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Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Inside story of Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers
The home movies were found years after Sellers' death

Peter Sellers is certainly one of the most extravagantly talented actors that Britain has ever produced.

But his remarkable career - which took in the Goons, The Ladykillers, Dr Strangelove and the Inspector Clouseau films - could not obscure the turbulence of his personal life.

Peter Sellers
The images offer a glimpse of 1950s Britain
Arena: The Peter Sellers Story tells his story in a new way, by using a cache of his own home movies discovered years after his death.

Sellers, always fascinated by gadgetry and technology, built up a huge collection of home movies, and the programme offers an intriguing "inside" account of his personal life.

It also gives a fascinating and sometimes charming glimpse of Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sellers is seen performing in the early 1950s on stage at London's Hippodrome - and despite being silent footage, the sharpness of his impressions is obvious.

Voiceovers from Sellers and various colleagues, collaborators and wives accompany the film extracts.

Sophia Loren
Loren appears to have helped destabilise Sellers' first marriage
The actor filled the house with cameras, cables and tape recorders, said his first wife Anne, and made military models and played with trains.

But despite the pleasure of watching Sellers' impromptu comedy routines, there is an increasingly ominous tone to the programme.

Spike Milligan said he was "doomed" to have a heart attack "for sheer lack of activity" - and complained Sellers was always sitting down, and even used to wear elasticated shoes simply so he wouldn't have to tie laces.

Even Sellers' continual clowning in front of the camera starts to look obsessive.

His family life was threatened by his infatuation with Sophia Loren, his co-star in 1960's The Millionairess.

Peter Sellers
Sellers always professed not to like his own films
Soon his wife Anne Levy tired of his affairs and left him, setting a pattern which would be repeated.

He married Britt Ekland in 1964, and there is interesting footage of a decidedly awkward marriage party.

But the work was still triumphant - films like I'm All Right Jack and Dr Strangelove producing immortal characters like Fred Kite and RAF Captain Lionel Mandrake.

But the perennially restless Sellers always professed not to like his own films.

The 1970s saw him repeatedly exploiting the character of Inspector Clouseau - with diminishing returns - and suffering a series of heart attacks.

There were two more marriages, to Miranda Quarry and Lynne Frederick, before a last flash of the old genius in 1979's Being There.

Sellers, who died in 1980, found happiness and stability remarkably illusive.

Arena: The Peter Sellers Story is a compelling portrait which shows clearly how his amazing talent for imitation became an oppressive reflex.

But oddly, Arena almost throws away one of the film's most interesting facts.

Peter Sellers was actually christened Richard Henry, and was named Peter after his parents' first child, who died before the age of one.

It seems that before he even knew it, he was imitating someone else.

See also:

24 Jul 00 | Entertainment
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