Lost Peter Sellers films to be screened again after being found in London skip

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 December 2013

Two lost Peter Sellers film will screen again for the first time since the 1950s

A black and white still from a film in which three people are sitting at a breakfast table
Peter Sellers' Dearth of a Salesman will screen again in 2014© Dimwittie Films Ltd
Two lost films from Peter Sellers’ early career have been found in a London skip and will be shown to the public for the 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 made in 1957. But they only resurfaced when Robert Farrow, a Southend-on-Sea resident responsible for the former Park Lane Films studio’s building, was having a clear out.

“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,” says Farrow, reflecting on his discovery of the 30-minute shorts.

“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.”

His memory was jogged during a recent spot of cleaning.

“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.”

Cotgrove is now planning to digitally restore the films and screen them on the opening night of the Southend Film Festival next Mayday.

“I received Robert’s phone call out of the blue,” he recalls.

“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.”

Both films were written by Canadian screenwriter, author and essayist Mordecai Richler, filmed before Sellers – who held household fame for his part in The Goon Show on BBC Radio – enjoyed his first starring role in a major film, 1957’s The Naked Truth.

“He almost appears to treat them as show reels to demonstrate his considerable talents to film producers,” believes Cotgrove.

“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.”

Judith Wyler, the daughter of Academy Award-winning film director William Wyler, is believed to appear in Dearth of a Salesman. Their mystery only fuels the intrigue of enthusiasts.

“We are very happy that these films - long considered lost - will be shown again in public,” says Dimitris Verionis, of The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society.

“Their screening celebrates the wonderful comic talents of Peter Sellers who was - during the time they were shot - a very popular British radio star, and right before he reached international stardom.

“I cannot wait to see them in all their digitally restored glory.”

Run from an arts centre in a former Victorian waterworks, 2014 will be the sixth year of the Southend Film Festival.

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