Lost Peter Sellers films to be screened at festival

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Two "lost" films starring actor Peter Sellers are to be shown in public for the first time in more than 50 years.

The star made the comedy shorts Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good For You in 1957 as he tried to make his name as a film actor.

The two 30-minute films were originally salvaged from a skip outside a film company's office in 1996 before being forgotten about again.

They will be screened at the Southend Film Festival next May.

These films capture Sellers at a career crossroads.

He's nailed the radio with The Goons, and made a good start in TV and film. Now he wants to be a screen star.

They feel more like a TV sit-com than short movies. A pilot Peter Sellers half-hour perhaps, to rival Tony Hancock's, which had successfully transferred to telly the year earlier.

Sellers was already a radio star thanks to the BBC's The Goon Show when the films were made, but he had yet to establish himself as a screen actor.

He went on to earn big screen success in films like The Naked Truth, The Pink Panther and Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The two rediscoveries were spoof government information films.

Sellers played a number of different parts and treated them almost as "show reels" to demonstrate "his considerable talents", according to Paul Cotgrove from The White Bus, which runs the Southend Film Festival.

Sellers made the films to showcase his talents as "a potential movie star"

Mr Cotgrove was given the films by building manager Robert Farrow.

Mr Farrow had spotted the 21 film cans as he was overseeing the clearout of Park Lane Films' former office in London before its refurbishment in 1996.

"[I] thought they would be good for storing my Super 8 collection in," said Mr Farrow, who admitted he thought about throwing the films away before putting them in a cupboard until a recent clear-out of his own home.

"It was then I realised they were two Sellers films including the negatives, titles, show prints, outtakes and the master print. It was amazing," explained Mr Farrow.

Mr Cotgrove, who is now getting the films digitally restored, told the BBC they captured Sellers "in a period when he was experimenting".

Peter Sellers in Dearth of a Salesman The films are now being digitally restored

"They're kind of a pastiche of the public information films at the time," he said. "They're not riotous comedy, they're just good fun to look at."

Actor Neil Pearson, who is also a rare books collector and dealer, had also looked into the star's early films after buying the only known remaining script for Insomnia is Good For You.

"The BFI doesn't have a copy - it's a lost Peter Sellers film," he said.

'One man show'

Pearson said the films had "quietly disappeared" after being left "redundant" when Sellers' career took off later that year.

"They were clearly designed to be made on the cheap and, from Peter's point of view, to put him forward as a potential movie star," he said.

Peter Sellers in Dearth of a Salesman The Sellers short films have not been shown in public for 50 years

The films will be shown on the opening night of the Southend Film Festival on 1 May.

Mark Cousins from The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society said the discoveries, which are the final two of three missing films, were "very exciting" and helped to "complete the canon of his legacy".

"These early films, although they're only shorts, are quite important because they were really made before he hit the big time," he said.

"They are missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [Sellers] is very well known for his later works such as Dr Strangelove and the Pink Panther films and these help to give people an appreciation of how he got there."

Dearth of a Salesman is believed to feature Judith Wyler, daughter of the Academy Award-winning film director William Wyler, and both films were co-written by Canadian screenwriter and author Mordecai Richler.

However, little else is known about them and Cotgrove said the festival wanted to hear from anyone who was involved in their creation.

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