Gun for Henry

Alan Saly as Henry Sorelli in Don't Live for Tomorrow (1973)


By Tom Soter

GUN FOR HENRY was an enigma to me. Everything about the 24-episode tape-recorder series was puzzling. And I was one of the stars and writers.

First, the name of the show itself, GUN FOR HENRY. Surely it didn’t mean give him a gun as a present, as in “I give this gun to you, Henry, happy birthday.” Then it must have been using “gun” as a verb, as in hunt him down and shoot him. If so, however, why did these would-be killers call him by his first name? The assassins of President Kennedy didn’t say, “Gun for John,” did they?

That brings us to another point: his nationality. Here he was, a British detective with an Italian last name, Sorelli, Henry Sorelli. There are Brits with Italian last names, of course, but, if he were British, based in Britain, working for a British spy group, why were all his colleagues -- his irritating partner, Billy Brine, and his dim-witted superior, “the Chief” – so obviously American? And why was his brother Scottish? (Okay, I admit that one is a little less puzzling: Christian Doherty, who played “Patrick Johnson,” the actor who supposedly played Sorelli, also voiced Patrick’s brother, “Mandy,” and in order to differentiate between them, he made Mandy Scottish – see why I get confused?)

Furthermore, was he a detective or a spy? In some episodes (“The Determined Detective”), he is referred to as a detective while in others (“The Moon Is Our Destination”), he is made out to be a James Bond-type spy.

The plots were also an enigma. I mean, what kind of world was Henry living in? In the first episode, “The Runaway Bullet,” the detective is put on trial for his life “for not doing his job correctly,” as the prosecutor puts it, which in this case was saving the life of opera singer Maria Vitti. Capital punishment for incompetence? It is a very high standard, and one that should probably be applied to the Bush Administration.

Other episodes were equally enigmatic, as Henry (see, it becomes natural to refer to him that way) encounters strange happenings. In “I’ll Never Marry Martha,” a dying man’s last words are bizarrely – and to my mind, unnecessarily – cryptic: he spits out one word, “E-elli-sore,” which the local police’s “Constable Computer” – whatever that is – quickly deciphers as “Sorelli. Sorelli. Sorelli.” Now, why didn’t the dead guy just say “Sorelli”? Isn’t it harder when you’re dying to choke out “E-elli-sore” than to just say the proper name? (Unless you grew up speaking pig latin, that is.)

And then there were the stories, which often were less puzzling if I’d seen the right television shows or movies, i.e., the ones series creator and star Christian Doherty often based his narratives on. “The Moon Is Our Destination” obviously had its genesis in James Bond’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, with Henry becoming an astronaut; “Remember,” with Henry going through a murderous déjà vu experience, was clearly cribbed from an AVENGERS episode, “They Keep Killing Steed.” And then there was the one in which Henry takes part in the robbery of a Fifth Avenue apartment house – especially fuzzy to me at the time, 1971, until I saw THE ANDERSON TAPES.

For all that – or perhaps because of that – GUN FOR HENRY was one of our most popular (i.e., fun to make) shows in the ACD universe, with bizarre plots and one of Doherty’s most engaging characters. The series certainly was one of the longest running, starting in 1969, and finishing in 1972 (almost the entire length of our tape-recorder escapades). It even outlived its origins, evolving into a series of six 1971-73 Henry Sorelli Super-8 movies, called WISHING YOU WERE DEAD, GUN FOR HENRY, BLUE (I AM INVISIBLE), WE HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN BULLET, and DON’T LIVE FOR TOMORROW. In the movies, Henry was played not by Doherty but by Alan Saly. Don’t ask me why. (Sorelli returned to the big screen when Saly reprised his role as the superspy in FLOWERS ARE FOR FUNERALS, starring Chris Griggs as Henry Sorelli Jr. in 2011.)


Listen to:

The Case of the Runaway Bullet, Part 1
Part 2
Episode 1. Taped: 1969
Introducing Henry Sorelli (Patrick Johnson) who, with his partner, Billy Brine, investigates bizarre cases. In the opener, Henry is assigned to protect an opera singer whose vengeful husband is out to kill her. Billy: Ed Booth.

The Case of the Vengeful Woman, Part 1
Episode 2. Taped: 1969
Henry is kidnapped by a bitter woman from his past who seeks revenge. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Valerie: Hedwig Zorb. Butler: Ty Phillips.

The Case of the Vengeful Woman, Part 2
Episode 3. Taped: 1969
Henry’s assistant, Billy Brine, becomes suspicious when he hears that a woman with a gun was seen with the vacationing detective. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Billy: Ed Booth.

The Case of the Wounded Englishman, Part 2
Episode 5 Taped: 1970
In the aftermath of Henry’s shooting at a party, everyone present seems to have had a motive for murder. Madame Dubois: Tricia Harper. Stevenson: Christian Doherty.

The Case of the Devious Double, Part 1
Episode 6 Taped: 1970
An impersonator threatens to replace Henry. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Billy Ed Booth.

The Case of the Devious Double, Part 2
Episode 7 Taped: 1970
Billy (Ed Booth) attempts to rescue Henry from his captors in Greece. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Boss: Tom Sinclair.

The Case of the Determined Detective
Episode 9 Taped: 1970
Henry is determined to capture those responsible for the murder of his partner, Billy (Ed Booth, who also directed). Henry: Patrick Johnson. Manson: Sam Rosen.

This Could Drive You Crazy, Part 1
Episode 13. Taped: April 3, 1971
In the first of two parts, Henry experiences bad dreams that seem to foreshadow real-life tragedy. Henry: Patrick Johnson.

This Could Drive You Crazy, Part 2
Episode 14. Taped: April 4, 1971
In the second of two parts, a brainwashed Henry attempts to kill the Chief. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Chief: Tom Soter.

A Bullet for Henry
Episode 16. Taped: April 8, 1971
Two crazy old men plan to send Henry (Patrick Johnson) to the moon and then blow it up. Jonathan: Alan Saly. Withers: Tom Soter.

Before Your Time
Episode 17 Taped: July 30, 1971
Henry investigates the strange death of a young man who seems to have died of old age. Henry: Patrick Johnson. Chief: Alan Saly.

I'll Never Marry Martha
Episode 19

The Moon Is Our Destination
Episode 20

Wishing You Were Dead
Made-for-TR Movie

Gun for Rogers
Made-for-TR Movie