Peter Cushing (1913-1994)

Peter Cushing, the legendary screen actor best-known for his appearances in the Hammer horror films, died on 11th August after a long fight against cancer. One of Britain’s most popular character actors, Cushing’s career in the cinema and theatre spanned more than five decades, his association with the Hammer films leading primarily to sinister or villainous roles – in complete contrast to his true nature as a most caring and gentle individual.

Born in Kenley, Surrey on 26th May 1913, the son of a quantity surveyor, Cushing led an unusual childhood which involved being dressed as a girl because his mother had wanted a daughter. After a brief period as a surveyor’s assistant, Cushing won a scholarship to London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and entered a career in the theatre in 1936 as assistant stage manager with a repertory company in Worthing. In 1939, Cushing decided to try his luck in Hollywood where he made his professional debut as ‘King’s Messenger’ in James Whale’s 1935 film production of The Man In The Iron Mask. This was followed by an appearance in the Laurel and Hardy comedy A Chump At Oxford and leading roles in Summer Stock Theatre in Palm Springs.

Cushing returned to England in 1942, exempted from serving in the War due to torn ligaments in his left knee and a perforated ear-drum. Film, theatre and television roles followed including the part of Osric in the classic Laurence Olivier film of Hamlet in 1948, but it was not until Cushing took the part of Winston Smith in Rudolph Cartier’s BBC Television production of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1954 that he really made his mark. Shortly after, he was cast as Baron Frankenstein alongside Christopher Lee in Hammer’s 1957 film The Curse Of Frankenstein, to be followed in 1958 by his portrayal of Van Helsing in Dracula and in 1959 as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Cushing was to return to these three roles again and again over the next twenty-five years, with six Frankenstein films, five Dracula films, a sixteen-part Sherlock Holmes television series for the BBC in 1969 and the Sherlock Holmes TV movie The Masks Of Death (1984).

Cushing also appeared in a number of films for Amicus, among them Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1964), Scream And Scream Again (1969), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Asylum (1972) and At The Earth’s Core (1976). It was for Amicus in 1965 that Cushing appeared as Doctor Who in the first motion picture adapted from the long-running BBC science-fiction series. Dr. Who And The Daleks was followed in 1966 by Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

On television, Cushing made numerous memorable guest appearances in series such as The Avengers (Return Of The Cybernauts), The Zoo Gang (The Counterfeit Trap), The New Avengers (The Eagle’s Nest), Hammer House Of Horror (The Silent Scream) and Tales Of The Unexpected (The Vorpal Blade). To Anderson fans, however, it is for his appearance as Raan in the Missing Link episode of Space:1999’s first season that Peter Cushing is most fondly remembered.

Originally published in FAB 17.