We stray a little from our usual stomping ground for this story of an unexpected find.
Two lost films from Peter Sellers’ early career have been found in a London skip and will be shown to the public for the very first time in 50 years at the Gala Opening of the 2014 Southend Film Festival.
Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good For You were both made in 1957 by the now defunct Park Lane Films and had been thought to be lost. They were discovered by Robert Farrow when the former film studio’s office building was being cleared out.
Robert, who lives in Thorpe Bay, Southend on Sea said: ‘As the building manager it was my job to oversee that each floor of the property was properly cleared prior to refurbishment back in 1996.
“I spotted 21 film cans in a skip outside the office block and thought they would be good for storing my Super 8 collection in. I took them home, put them in a cupboard and pretty much forgot about them. During a recent clear out I found them again and decided to see what the tins contained -it was then I realised they were two Sellers films including the negatives, titles, show prints, outtakes and the master print. It was amazing. I knew I had something, but it wasn’t until I called Paul Cotgrove from The White Bus, who organises the Southend Film Festival, that it dawned on me that I’d found something very special indeed.’
Paul said: ‘I received Robert’s phone call out of the blue.
‘He said he thought he had some Peter Sellers films and asked if I’d like to show them as part of next year’s Film Festival. Of course, I was interested straight away -but when I did some research I was gobsmacked to see that the two films are widely regarded by film historians as being ‘lost’ Peter Sellers movies. Robert’s find is the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Film World.’
Neither Dearth of a Salesman nor Insomnia Is Good For You have been seen in public for over 50 years.
Both are short, running for approximately 30 minutes each. Sellers filmed them not long before his first, major starring film role in The Naked Truth -he had already achieved household fame as one of The Goon Show cast on BBC Radio, but was still attempting to make his mark on the big screen. In both movies, Sellers assumes a number of roles, including doing the voiceover in Insomnia is Good For You.
Paul said: ‘He almost appears to treat them as show reels to demonstrate to film producers his considerable talents.”
Paul now intends to have the films digitally restored and present them on the opening night of the Southend Film Festival, on 1 May 2014.
The films were co-written by celebrated Canadian screenwriter, author and essayist Mordecai Richler and Dearth of a Salesman is believed to feature Judith Wyler, daughter of the Academy Award-winning film director, William Wyler.
However, very little is known about either film or how they were made.
Paul said: ‘We are busy researching and trying to speak to people who might have been involved in their creation -we’d love anyone who has any information to get in touch with us.’
Dimitris Verionis from The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society said: ‘We are very happy that these films -long considered lost -will be shown again in public. Their screening celebrates the wonderful comic talents of Peter Sellers who was -during the time they were shot -a very popular British radio star (The Goon Show), and right before he reached international stardom. I cannot wait to see them in all their digitally restored glory.’
Drop the Dead Donkey actor Neil Pearson is also a rare books collector and owns the only known remaining Insomnia script. In a recent interview he said: ‘No biographer of Sellers that I’ve spoken to has managed to find the film. The British Film Institute doesn’t have it. It looks as if it is comprehensively lost. The script is not very good but there were clearly other people in it. He wakes up with his wife -who played her? How come we don’t know this? I’m putting out an APB about it right now.”
Paul hopes that the two films will provide answers to Pearson’s questions -and those of countless film buffs across the globe.
(from a press release)