English actor Peter Wilton Cushing, OBE sadly passed away 11 August 1994) Born 26 May 1913 he was known for his many appearances in Hammer Films, in which he played the sinister scientist Baron Frankenstein or the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, among many other roles. He appeared frequently opposite Christopher Lee, and occasionally Vincent Price. A familiar face on both sides of the Atlantic, Cushing’s best-known roles outside the Hammer productions include Sherlock Holmes, Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977) and The Doctor in Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966), both films based on the Doctor Who television series.
He was Educated at Shoreham College. Cushing’s first job was a surveyors Assistant. He left this to take up a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After working in repertory theatre in Worthing, Sussex, he left for Hollywood in 1939, debuting in The Man in the Iron Mask later that year, before returning to England in 1941 after starring in several films. In one, A Chump at Oxford (1940), he appeared opposite Laurel and Hardy. His first major film role was that of Osric in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).In the 1950s, he worked in television, notably as Winston Smith in the BBC’s 1954 adaptation of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), scripted by Nigel Kneale. Cushing also starred as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice (1952), as King Richard II in Richard of Bordeaux (1955), and as Raan, a Prospero-like character, in “Missing Link” (1975), an episode of Space: 1999. He also appeared in The Avengers and its successor series, The New Avengers. In 1956, he received the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor. Cushing also starred in film adaptation of the H.Rider Haggard novel “She” with Ursual Andress and Bernard Cribbins.
Cushing is also well known for playing Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing in a long series of horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was often cast alongside Christopher Lee, who became his best friend. His first appearances in his two most famous roles were in Terence Fisher’s films The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). He later said that his career decisions entailed selecting roles where he knew that he would be accepted by the audience. “Who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein, so that’s the one I do.” Cushing and Christopher Lee in Nothing But The Night (1972) . Cushing also played Sherlock Holmes many times, originally in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), the first Holmes adaptation to be filmed in colour. This was followed by a performance in 16 episodes of the BBC series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes(1968), of which only six episodes survive.
Cushing reprised the role, now playing the detective in old age, in The Masks of Death (1984) for Channel 4. In the mid-1960s, Cushing played Dr. Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.) based on the BBC science-fiction TV series Doctor Who. He decided to play the part as a lovable and avuncular figure to counter the public’s image of him as a horror actor. In an interview published in ABC Film Review in November 1964, Cushing stated, “People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can’t think why. In my macabre pictures, I have either been a monster-maker or a monster-destroyer, but never a monster. Actually, I’m a gentle fellow. Never harmed a fly. I love animals, and when I’m in the country I’m a keen bird-watcher.” In an interview published in 1966, he added, “I do get terribly tired with the neighbourhood kids telling me ‘My mum says she wouldn’t want to meet you in a dark alley’.
In 1976, Cushing was cast in Star Wars in the part of Grand Moff Tarkin. He was presented with ill-fitting riding boots, which pinched his feet so much that he was given permission by director George Lucas to play the role wearing his slippers. The camera operators filmed him only from the knees up, or else standing behind the table of the Death Star conference room set. As a result, Cushing’s role could not be expanded on in the later director’s cut versions with improved special effects (such as inserting a CGI Jabba the Hutt in place of a human for Han Solo to argue with), because the technicians could not replace the slippers with the boots. Peter Cushing was also later digitally added to the Star Wars spin-off film Rogue One as Grand Moff Tarkin.
Following Star Wars, Cushing continued to appear sporadically in film and television, as his health permitted. In 1969, he had appeared in a comedy play by Ernie Wise on The Morecambe and Wise Show on BBC2. Throughout the BBC era of the show, he would regularly join Wise and his comic partner, Eric Morecambe, on stage; he would constantly seek payment for his first appearance, wearily asking “Have you got my five pounds yet?” This running joke continued when the duo left the BBC and moved to Thames Television in 1978. Cushing appeared in their first special for Thames Television on 18 October, still asking to be paid, with the hosts repeatedly trying to get rid of him; at the end of the show, Morecambe placed some money in a wallet wired up to a bomb, in an attempt to blow Cushing up in exaggerated comedic style. In the duo’s Christmas special, Cushing pretended to be the Prime Minister while Morecambe and Wise caroled outside 10 Downing Street; he made the comedians give him money and finally came out to declare “paid, at last!”Wise was a guest for Cushing’s appearance on This Is Your Life in 1989. He promptly presented Cushing with a five pound note, only to extort it back from him. Cushing was delighted and exclaimed “All these years and I still haven’t got my fiver!”
Sadly Cushing was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1982, but managed to survive for 12 years without surgery, although his health remained fragile. In 1989, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, although his friend Christopher Lee publicly opined that the honour was “too little, too late”. Cushing retired to Whitstable, on the Kent coast, where he had bought a seafront home in 1959, and continued his hobby of birdwatching while writing two autobiographies. He also worked as a painter, specialising in watercolours, and wrote and illustrated a children’s book of Lewis Carroll-style humour, The Bois Saga. He was the patron of the Vegetarian Society from 1987 until his death. Cushing’s final professional commitment was the co-narration of the TV documentary Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror, produced by American writer and director Ted Newsom. His contribution was recorded in Canterbury, near his home. The programme was broadcast only a few days before his death on 11 August 1994, aged 81.