In the June 25, 1972 issue of the Chicago Tribune there appears a profile of Peter Sellers written by the paper’s film critic Gene Siskel. The article focuses on some serious health problems Sellers had recently undergone, specifically “eight heart attacks in one day.” Sellers seemed to be recovering well, in part due to a newfound interest in yoga.
The article does not mention what triggered those “eight heart attacks in one day.” According to Wikipedia, on the night of April 5, 1964, prior to having sex with his wife Britt Ekland, Sellers took amyl nitrites as a sexual stimulant in his search for “the ultimate orgasm” and suffered a series of eight heart attacks over the course of three hours as a result. This unfortunate medical outcome forced Sellers to withdraw from the filming of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid; he was replaced by Ray Walston.
Knowing that Sellers was likely the world’s most famous actorly collaborator of Stanley Kubrick’s, having appeared to spectacular effect in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita, Siskel naturally inquired as to Sellers’ opinion of A Clockwork Orange, which had been out for a few months and had sparked intense discussion over the role of violence in the movies.
Much to Siskel’s surprise, it turns out that Sellers’ opinion of the movie was unequivocal: he hated it.
Sellers: I hated ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ I thought it was the biggest load of crap I’ve ever seen for years. Amoral. I think because of the violence around today it’s lamentable that a director of Stanley Kubrick’s distinction and ability should lend himself to such a subject. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up that book [the Anthony Burgess novel upon which the film is based], read it, and put it down. But to make it as a film, with all the violence we have in the world today – to add to it, to put it on show – I just don’t understand where Stanley is at.
Siskel: Are you saying that it will influence people to commit violence that they would otherwise not commit?
Sellers: I think it adds to it.
Most fascinating (and in a way, hilarious) is a passage later in the profile, which comes when Siskel is trying to get Sellers to admit that it’s okay for movies to handle violence as a subject. Sellers interrupts: “I must tell you first of all that I’m a yogi. I am against violence completely. Hare ommm. So you now know why. So there’s really no point in asking any more questions about it.”
Hoffman is one of the most obscure films in the career of Peter Sellers, who hated the 1970 comedy-drama so much that he asked to buy up all of the prints and start over again from scratch. He needn’t have bothered, as the strange little movie was barely released in UK theatres at all and had its debut American screening in 1982 after he was already dead. I caught it on a low rent UHF channel that ran old B&W TV shows, wrestling, Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, Marx Brothers and WC Fields movies, Australian women in prison soap operas, and flop films like this one in the late 70s or I probably would never have heard of it myself. Hoffman is a cult film with a very small cult.
Some people say it’s Sellers’ “best” performance” but I think that’s a contrarian film snob taking it way too far. Having said that, it is, for sure, one of his most interesting roles and a fascinating film that is basically just two very, very fine actors at work. Most of the film takes place in the same rooms. (The somewhat play-like material had been done before on television by director Alvin Rakoff with Donald Pleasance.)
Sellers’ intense dislike of Hoffman apparently stemmed from what he regarded as this being the closest he got to his revealing his true self onscreen. When not hiding behind an accent or make-up, the actor often claimed that he had no identity whatsoever outside the roles that he played. If, in fact, the odd, manipulative, somewhat psycho aging businessman Sellers played in Hoffman is close to how he saw himself, well, that’s… well… it’s very interesting.
Dull, creepy—even sinister-seeming—Benjamin Hoffman has an unrequited crush on his pretty secretary, Miss Smith, played by a young Sinéad Cusack at the very beginning of her career. When he discovers that her fiance is involved in a criminal activity, he blackmails her into spending a week with him, with just three weeks to go before their wedding when he will lose her forever. She reluctantly agrees and Hoffman behaves cruelly, playing mindgames with her until revealing himself to be a very lonely and pathetic soul. If Sellers saw a too-close for comfort version of himself onscreen in Hoffman, it would speak volumes about his legendary pathologies! What must the man have been like in private if THIS performance disturbed him so much? Yikes! (It’s worth noting that Sellers’ former writing and performing partner Spike Milligan sent Britt Ekland a congratulatory telegram when her divorce from Sellers became final in 1968!)
I’ve read Hoffman described as an “offbeat” love story, but I don’t know how many would agree with that, especially women.
Hoffman‘s moody music was composed by Ron Grainer, he of the Doctor Who theme fame.
These various tales of Kubrick from The Stanley and Us Project were originally included as part of a documentary by directors Mauro di Flaviano, Federico Greco, Stefano Landini on Stanley Kubrick.
In 1997 during the course of making the original Stanley and Us documentary, the trio recorded over seven-and-half hours’ worth of interviews, but only used a small percentage of this in the finished film. After Stanley and Us was released in 1999, they packaged the interviews in to 30-minute shows for Italian television’s RAI channel.
Over the past two years as part of the on-going Stanley and Us Project interviews have been appearing on YouTube and include such gems as waspish critic, the late Alexander Walker explaining why Kubrick was in awe of Peter Sellers, and why Sellers was mad; daughter Katharina Kubrick talking about the “crazy time” after the release of A Clockwork Orange; designer Ken Adam on Kubrick verses Bond; the legendary actor Murray Melvin discussing 57 takes on Barry Lyndon; editor Gordon Stainforth on why Kubrick was always right; Darth Vader actor David Prowse on “one-take Kubrick”; actor Michael Tarn on why the script was the book; executive producer Jan Harlan on Kubrick’s use of time; and Kubrick’s wife Christiane on Stanley’s acceptance speech video for Directors Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award and why he didn’t do interviews; and Walker again, this time on Kubrick’s funeral.
More tales of Kubrick from ‘Stanley and Us,’ after the jump…
You may not know the name Graham Stark, but you will certainly recognize this stony-faced comic actor from the dozens of British movies in which he appeared, such as the second Inspector Clouseau film A Shot in the Dark, Alfie, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, The Magic Christian, and Revenge of the Pink Panther. Stark also provided voices for The Goon Show, and regularly featured in TV comedies like The Benny Hill Show and Sykes. When he died last year, at the age of 91, Stark was described as an actor who was frequently cast in supporting roles, but never quite achieved stardom:
“Stark moved on the periphery, appearing in nearly 80 films, often as the fall-guy or put-upon sidekick.”
Stark was regarded in the film world as Sellers’ sycophantic sidekick, who would do anything to brown nose his famous friend. The character actor John Le Mesurier once said of their relationship:
“Graham Stark is the only man in London with a flat up Peter Sellers’s arse.”
Some of the strange things Graham Stark did to appease his friend Sellers have been well documented in various biographies, most assiduously by Roger Lewis in his superb The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (the UK edition not the anemic US version). In this massive volume, Lewis detailed how Stark “had fetched and carried for his pal,” and:
had been so devoted to him, indeed, he’d even allowed Sellers to lock him in the boot of his car, on the pretext of getting him to locate the source of an annoying squeak.
An article Lewis wrote, ten years after Sellers’ death in The Daily Telegraph, he joked about their odd relationship, explaining how:
As a reward for his services, Stark used to be given Sellers’s discarded cameras or hi-fi equipment. He had parts in the Pink Panther films. He was best man at various Sellers weddings, and was taken on holiday to Paris and New York. Stark was the one constant element in Sellers’s zig-zag life, and he didn’t object when Sellers dressed him up as Hitler and had him parade along the Hong Kong waterfront, where he ran into a party of Jewish tourists.
Instead of “laughing along with this,” Stark had his lawyers send a letter threatening legal action:
...three days after the article was published, I received a ferocious letter from Carter-Ruck. Well, not a letter exactly. A declaration of war. “It is untrue that Peter Sellers and/or Blake Edwards talked to our client excitedly of a new penis-enlarging ointment and went to enormous trouble organising a mail-order address in Copenhagen, whence a confederate sent our client a tub of rancid garlic butter.”
Carter-Ruck continued: “Due to the gravity of the allegations our client will require a Statement in Open Court and accordingly proceedings for libel will immediately be issued.” The name and address of my solicitors was demanded, who could accept service of a writ. As, only the previous year, Carter-Ruck had checked a manuscript of one of my own books for defamation, and had charged me £2,415 for the privilege, I suggested that they serve the writ on themselves. (Not my exact wording by any means.)
Lewis “couldn’t take any of it seriously – the paranoid overreaction; the disappearance of common sense and smug pomposity of the legal profession; the sanctimony; the Kafkaesque nincompoopery.” The legal process dragged on for several years, even going to the Court of Appeal. But these actions revealed a far more troubling, and horrific side to Graham Stark.
In August 1990, Lewis and the paper’s lawyers received a letter from a Mrs Shirley Cheevers:
Mrs Cheevers said that “Graham Stark had to creep away pretty smartish with his tail between his legs” when her friend’s niece, then a minor, had visited the actor in a television studio, where she’d gone in a group to watch a recording. Stark “picked her up and showed her a good time”. When she went back to boarding school, her widowed mother “was horrified to discover a pile of letters from Stark, giving in great and obscene and graphic detail descriptions of what he was going to do to her next holiday and what he had done to her already.”
Her family took the documents to a firm of solicitors, Tatton, Gaskell & Tatton, who were ready to take Stark fully to task, but “her mother felt she could not cope with it all and drag her daughter into it anymore”. Stark got away with just a warning and an injunction to keep clear of the schoolgirl. Mrs Cheevers concluded: “None of them has ever forgotten this incident. It has coloured their lives in one way and another ever since.” (It says a lot about the Sixties that no one thought to go to the police.)
Richard Sykes decided to investigate. “I do not have any great hopes,” he said, “but it is worth a try.” By October 1990, however, he had located the child’s surviving family in Hove, East Sussex. Her aunt wrote: “I confirm that my niece was made a Ward of Court in 1967 following our discovery of very explicit correspondence from Graham Stark, including one called The Lesson … The whole episode was a dreadful shock and affected all our lives for a very long time. My niece was corrupted both physically and mentally by this awful man.”
Lewis was incredulous that this was the same man who was attempting to punish both himself and the newspaper for presenting him as:
“contemptible, sycophantic and self-debasing parasite who had willingly allowed himself to be humiliated and treated as a stooge by Peter Sellers, in return for the latter’s patronage and largesse”
Which was surprising considering the number of defense witnesses, including Spike Milligan, film producer Roy Boulting, writer Wolf Mankowitz, presenter David Jacobs and scriptwriter Frank Muir, who all agreed that Stark was “a creepy, humourless sleazeball and hanger-on.”
As Lewis goes onto explain, the child’s aunt had discovered an incriminating stash of letters sent by Stark to her niece, which detailed the actor’s obscene desires for the child:
From the set of a film he was making at Shepperton called Salt and Pepper, starring Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford, in which he portrayed a police sergeant, Stark wrote: “You will be taken to the bedroom where you will strip in front of me … You will put on the black nylon stockings and the very high-heeled shoes … Needless to say under no circumstances will panties ever be worn and I will be able to see your adorable——whenever I wish … I shall arrange to have a car bring you down to the studios for the day.”
Other (much more explicit) material pertains to sado-masochistic scenarios involving corsets, instructions for the child to “parade in front of Bobby “without your panties on” – who was Bobby? – and practical arrangements about dates and phone numbers. Then there’s the contract that Stark wished her to sign: “I hereby sincerely swear that from this day forward I intend to give my body willingly to my lover GRAHAM STARK to do with as he pleases … Should at any time he wish other people to be present to look at me I will not protest.” And so on and so forth.
As Lewis points out, it has taken until the recent exposure of the horrific child and sex abuse scandals involving BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, which was only investigated after his death, for the police to take an interest and action over the long list of allegations from the 1960s and 1970s against celebrity sex abusers. So far, these have included another BBC presenter, the convicted Stuart Hall and most recently the PR guru Max Clifford, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his indecent assaults on women and girls.
As is becoming apparent celebrity abuse of women and children is far more common than ever supposed. It was only after his death that comic actor Arthur Mullard was revealed to have raped his daughter when she was thirteen, and groomed her as his “sex slave.” The past may be a “another country” but there still appears to have been a willfully perverse and utterly unacceptable attitude towards sexual abuse amongst generations of men during the sixties and seventies, and no doubt beyond.
Read Roger Lewis’s full article “The stark truth about Peter Sellers’ sidekick” here.
The first clips from two Peter Sellers films which had been thought lost have been released ahead of their premiere at the Southend-on-Sea Film Festival on 1st May.
The lost shorts Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good for You both made in 1957, are amongst two of the earliest examples of Sellers’ film work, and have been described as “the movie equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
In Dearth of a Salesman, Sellers play Hector Dimwittie, a man who tries to become the most successful salesman in the UK. The same character features in Insomnia Is Good for You, in which he suffers from an anxious, sleepless night before an important meeting with his boss.
On a literary note, both short films were co-written by noted Canadian author and screenwriter, Mordecai Richler.
The films were salvaged from a garbage skip in 1996 by Robert Farrow, who rather than making a quick buck on the films, spent time, money and care on having them restored, as he explained to the Buckingham Advertiser & Review:
“I suppose I could have put them on eBay, which people kept telling me to do, but I really wanted to find the right home for them,” he said.
“I tried talking to various people over the years but unfortunately I cannot have been talking to the right people. I didn’t bother too much after that and just left them in a cupboard under the stairs and pretty much forgot about them.
“Eventually I thought I had better do something with them so I rang the local film festival. I’m ecstatic that they’re finally going to get the showing they deserve.”
Tonight Mr. Farrow will be giving a preview screening of the 30-minute films in Southend to critics and journalists, before the films’ official premiere in May.
This fascinating 50-minute mishmosh of a documentary was created in 1969 as a kind of promotional movie for The Magic Christian. It defies summary primarily for being noticeably under-produced, that is to say, practically free-form. It features a somewhat fatuous voice-over by his fellow Goon, UK comedy legend Spike Milligan that I would reckon is at least 50% extemporized—no less entertaining for that. It’s difficult to envision such a shambolic program making it to air today. Milligan’s text is a masterpiece of pop psychologizing—it’s entertaining to imagine a similar strategy being used to explore Lady Gaga or Kanye West.
The footage provides no coherent through line, which in some ways is a strength and tends to reinforce the underlying point, which is that Sellers has no essence to grasp onto. Late in the documentary we see an editorial cartoon after one of Sellers’ marriages in which he sits at the breakfast table surrounded by portraits of his various roles—Sellers himself has no face at all. Wifey says, “So that’s what you really look like.” It’s been said that Sellers wasn’t pleased with this cartoon.
The documentary, in true 1969 fashion, has a few NSFW elements, including nudity and footage of a bullfight and open-heart surgery. It also is crammed with famous people, including 3 of the 4 Beatles, Roger Moore, Lucille Ball, Richard Attenborough, and so forth. We hear a lot about Sellers’ love of gadgets and cars as well as some frank footage in which Sellers discusses one of his (many) heart attacks. Naturally Sellers speaks in a bunch of wildly varying registers throughout.
The documentary was never re-broadcast by the BBC, reportedly because Sellers thought he came off as depressed (fair enough). As the documentary makes abundantly clear, Sellers was a depressed sort, and his quicksilver personality changes were likely the product of no small anxiety. However, no amount of pop psychology can really settle the question of the “real” Sellers, as it cannot settle the question of the “real” anybody. Sellers’ characterizations had a peculiarly inflexible aspect to them that made them seem marvelously true-to-life. His work is one of the glories of the twentieth century; as Milligan (I think? the voice sounds different) says, “He’s Mr. I-Don’t-Know of the twentieth century. He is Mr. Twentieth Century.”
Peter Sellers once received a letter from a fan requesting a “singed photograph of yourself.” Sellers obliged, delicately burning the edges of a B&W 8x10 with a cigarette, before sending the portrait off. A week or so later, the fan wrote back asking Sellers if he would be so kind to send another photograph, as the last one was “signed” all around the edges.
This tale of probable dyslexia captures something of the humor of The Goon Show, that classic radio comedy series, which launched the careers of Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan.
With its unique brand of surreal humor, The Goon Show started modern British comedy and inspired generations of comic performers. It is difficult to imagine how Peter Cook, Firesign Theatre, Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band, Eddie Izzard, and The Mighty Boosh would have developed their own particular brands of comedy without The Goons.
In 1968, eight years after The Goon Show had finished, Sellers, Milligan and Secombe reunited for a specially televised recording of one of their classic scripts “Tales of Men’s Shirts.” The trio were ably joined by a young John Cleese as the program’s announcer. Though not as brilliant as the original radio production (the visuals distract from imagining the comedy, and Milligan and co. appear to be enjoying themselves a tad too much), there is, however, more than plenty to enjoy.
More from The Goons (& Cleese), plus bonus documentary, after the jump…
While shooting Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1963, Peter Sellers, in full Merkin Muffley makeup, treated an American telephone interviewer to a rapid-fire tour of British accents, including Cockney, two Scots accents (Edinburgh and Glasgow), the accent of “slightly pimply individuals” living outside of London, and so forth. Thank god the cameras were rolling—it’s priceless footage.
Sellers was and is revered for his ability to disappear into roles—obviously he played three wildly different characters in Dr. Strangelove—but this brief demonstration of mimickry is simply a tour de force. Enjoy.
It was always the voice. He may have sold it short by appearing in over-produced TV shows, or playing seasons in Vegas, or becoming a caricature of a tanned medallion man, but none of it really mattered when you heard the voice—and Tom Jones has one hell of a singing voice.
When Jones’ star was on the rise on the late-1960s, he was offered his own TV show, This Is Tom Jones, which ran for 65 episodes between 1969 and 1971. It was an instant and massive success on both sides of the Atlantic, and led to the singer receiving 2 Golden Globe Nominations. It also saw Jones perform with an incredible array of stars ranging from Dusty Springfield, Little Richard, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Cass Elliot, Burt Bacharach, George Carlin, Terry-Thomas, Sandi Shaw, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Lulu, Nancy Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin, amongst many others.
This is the first episode of This Is Tom Jones, which aired on February 7th, 1969. Jones sang several of his hits, and mixed with an incredible range of talent including a suave-looking Peter Sellers (who changed the script, tried out his Welsh accent and appeared in a skit written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman); a very youthful Richard Pryor in one of his first TV appearances (who looks almost teenage and has yet to find the anger that made his comedy dangerous); The Moody Blues (who reminded me of a holiday resort band); and a beautiful Mary Hopkin, singing “Those Were The Days”.
This Is Tom Jones has dated somewhat, and the sets and dance routines may look positively camp, but the quality of the performances, and the power of Tom Jones’ voice make this a special treat.
An incredible moment in TV, Film and Comedy history: Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan interviewed by Tony Bilbow. Recorded at the Roundhouse’s Cinema City, London, for BBC TV’s Film Night, which aired on November 8th, 1970.
Peter Sellers was bored. It was 1959, and he was tired of appearing in The Goon Show with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.
While The Goon Show was still the biggest and most influential comedy show on British radio, Sellers was now a movie star, with a successful stage and TV career, and the offer of a tenth Goons series was too much to contemplate. He said:
‘I think we should leave it now before the standard goes down - we [Sellers, Secombe & Milligan] aren’t adding anything new and the original drive and enthusiasm has gone.’
Sellers was more of an anarchist than Milligan. Sellers wanted the unfettered life, to be free of all responsibilities. Milligan was far more predictable, he was enthralled by the success of his legacy.
Sellers pretended not to give a fuck. While Milligan’s ambitions meant he was often a shit to those people closest to him.
When The Goons first started, the rivalry between Milligan and Michael Bentine forced the latter to leave the group. Similarly, when Milligan worked with Goons co-writer Larry Stephens, he did everything in his power to belittle him. ‘Larry Stephens was small beer…’ Milligan once said:
‘He was never really a writer…Larry would occasionally think of an idea, but by then the show was over.’
TV writer, biographer and Goons expert, Roger Wilmut disagrees with Milligan’s opinion about his co—writer.
‘Stephens’s plots tend to have a beginning a middle, and an end; whereas Milligan’s tend to have a middle.’
Milligan was great at coming up with original, often brilliant ideas, but he needed someone to help structure these ideas into a coherent script. At first he had Jimmy Grafton, then Bentine, Stephens and Eric Sykes. He also had his producers, like Peter Eton who later said:
‘Spike used to have the marvelous lively extrovert ideas, and Larry used to bring them down to earth. Larry was the strong man. Spike used to have these paradoxical ideas and wrote them down in the form of one line gags. Most of it was rubbish, utter rubbish. It was Larry who used to pull it into shape and make sketches out of it.’
The seeming anarchy of Milligan’s Q series now seems like a collection of unfocussed gags. Yet, I have always preferred Q to The Goon Show.
By 1959, Stephens’ untimely death (he suffered a brain hemorrhage while driving a car, and died in hospital days later) left Milligan to write the final Goons series on his own. As he later viciously said:
‘Larry Stephens died conveniently, it was very nice of him, and I went on to write them on my own.’
Milligan’s response to his past life often depended on his mood, he also claimed (falsely and tearfully) that Stephens had died in his arms at a restaurant.
With no Stephens to fret over, Milligan turned on his fellow Goons, in particular Peter Sellers, whose film career, and successful stage and TV work, had greatly dimmed Milligan’s own success. It was up to Harry Secombe to act as peace-keeper.
Sellers wanted to do something new. Something different. Something with film. He bought a camera for £75, and suggested to Milligan they make a short movie together. The tried the camera out at Sellers home, then asked Dick Lester to direct, and over 2 days The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was made.
When released in 1960, it was an incredible success, award-winning no less, and a direct influence on The Beatles to hire Lester to direct (and ask Leo McKern to star in) their fab movies.
But Milligan wasn’t happy. The success of The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film niggled, and he felt aggrieved over who was the real talent behind the film. Of course, he had to wait until after Seller’s death in 1980 to claim the film as his own:
I said to Peter [Sellers], ‘Look, films are being made for millions - I think we can make one (not very long) for - what’s the cost of the cameraman?’ He said, ‘Seventy-five pounds.’ So we paid that, and the sound engineer was fifty.
We had about twenty ragged characters in a van and we just drove up the Great North Road until we saw a suitable field…
We just went to the hill, and I wrote the script out, what I wanted roughly, and we had just to improvise how to do it.
Milligan also claimed, at a Goons Appreciation Society meeting, that he had in fact directed the whole thing.
So, that is Milligan’s version of events. What actually happened was that Dick Lester directed and operated the camera, and the script was a concoction between Sellers, Lester, Milligan and Mario Fabrizi (an actor and friend of Sellers), which included some re-workings of sketches lifted from the TV series The Idiot Weekly Price 2d, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, which had been the first collaborations between Lester, Milligan and Sellers.
The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was shot over 2 days, with Milligan only in attendance for one of these days. It was then edited by Lester and Sellers in a bedroom at the actors home.
Inevitably, because of his incredible influence on British comedy, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film was ( and still is by many) considered mainly a Milligan film, when it truth, it should be seen as a film devised by Peter Sellers in collaboration with Dick Lester, Spike Milligan and Mario Fabrizi.
Blake Edwards claimed making the Pink Panther films was the most fun he and Peter Sellers had making movies. So, after years of talking about it, they decided to make The Return of the Pink Panther in 1975. Though it was 12-years since the first Pink Panther film, Edwards knew his material ‘intimately’, especially the character of Inspector Clouseau, who was a little older but certainly no wiser. This on location report goes behind-the-scenes of The Return of the Pink Panther, and contains interviews Edwards, Sellers, Christopher Plummer, Catherine Schell, and David Lodge.
Peter Sellers didn’t know he was dying, he believed he was going to live until he was seventy-five. That’s what his spirit guide, the ghost of Victorian Music Hall performer, Dan Leno had told him.
Sellers was terribly superstitious, his film career had often turned on the say-so of his clairvoyant, Maurice Woodruff. By the early 1970s, Sellers believed he was similarly able to communicate with the spirit world. He also recounted to his friends how he had been various famous people in various past lives. His colleague and friend Spike Milligan, poked fun at Sellers’ beliefs, pointing out that he was always Napoleon, or Ceaser, or Leonardo da Vinci in his past life, rather than some ordinary joe.
Perhaps Sellers should have listened to Milligan, for he may not have been so credulous. He may even have uncovered that his faithful clairvoyant Woodruff was in the pay of the film studios, and his advice on starring roles was not inspired by Tarot, but rather on the size of check Woodruff received. Similarly he may found out his beloved Leno had died babbling insane, a victim of tertiary syphilis.
If Sellers had stuck more to the real world, then he may have accepted Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s offer in 1976 of open-heart surgery and the bypass that would have certainly lengthened his life. Though he attended a heart operation and photographed Barnard at work, Sellers was fearful he would die on the operating table as he had in 1964, after suffering 8 heart attacks.
Come 1980, with the failure of his third marriage to Lynne Frederick, and a grueling work schedule, Sellers was physically exhausted. As before at such times, he reached out to those people who had created some of his happiest working days: his fellow Goons, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.
Two months before he died, Sellers wrote to Milligan in the hope that the 3 of them would once again work together on some new comedy shows. Sadly it wasn’t to be, as hours before the 3 men were about to meet, on the 22nd of July, Sellers suffered a fatal heart attack.
28 MAY 80
MR SPIKE MILLIGAN
DEAR SPIKE I AM DESPERATE TO HAVE SOME REAL FUN AGAIN WITH YOU AND HARRY. PLEASE CAN WE GET TOGETHER AND WRITE SOME MORE GOON SHOWS? WE COULD PLACE THEM ANYWHERE I DONT WANT ANY MONEY I WILL WORK JUST FOR THE SHEER JOY OF BEING WITH YOU BOTH AGAIN AS WE WERE.
Now a classic Goon Show sketch, “What time is it, Eccles?”
A short clip from Come to London, British Pathé‘s featurette highlighting some of the attractions available in the Swinging Sixties’ capital. This is worth watching for the water-bike, but especially for Peter Sellers giving Britt Ekland a birthday cake in 1966.
For thirty-six years, Norma Farnes was Spike Milligan’s manager, agent and Mother Confessor. She was also his friend. Since Milligan’s death in 2002, Norma has shown a loyalty to their friendship, which our world of social networks, Friending, Following and +1ing may never replace. For Ms. Farnes has been collating and editing the millions of words written by the late, great comedy genius, into a series of books - Box 18: The Unpublished Spike Milligan, The Compulsive Spike Milligan, Memories of Milligan - and now, Milligan’s Meaning of Life, his “autobiography of sorts”.
Who else but Norma Farnes could have edited together this fabulous collection of loose threads, extracts, and letters, which make Milligan’s Meaning of Life, such a brilliant autobiography.
As Norma explains in her introduction:
‘A sort of autobiography’. Yes, Spike would have liked that. I can hear him saying, ‘Yes, well, I suppose I’ve had a sort of life.’
...His many followers will, no doubt, find gaps, but it wasn’t my intention to give a complete account - rather an impressionistic journey. I did my best, but as Spike used to say to me: ‘That’s what worries me.’
Farnes should have no fears, as she has compiled a marvelous book, cherry-picking from the best of Milligan’s various writings. Farnes has a terrific eye for the telling phrase and revealing sentence, which presents Milligan as a bruised, sensitive, mercurial, inspired and very funny man. A man who had long bouts of severe depression, suffered terrible nervous breakdowns, was riddled with shyness and insecurities, yet through it all produced some of the our best, funniest and most memorable comedy.
During his life, Milligan produced over eighty books, ranging from poetry (Silly Verse for Kids to Small Dreams of a Scorpion), prose (most notably Puckoon, one of the best comic novels written), and his 7 volumes of War memoirs, starting with the hilarious Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall, plays (The Bed-Sitting Room and countless radio scripts form The Goons and his own classic comedy series Q. In very real terms, Milligan produced more work, and of a higher quality, than most novelists or writers ever achieve in a lifetime.