Rear Window: The Hanleys: The perfect pedigree for a great entertainer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JIMMY Hanley and Dinah Sheridan, the parents of the Conservative Party Chairman, met in 1942 while making a film whose title Jeremy Hanley may yet be tempted to employ as a Tory battle-cry: Salute John Citizen.

Jimmy was still best known as a cocky schoolboy, cheeking the likes of Will Hay in Boys Will Be Boys (1935), but Salute John Citizen was his 'growing- up' film. He played the elder son of the house, who marries a nurse, Sheridan, before joining up. It opened around the same time as Mrs Miniver and inasmuch as both were about 'ordinary' families coping with the war they might have been the same film - but it was the American film that was successful.

The pairing was renewed, further up the social scale, in 29 Acacia Avenue, in which a couple goes on holiday leaving their pubescent children at home. All the kids can think about is sex: will Peter (Hanley) be seduced by vampish Carla Lehmann or will he deflower his tennis-playing girlfriend, Pepper (Sheridan)? It's such a bourgeois British piece that you wonder that they managed to include a reference to 'the facts of life'. J Arthur Rank was so shocked that he would not release it - though it did come out two years later, from another company. This was just as the war in Europe was ending and no one noticed it.

Sheridan, busy 'having children', as she put it, now made only an occasional film. Jimmy, under contract to Rank, was making three or four a year. The key one would be Holiday Camp (1947), which like Salute John Citizen was groping its way towards some sort of statement about the British - that, in the post-war era, they still wanted to be regimented.

Here was Mrs Huggett (Kathleen Harrison) darning socks and Mr Huggett (Jack Warner) smoking his pipe while one daughter (Hazel Court) has a romance with a smiling sailor, Hanley. There were three follow-ups and Sheridan played Hanley's wife in the last of them, The Huggetts Abroad (1949), but this time the public didn't like them much more than the critics.

He said farewell to stardom with his biggest box-office success, The Blue Lamp (1950), in which Mrs Dixon (Gladys Henson) is taking flowers to her husband (Jack Warner) in hospital when the young PC (Hanley) arrives with the bad news. 'Is he . . ?' she asks. He nods. 'I'd better put these in water,' she says, the spirit of the Blitz personified.

Hanley made a half-dozen more movies, all forgettable, and then turned up on television in Jim's Inn, an early ITV show full of product placement and commercial sponsorship. The approach was unpopular and the experience didn't do him any favours.

By this time the Hanleys had divorced and Sheridan had married Rank boss Jack Davies - not long after seeing real stardom within her grasp, even if Genevieve (1953) made bigger stars of Kay Kendall and Kenneth More. That was the first time, said the critic Richard Winnington, that a British film used sex as Hollywood did, albeit still guardedly. 'Ambrose only thinks about cars - and the other thing,' Kendall observes, to which Sheridan replies ruefully: 'Alan only thinks about cars.'

As a film-star couple, the Hanleys were never spoken of in the same way as the John Clements (she was Kay Hammond), or the Denisons (Dulcie Gray), let alone the Oliviers. He was a star, while she was just another of those English roses likely to turn up as the girl George Formby gawped at.

Nevertheless, even today when Jeremy Hanley knocks on doors on the election stump, voters of a certain age will say: 'You're Dinah Sheridan and Jimmy Hanley's son, aren't you? Ooh, they were a lovely couple.'

(Photograph omitted)