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PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:07 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2007 10:57 pm
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From The Sunday Times June 14, 2009

Lost Peter Sellers films on screen after 50-year intermission

Missing British comedies found in a movie mogul’s garage cinema are being restored for a new generationRichard Brooks
FOR some 50 years, the reels of film lay forgotten in a London garage. Now a cache of more than 30 has been discovered, showing the first performances by young actors who would go on to become some of Britain’s greatest comedians, including Peter Sellers, Prunella Scales and Ronnie Corbett.

The movies, all shot in the early 1950s when Britain was trying to turn its film industry into a mini-Hollywood, have now been given to the British Film Institute (BFI) to restore.

Few of them have been seen in cinemas since their original release.

Those being screened soon include Penny Points to Paradise and Let’s Go Crazy, both starring the then 26-year-old Peter Sellers. They will be shown at the end of July at the BFI’s cinema on London’s South Bank before being released on DVD in early August. The BFI hopes to restore and release the rest of the films over the next 15 years if funding is available.

The films were all either made or distributed by Adelphi, a family-run company set up in 1939 by Arthur Dent who, like so many American movie bosses, had an east European Jewish background. Dent, who had at one time been the British representative of Sam Goldwyn, the Hollywood mogul, stored the prints of the films in his garage in Highgate, north London.

His company did not make any more films after 1956 although short clips from a few were sold by his children over the following decades.

The negatives and prints were left in cans in the garage of the family home until Dent’s granddaughter, Kate Lees, stumbled upon them and realised their significance as a “missing” chapter of the British film industry.

“They’re a snapshot of a particularly prolific period of British film-making,” said Lees, who donated them to the BFI.

One reason the first two films to be restored are those starring Sellers is that the institute is being given money by Laura Camuti, an American fan of the comedian. “[Sellers’s] vocal skills are mind-boggling,” said Camuti.

Both Let’s Go Crazy and Penny Points to Paradise, a comedy about a man who wins the football pools, were shot in 1951. It was the same year as the first radio series of The Goon Show, the comedy which kick-started the careers of Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

Let’s Go Crazy, a half-hour film of zany comedy, stars Sellers and was co-written by him and Milligan.

However, it had mixed reviews. Roger Lewis, Sellers’s biographer, wrote that it was “amateurishly done. It lasts 32 minutes and probably took less time to create”.

Lees herself still has a letter written by Milligan to her father, Stanley Dent, thanking him for “the Lolly from Penny Points. It is a pleasant suprise [sic] as I never expected any at all, knowing the film profession to be what it is”.

Three films made in 1953 and 1954, featuring Prunella Scales, albeit in small roles, have also emerged. Scales, who has been married to the actor Timothy West since 1963, was then just 20 and at the start of a long and distinguished career, which has included playing Sybil in Fawlty Towers and the Queen in the 1991 television play A Question of Attribution.

Other virtually forgotten films in the cache showing British stars include The Great Game, a comedy about football which featured Thora Hird and Diana Dors, a favourite of Dent’s; and What Every Woman Wants, a drama with Brian Rix and Joan Hickson.

Rolf Harris, who arrived in Britain from Australia as a 22-year-old in 1952, won a role as Private Proudfoot in You Lucky People three years later. “My agent of the time lined up auditions for stage shows and films and I managed to get a few minor roles,” said Harris. “In the Tommy Trinder film You Lucky People, I was a bearded soldier. I had three lines of dialogue.”

Corbett was in his mid-twenties when he made his first film, a year before his first professional stage appearance. Fun at St Fanny’s was a comedy set in a boys’ boarding school and appeared just after the first of the St Trinian’s girls’ boarding-school farces.

Other Adelphi films now with the BFI include several early ones featuring Sid James, Max Bygraves, Joan Sims and Dennis Price ... 493736.ece

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