Too Early, Hywel…



Once Hywel Bennett was in cinemas everywhere, nearly always playing offbeat characters, from the McCartney-scored ‘The Family Way’, in which he is unable to consummate his marriage to Hayley Mills, to the Boultings’ ‘Twisted Nerve’, in which he portrayed Martin, a psychopath menacing er, Hayley Mills again. He also turned up in the superb TV version of ‘Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy’.

Bennett just died (another hero lost) but few of the obituaries mention one of his best performances. In Joe Orton’s ‘Loot’ he played Dennis, the amoral undertaker whose lover is unable to tell a lie. Surprisingly, the film perfectly captures the bleakly sardonic tone of the original play, probably because Galton & Simpson adapted it from Orton’s script, carefully opening it out without ruining its peculiar linguistics.


Bennett always managed to look attractive in a world-weary, shagged-out way, and had a distinctive voice ideally suited to Orton’s convoluted prose. In ‘Twisted Nerve’ he got to whistle Bernard Hermann’s ear-worm of a title track, which was later used in ‘Kill Bill’.  Critics hated ‘Percy’, in which he played the recipient of the world’s first willy transplant, but it was a smash success and spawned a sequel, plus it had a cult soundtrack by the Kinks.

He was one of a handful of actors who cropped up in so many British films of the times, from Michael McDowell to David Hemmings. Problems in later life changed his appearance and reduced his screen presence, but to me he will always be remembered as baby-voiced Martin and unscrupulous Dennis. His death comes one month before ‘Loot’ is due out as a remastered Blu-Ray disc.

7 comments on “Too Early, Hywel…”

  1. Graham says:

    I may have to look up some of those films. Was he Ricky Tar in Tinker, Tailor?

  2. Chris Webb says:

    Unfortunately yes. IMHO he was seriously miscast and looked uncomfortable, and didn’t seem to interact well with Alec Guinness with whom he had some key scenes.

    To me he’ll always be Shelley.

  3. Vivienne says:

    I cannot believe this. For me Hywel is always going to be that interesting young man you want to catch up with again. You would have met him at a party somewhere odd and talked about growing fig trees or something. Permanent summer of the 60s. Irreplaceable.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The Ricky Tar character was very strange – in the book and in the series both. Nasty and vicious. He didn’t come across in the series as dangerous the way he was in the book – a weapon that had to be kept under control. I always wondered if Lecarre had someone particular in mind.

  5. Chris Webb says:

    STOP PRESS – The Family Way is on Talking Pictures TV tonight at 10.

    I agree with Helen. Hywel Bennett was just too affable to play the thuggish and volatile Tarr, and didn’t fit the dark tone of the book and series. In the recent film he was played by Tom Hardy, and Bob Hoskins would have been good back in ’79.

    Still an excellent series though, Alec Guinness was brilliant. In The Pigeon Tunnel, le Carre’s rather disjointed collection of autobiographical ramblings, he describes Guinness’ thorough research for the role.

    Anyway, back on-topic, I’m going to hunt down and capture the Shelley DVD box set. Should keep me entertained for a few weeks.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Someone in the paper here today quoting from Withnail and I. Without this blog I wouldn’t have had a clue. Or clew.

  7. Joel says:

    He was also very good in a one-off play/tv drama, as a [computer] whizz trying to get inside a bank. The plot was a little too futuristic then but eerily prescient. And it hit directly on two issues – the real threat in any computer system is the human, and that senior managements are clueless about newer ‘nuts and bolts’.

    Can’t remember the programme’s title but have never forgotten the story.

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