Peter Cushing: Past Forgetting

Peter Cushing: ‘Past Forgetting’
Memoirs of the Hammer Years

If you have been following this series of posts, you will have read that my favourite Sherlock Holmes film is the 1959 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which starred Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, but the film is not without its flaws or filming complications. This following excerpt is from one of Peter Cushing’s autobiographies, Past Forgetting, which looks primarily at The Hammer Years.

Peter Cushing: ‘Past Forgetting’ – Memoirs of the Hammer Years. 1988 Published by George Weidenfeld and Nicolson (Pages 78-79)

My first spell of duty as Sherlock Holmes had actually occurred before the television series, when the Hammer production of The Hound of the Baskervilles was made. Tony Hinds, the producer, said how professional I was to have lost weight especially to portray that gaunt detective. I’m afraid I hadn’t been as conscientious as all that – ‘it was Spain what done it!’ – I’d be out there making John Paul Jones, and a bout of dysentery had fined me down. Producers of The Hound of the Baskervilles always experience tremendous difficulties over making the hound seem realistic and truly frightening. This is what they have to aim for:

…I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the dilerious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

Thus spake Dr. Watson, at the end of Chapter Fourteen in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s gripping yarn. Such a description is enough to turn those in the special effects department grey overnight, and I don’t think that the infamous hound has ever been entirely successful in any presentation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Packs of unlikely canine contenders were auditioned by Terry Fisher, most of them just wanting to roll over and have their tummies tickled. Even Crufts failed us.

Eventually one was chosen and given a good coating of glycerine. The production team, endeavouring to create the illusion of the dog’s massive proportions, hit upon the idea of employing three young boys corresponding in relative size to André Morrell (Dr Watson) Christopher Lee (Sir Henry) and myself, dressing them in replicas of our clothes. A miniature set was errected depicting a stretch of Dartmoor, clouds of dry-ice pumped in, representing fog. The decision was to take a long-shot of this set up, and when all was ready for the cameras to turn, a prop-man flung a meaty morsel into the set, whereupon ‘Fido’, who’d been starved up until the last moment, pounced upon it ravenously.

On the following day the rushes were viewed and disappointment deflated all concerned. We saw three small boys dressed up as if playing a game of charades, foggy toy scenery with a wet, hungry dog in the middle, contently wolfing a bone. The sequence was scrapped.

For a fascinating overview of Peter Cushing and Sherlock Holmes, check out the article by Charles Prepolec on the Baker Street Dozen website.

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