The following interview was published in 'Book and Magazine Collector' magazine issue number 31, in October 1986. It makes reference to a production that Cushing was about to make called 'The Abott's Cry' for Tyburn films. This production sadly never came to fruition. The interview is presented her in two parts. The original published feature had very few images, I have added several throughout the piece to illustrate some of the detail within the text. Part two of will follow this weekend....
Peter Cushing needs no introduction as one of Britain's most popular and best loved actors. This summer marks his Golden Jubilee in the profession. Since appearing in many classic BBC-TV play and serials (including 'Pride and Prejudice' and the unforgettable '1984) in the early fifties, he has starred in over eighty films, but is probably best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes. His long awaited autobiography was published by Weidenfeld in March.
He is now making a new Sherlock Holmes film, 'The Abbot's Cry', to be shown on tv next year. All his life he has loved reading and collecting, and here he recalls some of his favourite books and magazines.
Q: What were your earliest literary interests?
A: They probably started with the 'comic strip' adventures of 'Rob the Rover' in a weekly children's magazine called 'Puck', which cost twopence, I think. From these I graduated to the works of that prodigious writer of schoolboy fiction, Charles Hamilton, who wrote under several pseudonyms: Owen Conquest for the 'Rockwood' stories about Jimmy Silver and Co', Frank Richards for 'Grayfriars' - 'Harry Wharton and Co' plus 'The Fat Owl of the Remove, Billy Bunter', and Martin Clifford for 'St. Jim's' with Tom Merry and Co', the latter being my favourite amongst these immortals.
I read these until I was about 23, when a friend decided I should take up more adult stuff, and started my love of reading in further fields with J. B. Priestley's 'The Good Companions'. Before this, I was absorbed bt Robert Ballantyne's 'The Coral Island', and stories about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Dick Turpin the highwayman, and Just William by Richard Compton - I would read these stories aloud to my mother whislt she was knitting - and of course, all the delightful works of Beatrix Potter. Pirates also features largely in my appetite for adventure, and I loved Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' and Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe'. I also read avidly the adventures of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Daily Mirror Newspaper.
Q: When did you start collecting?
A: When I was a child. I still have many of those books in my collection - and have added to them over the years. (recently, thanks largely to a certain Richard Dalby, Esquire!) But I never collected anything with the idea in mind that one day they could be valuable: I wanted them for their intrinsic value, and so they remain, whether they cost a penny or a pound. They have become like old friends, never to be disturbed.
Q: Do you have a special feeling towards the early authors and illustrators of children's books?
A: Oh, yes indeed! I've always loved illustrations - still do. There are too many to mention; but, at random, Kate Greenaway springs to mind; Beatrix Potter, Ceil Aldin and H. M Brock. Drawings mean as much to me as the written word, and I find the combination irresistible. Also, the ingenuity and incredible 'engineering' with paper and card used in the reproductions of antique 'pop-up' books is to me sheer magic and enchantment. Likewise those which operate like a fan, one beautiful little 'vignette' replacing another as you pull the arrowed tab. Such skill giving such great pleasure.
Q: Is your undoubted love of England reflected in your book collecting?
A: Yes indeed. The books put out - especially the first editions - by A. and C. Black (Colour Books) are tremendous favourites of mine. They speak, in words and pictures, of a time and of places I knew between the two Great Wars, before much of the rural beauty was lost forever. Nostalgia is very potent - and those beautifully published volumes are a constant joy. Batsford produced some exquisite books full of coloured photographs of the countryside of Great Britain, and many reside on my shelves. More recently, the collected and bound 'Country Talk' books of the late J.H.B. Peel are close to my heart. Like wise the 'In Search of...' series by H.V.Morton, and his other works.
Q: Which are your favourite artists and book illustrators who specialised in portraying the beauties of the British landscape?
A: Yet again, they are legion, and especially those who specialised in any particular subject - for example, Archibald Thornburn's exquisite bird studies; the 'Victorianess' of Sutton Palmer and A.R. Quinton; the quite superb genius of Edward Seago inoil or watercolour; Ceicil Aldin and his dogs; Lionel Edwards and his horse scenes; Arthur Wardle's animal studies; Doris Zinkeisen's beautiful costume designs; the illustrations of Rex Whistler - to me, the Rupert Brooke of drawing - with their gentle humour and exquisite line; ad infinitum!
Q: I believe you knew Edward Seago quite well?
A: Yes, I had admired his work for many - many years before I corresponded with him. Eventually, in the early 1950's, we met him. My beloved wife and I were on holiday in Cromer, and on the spur of the moment, I rang and asked if we could visit him as we were so near to where he lived in Norfolk. His very early work I christened his 'chocolate box' period, but I could see beneath this genius which was one day to emerge.
When I got to know him well, I told him this, and he agreed entirely, having used the same expression himself regarding those early stages. We spent many holidays with him in his delightful Dutch House at Ludham. We painted together, and he very generously said of my efforts that he admired the freedom of handling water colours which many more experienced artists might envy. Praise indeed! He left a heritage which is yet to be given the recognition it deserves in the world of the greatest painters of all time. I am not alone in that opinion.
Q: Have your screen roles of Baron Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing inspired you to collect gothic or horror literature, especially the classics?
A: No. I loved making the films, and I'm glad that they have given such lasting pleasure to so many generations - and perhaps some yet to come! - but the subject matter does not appeal to me personally in any way.
Q: Then how about Sherlock Holmes, with whom you have been so much associated in recent years? Do you collect the first editions, magazines and Holmesian memorabilia?
A: Oh, they are very much my cup of tea. I read those marvelous 'Sherlock Holmes' stories for the first time in my teens. I haven't exactly made a special collection of the famous sleuth, but I do have a lot of books - including the original 'Strand' magazines (bound) in which the stories first appeared, with the inimitable illustrator Sidney Paget's atmospheric drawings - and innumerable publications written by the experts and aficionados about Holmes and Dr Watson. Apart from the great enjoyment these give, they were also most useful for getting the details correct whenever I've played Sherlock Holmes.
Donkey's years ago, I picked up, in an old bookshop, a first edition of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' (1902), for a few bob - in very good condition, except for slight staining at the top of the back cover!
Part Two To Follow THIS weekend!
A HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR 2015 TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS!