Tony Henman, solicitor, gifted sporting all-rounder and father of tennis player Tim Henman – obituary

Tony Henman with his wife Jane watching their son Tim play in the Wimbledon quarter final against Mario Ancic in 2004
Tony Henman with his wife Jane watching their son Tim play in the Wimbledon quarter final against Mario Ancic in 2004 - Mike Hewitt

Tony Henman, who has died aged 84, was a respected solicitor and outstanding sporting all-rounder, who shone at hockey, cricket, tennis and squash. He passed on his love of racket sports to his three sons, notably his youngest, Tim, who in the 1990s became Britain’s most successful male player since Fred Perry 50 years earlier, achieving a world number four ranking and reaching four Wimbledon semi-finals.

Tony and his wife Jane became familiar faces during the Championships, watching Tim’s often tortuous matches on Centre Court with what the Daily Mail’s late tennis correspondent, Mike Dickson, called “magnificent, inscrutable calm”, which became “one of the great British performances of the fortnight”.

Tony Henman later admitted that this air of serenity was deceptive, and in fact he was “churning inside” at moments of high drama, such as Tim’s rollercoaster semi-final defeat in 2001 by Goran Ivanisevic, having been two sets to one up and seemingly on the brink of victory before a rain delay sent the match into its third day.

Tim Henman with his parents Jane and Tony
Tim Henman with his parents Jane and Tony

Anthony John Shirley Henman was born into a close-knit, middle-class family in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the eldest of three children. His father Albert was a local solicitor and his mother Peggy, who died young, ran an antiques shop at Summertown in Oxford.

Although a bright, curious boy, Henman’s schooldays, at New College prep school and Malvern College, were dominated not by academic pursuits but by the sporting endeavours which remained his lifelong passion. At Malvern, he captained the Winchester Fives team, enjoyed rackets and squash under the tutelage of the legendary professional Ron Hughes and played for the first team at a range of sports, winning School Colours for cricket and football.

To his chagrin, he was forbidden to compete at cross-country in his teens because of a leaking heart valve, but he managed to playing high-level sport for another six decades with no apparent ill-effects, and indeed was renowned for his pace and stamina.

At 18, he was articled to his father’s firm Henman Ballard, and after qualifying spent several years at the London solicitors Hextall Erskine. He rejoined his father’s practice in 1965, building its reputation for personal injury litigation, mainly working for major insurance companies. Always interested in people, his kindness and lack of “side” endeared him to clients and fellow lawyers alike, although his “take no prisoners” attitude on the hockey pitch led one opponent to nickname Henman “Hard Man”.

Tim Henman aged 18 with the British Junior Champion Trophy, flanked by his parents
Tim Henman aged 18 with the British Junior Champion Trophy, flanked by his parents - News Team International

It was during a cricket match while playing for the Cumberland Club against the All England that he met his future wife Jane Billington, who had come to watch her father Henry, a British tennis international, and her brother Tim in action. Jane was herself a graceful, athletic tennis and squash player, and Tony was smitten. They married a few months later, although typically the groom was sporting a broken nose and two black eyes at the wedding, having been hit in the face by a hockey ball in a county match. He then cut short their honeymoon, desperate to get back to play in a crucial club hockey fixture. Nevertheless, the union proved stable and happy, lasting over 55 years.

After the couple’s three sons, Michael, Richard and Tim, were born, the Henmans, by now living in the pretty Oxfordshire village of Weston-on-the-Green, included them in hard-fought games of cricket, tennis and hockey on the lawn. The family’s Sunday morning sessions on their hard court with tennis friends including Lord Willoughby de Broke and former Vanderbilt Club director Charles Swallow became a byword for ferocious competition.

Tim showed particular promise and at the age of three was already earnestly practising his serve and volley, using a cut-down squash racket; by six he declared he wanted to play tennis full-time.

Tim Henman's wife Lucy with Tony and Jane Henman at Wimbledon in 2003
Tim Henman's wife Lucy with Tony and Jane Henman at Wimbledon in 2003 - IAN HODGSON

He later joined the Slater squad of top young players based in Surrey and his parents bravely allowed him leave school at 16 to play full-time, but they put no pressure on him, simply supporting his decisions, the antithesis of the pushy “tennis parents” so prevalent on the junior tour. Despite Tim’s slight physique, his single-mindedness and professionalism propelled him through the ranks, until he became the standard-bearer for British tennis fans’ hopes.

Henman, a deeply private man who detested publicity, coped stoically with the inevitable media interest, both in Tim’s career and in the family’s friendship with the Middletons, near neighbours of Jane’s brother Tim, a Berkshire farmer and racehorse breeder. The couples enjoyed social tennis matches and days at Wimbledon together. The Henmans, adopting the Royal family’s mantra of “never complain, never explain”, remained scrupulously discreet, and loyally supported the Middletons as they contended with the media feeding frenzy triggered by the wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William.

Possibly the only interview Henman ever gave was in 2008 to publicise the bitter battle he led against a proposed eco-town of 15,000 houses on the edge of Weston-on-the-Green, which he dismissed as “vandalism” and “an eco-scam”. Affectionately nicknamed “The Brigadier” by fellow villagers, his forensic approach paid dividends and the plans were rejected.

Tony Henman protesting in 2008
Tony Henman protesting in 2008 - Alamy

Henman’s legal practice thrived and he established other branches in the Thames Valley before a merger with a larger practice, Freeth Cartwright, in 2012 gave him more time for his sporting passions. As well as representing Oxfordshire in squash, cricket, tennis and hockey, he turned out for the Oxford Hawks Hockey Club for over 60 years, played England seniors hockey in all age groups up to over 75s and won the European Vintage Championships in 2002.

In later life, he took up real tennis and was also a useful golfer. Despite increasing frailty he was still playing a few holes using a buggy within months of his death.

Henman was a devoted family man and enjoyed introducing his grandchildren to the sports he loved. His widow Jane and three sons survive him.

Tony Henman, born April 12 1940, died May 3 2024

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