ film career would have changed anything. But the death of his ex-wife Janet Munro certainly hit hard and his drinking worsened …All in my biography, Send in the Clowns


  3. Reading this about Ian Hendry puts the storyline of Yesterday’s Hero into perspective. It always struck me that the character of Roy Gates was a rather complex one, because he seemed to portray dualistic qualities. On the one hand he came across as a very tragic figure, and yet he was not averse to ruthlessness and manipulating those who were central to carrying out his plan. I did think that there was something slightly disturbing about the character which was reflected in a distinct tension between him and Templar, which made the episode quite unique.


  4. ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ has to be one of the strongest episodes of Return of the Saint. The very reason for its strength is purely down to guest actor Ian Hendry.

    Having watched Hendry in his other TV and film projects, he is an excellent, often underrated actor of his generation. The greatest aspect of this episode is that it is a story of a tragic man, played by an equally tragic man.

    Ian’s career was often overshadowed by his alcoholism and off screen troubles which in a way may have stopped him from enduring long term successor in becoming a leading star on the silver screen.

    This was one of the last times Ian Hendry would play an action type role – he’s still quite nimble here, and looking relatively well in his appearance (not too dissimilar to how he was in Get Carter).

    However, by the time he made guest appearances in Bergerac and the Chinese Detective in 1981, his physical appearance had deteriorated rapidly from how he was here.

    This is an excellent story, although one or two sequences look clumsy at times. The two Ian’s help to make this an enjoyable 50 minutes of viewing.


    • Thanks for that very interesting write-up. I wrote Ian’s biography, Send in the Clowns., available on Amazon. Annette Andre gave me an interesting interview about this episode. Yes, Ian always looked older than his years but there was indeed a shocking deterioration between 1978 and 1981. Such a shame …


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