Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Peter Sellers

Last week we looked at legendary British comedian Spike Milligan, today we look at his one-time partner in comedy crime Peter Sellers. Sellers was born Richard Henry Sellers to a family of entertainers who worked Britain's music halls and burlesque houses, and Peter joined the family business at an early age. And despite his father being Protestant, and his mother Jewish, Sellers was raised Catholic and was taught by Nuns.

During World War 2 Sellers worked with Royal Air Force ground crews maintaining fighters and bombers in Europe and Asia, while working on the side in the RAF's entertainment division doing shows for the troops playing the drums in bands and telling jokes. After the war he worked stand-up in the fading music halls and burgeoning nightclub circuit before being recruited to join Milligan and Harry Secombe in a new radio production called The Goon Show.

The Goon Show was a smash, and Sellers became a star in Britain, appearing in a series of successful British films and his first Hollywood appearance as an eccentric Indian doctor in Hope and Crosby's final "Road" movie The Road to Hong Kong.

The 60s saw a boom in Sellers' career, with classic movie roles with directors like Stanley Kubrick and Blake Edwards to appearances on TV like this Beatles TV special where he performs A Hard Day's Night as Laurence Olivier playing Richard The Third.

The 70s were harder on Sellers. Personal troubles and bad career choices, many based on astrology, led to a slump in his career. But the revival of the Pink Panther franchise gave new life to his career and got him a very telling guest spot on TVs top show The Muppet Show, now infamous for his refusal to appear as himself.

Sellers died tragically at the age of 54 in 1980 from a heart damaged by years of substance abuse, and a dependence on "psychic surgeons" and quack medicines to treat it. Though his true final film to be released while he was still alive, Being There, a labour of love for the comedian, won him not only some commercial success but critical acclaim, and even a BAFTA award for best actor.

So enjoy some of the work of a true, and tragic comedy genius.

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