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The Peter Cushing Scrapbook REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Far from a scrappy affair

The Peter Cushing Scrapbook review.

Drawing on the archives of Peter Cushing’s long-time secretary Joyce Broughton, as well as numerous colleagues and collectors, this “pictorial history” (limited to 2000 copies) brings together a stunning array of material to celebrate the life of British horror's best-loved actor.

As you might expect, it features hundreds of publicity stills from his film career. But there’s also all manner of ephemera. Candid snaps of the actor. Cushing’s own scripts, carefully annotated with notes on, for example, how to hold a pair of forceps, with passages of dialogue scrubbed out and rewritten. Watercolours and costume design sketches. Letters and telegrams. Magazine articles and adverts. Unmade outlines and call sheets.

The range and depth of material is quite simply staggering. Indeed, the word “scrapbook” doesn’t really seem fitting. There’s a rationale behind that title, because there’s been a concerted effort to make the book feel intimate – rather like something you might find in the actor’s desk drawer; cleverly, it uses Cushing’s own hand-written notes from the back of photos as captions and headings. But that word is also vaguely suggestive of something inconsequential or haphazardly assembled, which is far from the case here.

It also doesn’t do justice to the wealth of treasures within. Some, like, Cushing’s contracts for The Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula , feel like important historical documents. Others, like the outline for Kali: Devil Bride of Dracula (an unmade follow-up to Hammer's The Seven Golden Vampires ), are fascinating curiosities. Perhaps the authors should have followed the lead of other non-fiction compendiums of this ilk, and dubbed it The Peter Cushing Vault . This is certainly a book that deserves to stand alongside Marcus Hearn’s excellent The Hammer Vault – and one that’s every bit as essential for aficionados of British horror.

True, there are a few visually uninteresting passages – after the sixth in a row, one scribbled-on script page starts to look much like the next. It’s also rather a shame that this isn’t a sturdy hardback; its lengthways-A4 format makes for rather unwieldy reading, and feels a little too easily susceptible to damage. But these are petty gripes.

If it’s a career overview you’re after, that’s taken care of. There are potted write-ups of every film Cushing made, right down to post-Hammer obscurities like Hitler’s Son and his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Sammy Davis Jr comedy One More Time , as well as mentions of his every theatrical production and TV appearance.

Where this book differs is that the filmography is brought to life via little personal touches. Every time it discusses a film which involved Cushing shooting overseas, for example, the relevant stamp from Cushing’s passport is reproduced. And while you might know the story of how Cushing wore slippers on the set of Star Wars because the boots supplied hurt his feet, you probably haven't seen a snap of the slippers in question! This kind of thing means that you never lose sight of the fact that that impressive CV isn’t just a string of credits; it’s a man’s life, lived day by day, month by month - and subject to the same vicissitudes as yours or mine.

Throughout, the character of Cushing – renowned as the ultimate gentleman – shines through. Those annotated scripts make clear his meticulousness and professionalism, but also (surprisingly, for such an accomplished actor), suggest a vein of insecurity. On the cover of script after script he writes the same faintly comical notes-to-self: “Don’t gabble”; “Don’t sniff”; “”Don’t grip back of furniture”.

A single word recurs in those annotations too: “Helen”, the name of the wife who was Cushing’s inspiration, and whose loss left him longing for a reunion in the afterlife. His devotion to her is touchingly apparent in a series of charming notes featuring cartoon animals, addressed to “Squirrel” (his pet name for her). So when you come across Helen’s death notice in the Whitstable Times (Cushing’s local paper), it fair brings a lump to the throat.

And not for the last time. Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where, thanks to an alien probe, Picard experiences another man’s entire lifetime, only finally to be snapped back into his regular existence? By the time you turn the page on the Order Of Service from Cushing’s memorial, you might experience a brief flash of the same sense of loss.

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

Click on "Next" to see some more spreads from the book.

Read more of our Peter Cushing centenary features and reviews.

Read more of our Peter Cushing centenary features and reviews.

Read more of our Peter Cushing centenary features and reviews.

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