Why I love Peter Cushing
The Peter Cushing Appreciation Society UK has been running under various names and forms since the 1950s. Super fan Marcus Brooks tells The Spooky Isles how the Hammer star’s fan club has embraced the internet age.
MOST people reading The Spooky Isles probably consider themselves horror film fans – including those writing it. But there would be very few of us who can honestly say we have spent as much time devoted to the genre as “super fan” Marcus Brooks – the organiser of the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society.
The Bristol-based blogger has been running the fan club for the Hammer legend since the late 1970s, when he took over administering the club from its founder, Gladys Fletcher.
Marcus had been a fan of Cushing since the age of six when he went to see his first movie, Doctor Who and the Daleks. His love of Hammer Horror grew hearing about the films from his older relatives.
“My Father and two Uncles went along to see Dracula Prince of Darkness at a midnight screening and were terrified!” Marcus told The Spooky Isles. “The following morning my Uncle, who was a Hammer fan, made much of the film, told me all the details and about Peter Cushing. I was very close to my Uncle – he was a very good story teller and nurtured my interest in anything horror film related. I guess I have him to blame … innocent times.”
Marcus said that after watching the Dr Who movie, “I was kind of sold!” and spent the rest of his childhood hunting out any of Peter Cushing films on TV.
“I bought any books or magazines that feature anything on Peter or Hammer Films. I was lucky I was part of the generation that saw Monster Mags and the BBC 2 double bills.”
In his late teens, Marcus began pursuing a career in television. It was around this time he met a woman named Gladys Fletcher, who had been running Peter Cushing’s Fan Club since the 1950s.
“Back in 1956, Peter didn’t have a fan club, but he did have one very enthusiastic admirer in the shape of Gladys Fletcher, who then and until the end of her days was a single lady living at home with her Mum in homely old Ipswich.
“Gladys had polio, which made life a little tough at times, but had great spirit. She wrote to Peter back in ‘56, consistently … I now own the letters … until he agreed to meet with her. I think he met her two or three times before he suggested she manage a fan club for him. Most of his fan mail was answered by various secretaries and assistants that had over the years, but it made it helpful to him to have one club where he could direct the interest of demanding fans.”
In the late 1970s, Gladys was nursing her mother and working so had little time to spend on the Peter Cushing Fan Club. She was planning to close down the club but Marcus stepped up and offered to take over the club. It was at this time he purchased her whole collection. This contained stills, scrapbooks and letters.
“Most of the material was from Peter personally. Many of the photographs have hand written notes on the back to Gladys. They explain Peter’s role, the predicted release date etc. Having this material was most helpful. Throughout most of the time when Gladys managed the club printing costs were quite high, so reproducing photographs was expensive. At the time I started producing the journals, costs had fallen, so the journals were packed with images and graphics. It seemed quite natural that I would front the club, I now owned the archives and photographs … and I was after all, a big fan!”
Marcus said that back then, running the club was quite work intensive.
“We did four journals a year to start with and that grew to six. I expanded the reach of the club by placing ads in the movie mags like Photoplay, Film Review, and Films Illustrated. I did radio and TV interviews … Halloween was always a busy time! Then I started something called The PCAS Sound Mag – a fanzine on audio tape. This was around 1981. I had access to studios, so the production values were quite high. I arranged interviews with people like Subotsky, Roy Ashton, Ralph Bates … and beyond the realms of Peter’s career to with Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Geoffrey Bayldon, many others some of these are on video and luckily at a time these people were still working and could still remember! So it was fun …”
Today, the internet has made some things easier.
“The main push with today’s Peter Cushing Appreciation Society UK (PCASUK) is to find NEW members – new fans,” Marcus said.
“Every day new people join the PCASUK face book account or the website. Many of these new members have to come to Peter’s work through Star Wars, Dr Who, Sherlock Holmes … the age range goes from 18 to 76! I think it is very important to encourage new fans on board.”
Marcus said Hammer Films had a large established following but new fans were being introduced to the classic though The Woman in Black and Wake Wood.
“I’ve met some very kind and genuine people through PCASUK over the last two years, who are eager to learn and want to sound out Peter’s work … and not just the Hammer Horrors either. Both the Facebook account and the website are growing.”
“Today’s PCASUK is about celebration, interaction and a warm welcome for anyone who wants to find out more about Peter Cushing … but in a fun way.”
So over the years, Marcus has amassed a collection of horror movie memorabilia that any fan would die for. He fills his websites – The Black Box Club and the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society sites – with the most amazing rare behind the scenes photographs, publicity material and old newspaper and magazine articles. His archive is nothing short of marvellous.
But the photograph that he enjoys the most is not one taken from a horror film. It is one taken of Peter Cushing on a swing in his later years.
Marcus explains: “This is my fav pic of Peter. Some may think it an odd choice, but I think it says it all really. This was towards the very end of Peter’s life, despite being ill and quite frail … he still couldn’t resist the opportunity to play.”
Surprisingly, Marcus never met Peter Cushing. He preferred to only know the star through the silver screen.
“The meeting of celebs was something I was never into really,” Marcus explained.
“In my late teens, I met (Vincent) Price, Ingrid (Pitt), Ralph Bates, (John) Carradine, (Milton) Subotsky, Roy Ashton, but they were different and it was recorded interviews for our early ‘Tapezine’.
“There were several times I could have (met Peter Cushing), but instead gave the opportunity to others. Not because I am a goody-two-shoes, but for me, I wanted him to be unchanged, on the screen.
“My connection with him always the same, in the fantasy world of film and TV – that was good enough for me. As I grew older, and worked in media and TV, I got used to meeting and working with actors … they’re doing a job and all JUST people.
“For me, Peter wasn’t or ever shall be. Peter Cushing was special.”
ON HIS FAVOURITE PETER CUSHING FILM
“My favourite Cushing film has to be Dracula (1958). It’s the only Cushing film where everything ‘works’, not that Tales from the Crypt isn’t wonderful and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed isn’t. But Dracula without going into the ins and outs of Cushing performance, does it all for me. Second favourite? Probably Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and End of the Affair.”
ON LEAST FAVOURITE PETER CUSHING FILM
“I don’t think I have an outright ‘stinker’ but several that fall short. I am writing a piece on Peter’s ‘The Devil’s Men’ a real car crash of a film. But, through quiet rigorous digging, I’ve found what we ended up with, was never what Peter himself signed up for. All very interesting … and the real bases for the film it should have been lies very close to home! No, I can even find things like in ‘Blood Beast Terror’ and ‘Doctors Wear Scarlett’. The films maybe naff, but Peter had quite good quality control on his performances.”
ON PETER CUSHING AS DOCTOR WHO
“I think Peter made a very good Doctor … he just wasn’t the Dr Who that has been expanded on since. For the time, I am sure you are aware, Subotsky and Co wanted something that was more accessible and an actor’s name that would pack ‘em in. Peter did a job with the material he was given. The whole concept, which left me behind years ago, of time lords, two hearts, etc … was maybe developed after … wasn’t it? He is, as you say, a funny old chap and granddad who appears to be more of an inventor … easily accessible to wee kiddies in the ‘60s. I would have loved to have seen a third Doctor movie … with all his bandy legged theatrics, it’s no worse than Matt Smith, that’s for sure … well, that’s my Dr Who following gone on the website LOL. “