Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Peter Cushing - Past Forgetting

Back in print again and for the first time in digital, Peter Cushing's reading of his second autobiography, Past Forgetting, subtitled A Memoir of the Hammer Years. Cushing was compelled to write a second book on his life, after fans petitioned him, wanting to hear more about his work as an actor, his first book, simply called An Autobiography, concentrated on his life with his beloved wife Helen. In Past Forgetting, Cushing admits that the life of an actor is rarely as exciting as people imagine it to be, but nevertheless gives a very fine whistle-stop account of his long career on stage, television and Cinema.

Cushing reads from his book with impeccable tone and diction and is a joy to listen to. A dapper old school Englishman with impeccable manners, Cushing's reminiscences of his career is full of kindnesses toward his fellow artists and reveals a fondness and respect for his work in Cinema, especially the Horror films he made. At one point he amusingly recalls some of his screen deaths including Ken Wiederhorn's 1977 Shock Waves: "The next merry little prank took place in Miami's Palm Beach, Florida in a film called Death Corps when some rather unpleasant gentleman drowned me by holding my head under the stagnant waters of the Everglades and left me there as crocodile bait. I was playing a Nazi officer so I deserved all that I had to swallow...

It's worth noting however that the subtitle of the audio book is something of a stretch - fans expecting a comprehensive overview of his days at Hammer will be disappointed as Cushing rarely dwells on any one film he made at the studio but he does impart some fascinating tidbits, like suggesting to Terence Fisher that there should be a scene in The Mummy to explain the hole in the Mummy's torso as seen in Bill Wiggin's poster art, which was already finished before the the production of the film wrapped. Hammer fans will definitely be disappointed about omissions - I wish Cushing had spoke about one of his finest films for the studio Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and he only mentions in passing his role in the Nigel Kneale scripted BBC adaption of Nineteen Eighty-Four filmed live for the BBC in 1954.

These minor complaints aside, Past Forgetting is an excellent, engaging listen and Cushing has a wonderful sense of humour and playfulness, as well as a great modesty for his enormous talents. Originally the audio book was released in 1988 as 3 cassettes and has been difficult to find over the years until audio book specialists Cosmic Hobo Productions remastered the tapes for CD in 2010. The same label also has a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories read by Cushing. An if that wasn't enough, you can download a copy of Cushing reading an adaptation of Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, from the original Warners vinyl LP from 1974.


  1. Nice review. This book sounds fascinating - I do love Cushing on screen, and he had such a great voice. Thanks.

  2. Many thanks Craig for the kind word.... Yeah, Cushing is one of those actors that can elevate even the most ordinary dross to a higher level... I read good things recently about The Skull, a 1965 Amicus production Cushing appears in (with Christopher Lee no less) - must check that out soon....

  3. Sounds great, ordered and will make for a good Sunday morning listen. Cheers, Jason.

  4. I would love to get ahold of a copy of this - having Mr. Cushing himself tell me stories of his life while I drive to and from work would make for some primetime drivetime!

  5. Craig, if you're equipped to play Region 2 DVDs, the BFI are putting out in November Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with Peter Cushing delivering one of his greatest performances...