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From Hammer to Star Wars – memories of Peter Cushing UK News

I can’t believe it, but next year will mark 50 years since the publication of my first magazine article, which was a two-page spread on the recently closed MGM studios in Borehamwood. I’ve also been featured in two magazines called Titbits and Reveille – sorry for the spelling – about my collection of movie memorabilia, which is a little bigger now.

1973 also saw me conduct my first official star interview, which meant a trip to Shepperton Studios and filming an awful movie called The beast must die – and the film certainly did at the box office. My interviewee was the wonderful Peter Cushing, whom I had seen on screen in those wonderful Hammer films. Peter was the perfect gentleman. He was a chain smoker but wore a glove so his fingers wouldn’t get nicotine. He explained, “It’s a bad habit and the stains would be an insult to onlookers when they film a close-up of my hands as I cut someone up.”

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in Hammer's horror film Brides of Dracula

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in Hammer’s horror film Brides of Dracula

I’ve never met anyone in what is often a bitchy profession who had a bad word about Peter and he was so invested in every role, even if some weren’t worthy of him. Many actors don’t like having to fiddle with manual props when speaking dialogue in a movie, because it’s much easier not to worry about them. Peter reveled in it and was a master of his craft. Of course, it’s not easy for continuity. For example, if you smoke in a scene but need multiple reshoots, the cigarette must have the same amount of ash each time to match.

It may sound like a love letter and in a way it’s my greeting to him. He was a sad character after losing his lovely wife in 1971 and just wanted to work rather than be at home as they had no children. At the time, he often only received £6,000 to star in a film, but he didn’t care. Indeed, I was told he was only paid £1,000 a week for his guest star role in star wars while Alec Guinness, albeit to a greater extent, ended up becoming a millionaire although he later grew to hate how this film eclipsed his marvelous all-round career.

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars.  Photo: Lucasfilm

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. Photo: Lucasfilm

Unfortunately, Peter suffered in his final years from a broken hip and then cancer, which ultimately claimed his life. Thousands of people flocked to his hometown of Whitstable to line the streets as his hearse passed. I bought several items from his estate as a keepsake. However, I still treasure the letter he wrote to me during the long campaign to save Elstree Studios, which read in part “Dear Paul, I’m being held down by Sellotape and not in better health but if you want someone ‘one joins you in front of the bulldozers so I’m your man!

Peter Cushing in Hammers Revenge of Frankenstein

Peter Cushing in Hammer’s Revenge of Frankenstein

After his death, I insisted that we create a plaque of honor for him, which is now part of the Plaque Heritage Trail on the main road from the station to the Studio and beyond. I asked her frequent co-star Christopher Lee to do the unveiling. Now Christopher was a whole other ballgame, although I’m not sure what a pot of fish means. To be honest, every time he called me I felt like I was being lectured and he wasn’t the most modest guy I’ve ever met, but a big name in cinema. Years later, I held a plaque ceremony in his honor with former Hammer stars Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews. He declined to have a Hammer film mentioned on his plaque, but the behind-the-scenes story is for another day. Until next time, stay safe and happy.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree studios

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This notice was published: 2022-03-27 17:00:00

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