Imogen Hassall was born on 25th August 1942 to a Surrey family of prolific artists and writers. John Hassall, her grandfather, was a noted illustrator and her father Christopher, a poet and lyricist known for his collaborations with Ivor Novello.
With such a background, it seemed natural that Imogen would be drawn to the stage and in 1952, she joined the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park where would study there for the next six years, before attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In 1963, Christopher Hassall suffered a fatal heart attack on a train from Kent to London; he had been running to catch it, fearing he might not make it in time to see his young daughter’s first ballet performance in Covent Garden. A year after his death, Hassall’s final work, an exhaustive biography of Rupert Brooke, was published and was widely hailed as the most candid and accurate account of the war poet’s life to date.
The sudden loss of her father affected Imogen profoundly and made her even more determined to achieve success and acclaim in her own right. However, she would struggle to make others covet her talent more than her obvious and very striking beauty. With her glossy dark hair and curvaceous figure, Imogen found herself being typecast as a ditzy sex-bomb in popular television series such as The Avengers and The Saint and was increasingly frustrated at being offered parts that, for the most part, belied her fierce intelligence and classical training. Nevertheless, Imogen’s exceptional assets and her love of revealing outfits made her tabloid fodder, earning her the titles ‘Countess of Cleavage’ and ‘Queen of Premieres.’
Imogen’s first minor film role came in The Early Bird in 1965 and in 1967, she featured in The Long Duel with stars including Yul Brynner and Trevor Howard, as well as Charlotte Rampling, another upcoming actress. By 1970, Imogen had become a familiar face on the British small screen and could also be seen in numerous films, such as The Virgin and the Gypsy, an adaptation of D. H Lawrence’s novel, the Hammer monster flick, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and she also made the brief but remarkable appearance for which she is now best remembered. In Carry On Loving, the 1970 comedy about an inept dating agency run by Sid James and his long-suffering paramour Hattie Jacques, Imogen played Jenny Grubb, a frumpy sausage factory worker, Jenny Grubb who is matched with a distinctly underwhelmed Terry Scott. A later image revamp and new career as a fashion model makes Grubb a pouting bombshell and leaves Scott feeling decidedly amorous.
Above: Imogen Hassall and Terry Scott in Carry On Loving (1970)
By the mid-1970s, both the television and films roles started to dry up and Imogen began to seek other employment, taking on casual work in a wine bar. In 1979, she made her final screen appearance in the flop, The Man From S.E.X.
In addition to her lacklustre career, her personal life was also turbulent. She was briefly married to the actor Kenneth Ives and then again to another actor, Andrew Knox, in a union that lasted merely months. Deeply disappointed by dwindling professional success and her crumbling marriage, Imogen suffered from bouts of depression and made several suicide attempts. On 16th November 1980, police were called to Imogen’s home in Wimbledon by Suzanna Leigh, her friend and fellow actress with whom she had been due to go on holiday that very morning. Imogen was found dead, her plane tickets in her hand and the cause of death an overdose of Tuinals. She was buried at the Gap Road Cemetery in Wimbledon. Andrew Knox, her former husband, would eventually take his own life in a similar manner.
In 2002, Dan Leissner published the biography, Tuesday’s Child: The Life and Death of Imogen Hassall in which he claimed ‘she would be delighted to know that we’re still talking about her.’ Possessing a personal magnetism that defied her professional accomplishments, Imogen once remarked that she had two careers ‘as actress and as glamour girl.’ Tragically, she found fulfillment in neither.
Tuesday’s Child: The Life and Death of Imogen Hassall – Dan Leissner (2002)
Carry On Actors – Andrew Russell (2011)