Sellers in the Attic
Comedy writer and historian Glenn Mitchell examines exclusive and lesser known recordings of Peter Sellers and reveals a fascinating wealth of recently discovered recordings presenting a new insight into the life of this comic legend.
After Peter Sellers died in July 1980, the initial rush of glowing eulogies swiftly made way for often highly condemnatory accounts of his personality and behaviour. Some of these are, admittedly, accurate, others take incidents in isolation without regard for the context of the events described, while in some instances the claims rely on inaccuracies and misassumptions.
Fortunately there has been more perspective among recent chronicles but the trend has continued to portray Sellers's personal life as one with few, if any, redeeming features.
As regards his work, many accounts have concentrated on the obvious aspects - the Panther films, Dr. Strangelove, perhaps also The Goon Show, but Peter Sellers left far more than that.
Mitchell, the writer and presenter of this programme, was only 21 when the actor died but has been collecting Sellers material from an early age. In this personal take on the subject, Mitchell chronicles Sellers' career in parallel with his own lifelong interest in the actor's work. He will examine various recordings, explaining in each instance its place within the canon, and how it may have shaped - or been shaped by - Sellers' life and career.
The programme also explores the softer, compassionate side to the legendary actor's nature, the aspect of the man which once led to him talking a complete stranger - who was perched on a high bridge - out of committing suicide.
Among the recent finds is a personal recording Sellers made for a television producer whose daughter lost her sight. The never before broadcast recording includes readings of the poet William McGonagall with various comments throughout. Not only is it vintage Sellers but it reveals a remarkable and malleable side to his personality, catching him at a very relaxed moment in his life contrasting with his often cited volatile nature.
Mitchell's own focus will be on the lesser-known Sellers material he has amassed, including home-movie prints, soundtracks, rare interviews and out-takes. The programme also profiles written archives from his first BBC TV and Radio auditions.
Ultimately Sellers in the Attic will tell his remarkable story - by revisiting the less obvious items from his vast legacy, including such gems from the BBC archives as his 1970 performance of the macabre music-hall monologue The Ballad of Sam Hall, recorded at Wilton's in East London.
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2010.