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Whitstable exhibition to highlight Peter Cushing's 100th birthday

PUBLISHED: 16:36 25 March 2013 | UPDATED: 16:39 25 March 2013

copyright Carlo Pangrazio - opening of 'Cushing View'

copyright Carlo Pangrazio - opening of 'Cushing View'

Archant

Remembering the legend of the silver screen in his home town

Star Wars

When Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the destruction of the planet Alderaan by demonstrating the power of the Death Star, he created a little piece of cinematic history.

What few realise is that as he outranked Darth Vader and made a captive Princess Leia squeal, he was padding around the deck of the space station in a pair of slippers.

Because when Peter Cushing portrayed the character in the 1977 Star Wars original he did so in footwear which was rather more comfortable than the boots the wardrobe

department had assigned to him.

Instead it was agreed the close-up shots would allow him to wear slippers. Those very slippers form part of the exhibition.

Not a big fan of science fiction, he saw the huge potential in Star Wars and originally auditioned for the role of Obi Wan Kenobi.

Due to his fame, Mr Cushing received a daily payment of some £2,000 – four times the amount Harrison Ford earned in a week portraying Han Solo.

HE PORTRAYED some of the silver screen’s most iconic characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Who, and made his name in the Hammer Horror movies with roles such as Baron Frankenstein and vampire hunter Dr Van Helsing.

Yet for all the scares and frights he portrayed on film, Peter Cushing was known as one of life’s gentlemen – devoted to his wife, and in love with his adopted town of Whitstable.

And to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, a special exhibition depicting his life launches next weekend at the town’s museum.

It will feature a host of artefacts, from film stills and posters to examples of his artwork and even the pair of slippers he famously wore while filming Star Wars (see box).

It is hoped it will be a fitting tribute to a man who spent more than 40 years in the town and still regularly attractors visitors to come and see his seafront home and sit on the seat he donated to the town at Cushing’s View – the spot he loved to sit at and watch the tides comes and go.

He first moved to Whitstable with his wife Helen – to whom he was devoted until her death in 1971 – in the 1950s. So crushed was he by her passing, he admitted part of him died too. Yet he remained in the town until his death, from cancer, at a Canterbury hospice in 1994.

Joyce Broughton was Mr Cushing’s secretary for 35 years and the pair became good friends.

The 79-year-old said: “It was a temporary job that ended up lasting 35 years. I started with him in 1959. My friend worked for him and she went abroad so he needed a new secretary. I said no because I wanted children. In those days you couldn’t work and have children.

“So my friend took several others to see Mr and Mrs Cushing and he didn’t get on with any of them. In the end I said I would do it as a temporary job because I wanted children. I started in the September and by Christmas he asked me if I would stay. He said he didn’t mind how many children I had, he would work round it. And bless his heart, he did.”

Mrs Broughton took care of Mr Cushing’s accounts and fan mail and many of the artefacts in the exhibition come from her private collection.

She added: “It was an honour to work for him, but I wasn’t star struck. He was very down to earth, and pPerhaps that’s why he liked me, because I didn’t coo at him.

“I did the work and I respected him and became very fond of him. In fact I looked after him in his old age.I sat with him during the last 10 days of his life in the hospice. We had a good relationship. He was a super person, genuine, kind, considerate and lovely.”

The actor, who appeared in 91 films – perhaps most famously the Hammer movies alongside Christopher Lee (who became his greatest friend) (who would become his greatest friend) and Vincent Price, in the likes of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein – was protected by the townsfolk of Whitstable.

Mrs Broughton added: “He loved Whitstable because people treated him ordinarily. He was a gentleman, and they protected him. He felt very safe here. He loved the people and the town.”

A keen artist, he painted many watercolours – a side to the actor exhibition organiser Manda Gifford wanted to show to the public.

She said: “The exhibition shows a whole other side of him that not everybody knows. For instance he was a very good watercolour artist, he was a very good designer and even designed scarves for Marks and Spencer.”

Mrs Gifford was also a neighbour of Peter Cushing. She said: “I lived two doors from him. I didn’t know him well, although he was so courteous he made anybody feel like he knew them.

“He was very much known and respected in the town. He was very respectful of the people who lived here so they looked after him too. If they didn’t like the look of people asking after him they would pretend they didn’t know where he lived.

“If people come to the exhibition they can then walk out in to the town and visit the places where he spent time, they can have lunch where he had lunch and see the house where he lived.”

The exhibition runs from March 29 to June 13 at the Whitstable Museum and Gallery in Oxford Street. It is open daily from 10am to 4pm. See www.canterbury-museums.co.uk or call 01227 276998 for details.

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