Peter Cushing: The Complete Memoirs book review

Peter Cushing: The Complete Memoirs collects An Autobiography and Past Forgetting

As a fan of horror, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the parents or grandparents in our staunchly traditional family unit.

Lee is the stern father, emotionally isolated and his word is law, while Cushing is the softer, more delicate figure. We who hang off every forbidding pause in his delivery in Dracula or The Horror Of Frankenstein, the millions of children and grandchildren in this vast, respectful tribe.

It’s difficult not to feel close to Peter Cushing, as this collected volume for the centenary of the icon’s birth, underlines.

Containing 1986’s An Autobiography, which focuses largely on his early life and career, and marriage to Helen, and 1988’s Past Forgetting which is more of a sop to his fans, a collection of rambling anecdotes about Bernard Cribbins sitting on a blasting cap while making She, and rattling off all the times he met his gristly end on film – and as horror academic Jonathan Rigby points out in his all-new intro, he misses a few.

Tacked on the end is the previously unprinted The Peter Cushing Story, which was written in 1955 for serialisation in the press.

It’s far from comprehensive in terms of his Hammer career, and those looking for a blow by blow of the classic movies will doubtless feel disappointed, similarly as much of what is contained here has passed into horror lore – the business with the candlesticks in Dracula for example, even if you haven’t clapped eyes on the original volumes, you might already feel as though you’ve torn it cover to cover.

Aside from the glorious array photos that cover his entire life and career (although that’s undermined slightly by the forthcoming release of lavish looking The Peter Cushing Scrapbook), the facts aren’t The Complete Memoirs USP – it’s the intimacy.

Cushing’s conversational (complete with ‘Oh, Nan!’ phonetic accents), inclusive writing style makes everything feel as affecting and amusing as a barrage of stories from a favourite, seldom-seen relative – he’s by turns charming and heartbreaking, and the declining health and eventual death of his wife will pull you down to the depths he himself was forced to.

From his early struggle to tread the boards in spite of parental disapproval, the outbreak of war, and the hand-to-mouth poverty of a jobbing actor, to his TV stardom in the Fifties, there’s a real sincerity and a self-deprecating grace to Peter Cushing that gives his writing the feeling of a very personal admission, straight from his twinkling eyes and few smile, to you, the reader.

100 years on from his birth, and we’ve never felt closer to the gentle man of horror.