Michael Henshaw ‘the cool accountant’

Licenced….to save you money.

For someone who a few years later was swanning around in a flashy sports car, Austin Powers- like, with mini-skirted 'chicks', Michael Noel Henshaw,  started modestly in 1960, as the accompanying driving licence shows,  with a 1942 black Austin saloon. Henshaw was the former tax inspector and show business wannabe who became the ‘cool accountant’ to so many media luvvies in the swinging sixties and seventies, including  the Fab Four, the Pythons, playwrights like David Mercer, David Hare and Simon Gray and writers that included  Alan Sillitoe, Ted Hughes and Basil Bunting. He even sorted out the tax problems of William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg.

Born in Derby in 1930, Henshaw attended the local Bemrose school, where his  appearance in a Shakespeare production (he is third from the left in photo ) at the age of 16, hints at an early taste for showbiz. After National Service he took the civil service exams and joined the Revenue at Shepherd’s Bush as a tax inspector, while at the same time taking a part-time course in law at London University. His big break came when his childhood friend John Dexter, who had come to London as a theatre director, introduced him to the playwright Arnold Wesker at the Partisan Coffee Bar in Soho.

In 1960 Wesker was awarded a grant of £10,000 to promote working –class theatre, and he recruited Henshaw as the administrator of Centre 42, a performance arts hub. Interestingly, it was on April 4th 1960 that Henshaw bought the black saloon (possibly his first car) and sometime in that year he seems to have  moved from digs in Kilburn to a swanky new bachelor pad at 12, Phillimore Place in up-market Kensington-- doubtless considered much more in keeping with a hip cat moving among trendy left leaning playwrights.

Under Henshaw and Wesker Centre 42 did not live up to its expectations, but it did manage to acquire the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. In 1966 the magazine company Henshaw had helped set up for Barry Miles and John Hopkins a year earlier, evolved into the radical newspaper The International Times. Henshaw became company secretary and it was he who was obliged to supply financial records when the police raided the paper’s offices not long after its inception. The IT was only rescued from a premature death by a huge fundraising event at Alexander Palace---‘the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream’. The Indica gallery, which stocked Yoko Ono’s now very valuable volume, Grapefruit, and where John met its author, also had Henshaw as its accountant, as did the adjoining Indica bookshop, and indeed the Arts Lab in Covent Garden.

At his death in 2007 some of Henshaw’s personal documents, including the Bemrose School photo and his driving licence, were sold off, along with many of the books that his clients had signed for him. Those inscribed by Alan Sillitoe are now, aptly, in the library at Nottingham University. If he is perhaps rather a forgotten figure nowadays, Michael Henshaw lives on perhaps as Austin Powers and as a fleeting figure in the published diaries of Michael Palin. Surprisingly, the ‘ cool ‘ accountant remained a bean counter into old age . At his death aged 76 he still had around a hundred clients.

[Thanks Robin. A classic oxymoron. Another candidate for the original of Austin Powers is the rags to riches and swiftly back again DJ Simon Dee. Also it is odd to think of a poet like Basil Bunting even having an accountant...]

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