Joan Henry

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Joan Henry
Born Joan Constance Anne Henry
(1914-04-08)8 April 1914
Belgravia, London
Died 2000 (age 86)[1]
Nationality English
Notable works Who Lie in Gaol
Yield to the Night
Look on Tempests
Spouse Donald Standage
(1938 – c. 1950)
J. Lee Thompson
(1958 – late 1960s)
Children One daughter (with Standage)

Joan Constance Anne Henry (8 April 1914 – 2000) was an English novelist, playwright and screenwriter. A former débutante from an illustrious family, she was jailed for passing a fraudulent cheque in 1951 and her best-known works were based on her experiences in prison. She wrote the semi-autobiographical Who Lie in Gaol, filmed as The Weak and the Wicked, and the novel Yield to the Night, the basis for the film starring Diana Dors.

Early years[edit]

Henry was born on 8 April 1914 in Belgravia, London. She was descended from Prime Ministers John Russell (her great-great-grandfather) and Robert Peel, and was the cousin once removed of Bertrand Russell. She was raised by grandparents in Ireland after her parents separated. After returning to England and finishing her education, she made her society début in 1932.[1] She had a twin sister, who died at the age of 21.[2]

In 1938 she married army officer Donald Standage; the couple had one daughter. The marriage broke down in the late 1940s and they were divorced by 1950. After getting into debt through gambling, Henry accepted a forged cheque from a friend as a loan. She was convicted at the Old Bailey in 1951 and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.[1] She served eight months, the majority at Holloway prison, and also at Askham Grange open prison.[3]


Before her imprisonment, Henry earned a living writing romance novels.[1] She came to prominence in 1952 with the publication of Who Lie in Gaol (the title was taken from a line in Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol),[2] based on her experiences in prison, which became a best-seller. Henry was critical of Holloway prison,[3] giving accounts of brutal treatment and neglect she had witnessed. The book was the basis for the film The Weak and the Wicked (1953), directed by J. Lee Thompson with Glynis Johns playing a character based on Henry.[1]

Yield to the Night (the title was taken from Book VII of the Iliad),[1] a novel following a woman awaiting execution, was published in 1954.[4] A film version was released in 1956 with Diana Dors in the lead role.[5] Henry co-wrote the script, which was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best British Screenplay.[6] The film was again directed by Lee Thompson, who Henry married in 1958.[1]

In 1960 Henry's play Look on Tempests was staged at the Comedy Theatre in London's West End. It continued Henry's focus on the justice system, depicting the effect on the upper middle class family of a man accused of gross indecency,[7] and became the first play dealing with homosexuality to be approved for performance by the Lord Chamberlain, who had lifted a ban on the subject the previous year.[8]

Henry also wrote two television plays, Rough Justice in 1962 and Person to Person in 1967. She and Lee Thompson divorced in the late 1960s.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Joan Henry". The Daily Telegraph. 1 January 2001. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Scheffler, Judith A. (2002). Wall tappings: an international anthology of women's prison writings, 200 to the present (2nd ed.). Feminist Press at the City University of New York. p. 91. ISBN 1-55861-272-6. 
  3. ^ a b "Film of Prison Life: Free Adaptation Of Miss Henry's Book". The Times. London. 19 August 1953. p. 4; Issue 52704; col B. 
  4. ^ Henry, Joan (1954). Yield to the Night. London: Gollancz. OCLC 632438177. 
  5. ^ Cave, Dylan. "Yield to the Night (1956)". Screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  6. ^ "Film Nominations 1956". BAFTA. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
  7. ^ De Jongh, Nicholas (1992). Not in front of the audience: homosexuality on stage. Routledge. pp. 119–122. ISBN 0-415-03362-4. 
  8. ^ Pouteau, Jacques (25 March 1960). "London Sees Play of Type Formerly Banned". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 October 2010. 

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