Past Forgetting is an Audio CD featuring the legendary actor Peter Cushing reading from his second autobiography. In 1986 Cushing published a very personal autobiography that included much material about his late wife Helen. Helen died in 1971 and Cushing never really recovered, often saying in interviews that he was merely biding his time now until they were united again. Cushing's book was light on film anecdotes, his explanation being that film sets were often incredibly dull places where you spend most of the time waiting around for something to happen or quietly preparing yourself for a scene. However, when Cushing heard that many fans had been hoping for more Hammer stories and chapters about his film career he decided to write another book for them a few years later, this time talking much more about everything from Frankenstein to Dracula to playing Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. Cushing's second book forms the basis of this enjoyable Audio CD which has been released a number of times, my copy from 2010 and including sleeve notes by Mark Gattis and the inclusion of a shortish documentary where a number of famous Hammer faces - like Caroline Munro, Ingrid Pitt and Christopher Lee - remember the great man.
The first part of the memoir includes Cushing talking about how devastated he was by the death of his wife. He says he actually ran up and down the stairs in the faint hope of inducing a heart attack and considered suicide. In the end though Cushing, a man of great faith, decided this would be wrong and says that he knows he will see her again one day. He admits he considered taking an indefinite break from acting but his friends told him it would be good for him to keep busy and it was what he did best. Cushing explains how Helen played a crucial role in his career, encouraging him to keep going through some difficult periods. It's interesting here when he talks about the introduction of television and how difficult he found it. His wife told him he must learn to play to the camera and he soon became much more comfortable. Cushing's very distinctive and cultured voice is wonderful to have coming through your earphones and some of his memories of his brief stint in Hollywood are really good. I was reminded here too that Cushing was in the 1939 Laurel & Hardy film A Chump at Oxford. He says that their producer Hal Roach was looking for a British actor for one of the parts and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Cushing was not a Hollywood person though and became a proud resident of a Kent seaside town called Whitstable from 1959 until his death. I spent a few years living in Whitstable when I was growing up and remember visiting the tiny museum there when they had a Cushing display featuring his paintings, intricate model theatres he'd made, and even his 'Jim'll Fix It' badge. Jim'll Fix It was a children's show where kids would write to Jimmy Saville and he would arrange for their request/wish to come true. It was often something like meeting their favourite pop star or whatever. Cushing reminds us though that in an unusual and touching episode he appeared on the show himself, asking for Jimmy Saville to create a new strain of rose in memory of his wife, which of course was all arranged for a very grateful and moved Cushing. The rose was named 'Helen Cushing' in tribute. Cushing's modest and gentle nature always shines through as he reads to us.
I remember Whitstable as an eccentric and often charmingly old-fashioned place and Cushing was the most famous resident for many years. I'm told he was a familiar sight pottering about the high street with a shopping trolley saying hello to people and having his lunch in the same tea room each day. Sadly, for some reason, Whitstable became (ugh!) trendy quite recently and a slew of celebrities have moved in, including, God help us, Janet Street Porter and that little cockney bloke from Masterchef. Cushing mentions appearing a lot on Morecambe and Wise here too and how he had a running cameo where he was trying to get paid from an appearance on their first show. I recall the display at Whitstable museum had a kind and funny letter on display that Cushing received from Eric Morecambe, thanking him for being on the show again before adding - 'P.S the cheque is in the post!' Those looking for film anecdotes and memories will find much to enjoy too though and it's fascinating to listen to Cushing remember his years with Hammer and beyond.
Cushing says when he played Baron Frankenstein he would constantly ask his GP about the correct way to remove a head or something so that he could do the scene as accurately as possible! His memories of Star Wars are great fun too. He played Grand Toff Markin, one of the evil Empire baddies plotting the destruction of Luke Skywalker and the rebel alliance. Cushing says he was somewhat bewildered by his character's name and the script but decided to do the film because he thought it would be something that children in particular would love. His character had to wear tight military style boots but Cushing found they were incredibly painful and uncomfortable and persuaded George Lucas to let him do the rest of his scenes in a pair of slippers! There are many good stories about working with Christopher Lee also and it's nice I think to know that Cushing and Lee were great friends in real life. Cushing is quite amusing here too on occasion when he goes through the various ways in which some of his characters have met their end in Hammer films.
Generally, it is just always pleasant and relaxing to listen to Cushing's voice and be in his company, whatever he's talking about. The whole thing runs to 144 minutes and at the time of writing you can buy this for under a tenner. I've seen it for less than a fiver not so long ago so you should be able to get a good deal sooner or later if you do feel like getting hold of it. The extra audio commentary at the end with people like Christopher Lee and David (Darth Vader) Prowse remembering Cushing is a nice little bonus too. This is a nice find for any fans and they should enjoy listening to this quite a lot.