Christopher & Peter

Books

After I wrote the horror romp ‘Hell Train’ I never really went back to it. I don’t think it was a huge success (although there’s a nice German edition), partly because I went with a small publishing house, partly because it was a bit too clever for the market. The plot concerns a writer hired to come up with a fast, cheap script for Hammer, and the script’s events unfold as a series of gaudy set-pieces.

Here the writer attends a script meeting at Bray Studios with his cast. The book was intended to be the film I would most have liked Hammer to make…

Peter Cushing was in his fifties, gaunt and small boned, but the litheness of his movements suggested surprising youth and fitness. Christopher Lee seemed even taller and grander than he had expected. It was rumoured that Lee was the son of an Italian countess, that he had aristocratic passions that included fencing and languages, but on screen he often seemed cold and aloof. Did he ever smile with his eyes?

Perhaps that was the secret of his friendship with Cushing. Everybody loved Peter; his warmth and authority lifted the dullest scripts. It made Shane wonder how successful Hammer would have been without the pair of them.

Christopher Lee gravely shook his hand. Peter Cushing smiled at him with great, watery blue eyes. He felt embarrassed by their deference, and nervously fingered the script pages on the table. Emma had sat with him typing until 2:00am, but the last section was still unfinished.

‘Have some tea,’ said Carreras. ‘It’s single estate high grown Ceylon. Thought we might break out the good stuff for a change.’

Tea was poured. Cake appeared. Everyone relaxed into their chairs. He realized that Carreras was waiting for him to begin. Shane cleared his throat.

‘I’m aware that Mr Cushing told the press he always wanted to make a film set on a train. And when – Michael – suggested I should write something with the same location, it chimed with my own ideas to develop such a project. I’ve always felt there was a theme at work in the Dracula films, the eternal battle to keep the Devil held at bay. I’m proposing we explore that idea in more detail. I see the train as a great repository of fates and fables, like Chinese boxes. That sounds kind of grand, I know. Let me see if I can simplify it.’

His confidence grew as he outlined the script. The assembly remained silent, only interrupting to concur or add a comment. He couldn’t imagine such a meeting happening like this in Hollywood. The executives would have been making power plays by now, cutting each other’s hearts out.

Lee steepled his long fingers, listening gravely and intently. When Cushing wanted to speak he merely sat forward slightly, and everyone turned to him. ‘I wondered – have you any preference about the roles you’d like us to play?’ He elegantly rolled his Rs. His language was clearer than glass, so that he never needed to raise his voice.

‘Well, I hadn’t really –’

‘Only I rather think I’m a little long in the tooth to play your vicar, although I’m sure Christopher could manage the deserter, Nicholas. Would I not be better suited to play the Brigadier?’

‘I daresay he has me earmarked for the Conductor,’ said Lee, ‘an agent of evil.’ He gave a deep mirthless laugh. Everyone else laughed, just in case they were turned to stone.

‘Certainly that was what I had in mind,’ said Shane.

‘Veronica Carlson would be good for Isabella,’ said Freddie Francis. ‘And Barbara Shelley for Miranda?’

Was this really how films got made in this country? It seemed an extraordinary way to hold a script session. They were already talking about casting without having read a word he’d written. Surely there was a point where the politeness ended?

‘It occurs to me that you could have some doubling up,’ said Carreras. ‘Roy Ashton’s brilliant at changing people’s appearances, and it might stretch the team a bit to have them playing more than one role.’

‘Interesting metaphysical idea,’ said Francis, ‘as if the tests were being played over and over with the same protagonists.’

‘Does that mean we get paid twice over?’ asked Thorley Walters. Everybody laughed. No.

18 comments on “Christopher & Peter”

  1. Susanna Carroll says:

    I don’t think Shane has done his research, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had already been in a film set on a train Horror Express (1972), but of course this is fiction (Unless this is pre-’72). I’ve just bought it on Kindle so I’ll find out.

  2. admin says:

    It wasn’t made by Hammer but was a co-production filmed in Madrid. It’s very good except for the Kojak bits.

  3. SteveB says:

    One of your best books imo Chris

  4. Ian Mason says:

    I was in Foyles one day, perusing the books on the table near the rear door. A deep voice said “excuse me” and its owner reached clean over the top of my head and picked up a book from the table. I looked up to see quite how tall this giant was and found myself looking into the face of Count Dracula. Christopher Lee was way more impressive in person that any impression film may have given you of him.

  5. Jo W says:

    I have read this book of yours twice now and I still smile at the allusions to the Hammer Horror films. This was a great film that never happened.
    Btw, the title of this post had me slightly confused ( not a difficult situation to bring about). I thought it was going to be about you and ‘im indoors. 😉

  6. Jo W says:

    Ian Mason,
    Wow, Christopher Lee in person, wow just wow!

  7. Matt says:

    Another super post, another super book. I just loved it. Once i’ve finished reading about Red Hellions adventures on my Kindle I’ll dive back into this one for sure.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I like the English cover for the mood but there is much more motion in the German one so overall perhaps better. Interesting.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    I can’t imagine how you must have felt, Ian, looking up into that face from that angle, but it must have been quite disturbing.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    I always loved the way Hammer would go about getting a film made. Ideas would be mulled over, and a title thought up, and then a poster, usually by someone like Tom Chantrell, would be produced, and then taken round to the various film companies. Two that were never made as movies, but exist as brilliantly lurid posters, were ‘Zeppelin vs. Pterodactylus’, and ‘The Day The World Cracked Open’, the latter featuring a topless girl, who looks suspiciously like Caroline Munro, in a space helmet, in front of volcanic carnage. I suppose that one could view Hammer movie posters as a kind of pre internet clickbait, inasmuch as quite often, the imagery, both pictorial, and on the straplines on the poster, bore little or no resemblance to the actual movie. And why not?

  11. Kurt Duerksen says:

    Intriguing idea. I’m tracking down a copy to read.

  12. snowy says:

    Spookily I was reading a Den of Geek article (by Marc Buxton) about unmade Hammer films earlier this evening.

    From which I have just go back to and plucked the following:

    “When the Earth Cracked Open

    It’s nice that the topless astronaut lady featured in the poster to this aborted Hammer skin flick has an oxygen helmet, the poor lass needs to breath after all. I have no idea what’s going on in that poster and reportedly, neither did Hammer as the studio could not decide whether When the Earth Cracked Open was going to be a contemporary set sci-fi pot boiler or a prehistoric actioner.

    The film was set to star Bond girl Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me), although no film historian quite knows if Hammer was going to be daring enough to put the gorgeous Munro in that outfit…or lack of outfit. One thing is for sure, knowing Hammer, the crack in the Earth wouldn’t have been the only crack featured in this film. Isn’t space supposed to be cold? Poor lady.”

    [There is a link to the article under my screen name for those wanting to read the complete thing.]

  13. snowy says:

    Hmm seems cite tags don’t work on this blog, I wonder if quote tags do?

    There is… really only one way to find out!

    “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”

    Jack Benny 1894-1974

  14. snowy says:

    One more time with feeling, (then I promise I will stop.)

    Redder than red blood, international ingénues with deep cleavage, lush settings, elaborate costumes and sets, these are just some of the aspects people think of when they remember Hammer Films and the horrors the studio constructed.

  15. Denise Treadwell says:

    I was wondering, how do you define a good actor?

  16. Ian Luck says:

    I think the question should be, when trying to determine whether an actor is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ one, is: can I believe his/her actions, no matter how outlandish the part? With Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, yes, you could. Peter Cushing often did things on set that weren’t in the script, but which added nuance to his role. In 1957’s ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (in which American star Forrest Tucker was a very bad actor), Cushing surprised other cast members in a scene where his character examined some evidence, instead of just looking at it, fished about in his pockets, and took out tweezers and a magnifying glass, and continued with the scene as written. He was also very convincing when being throttled. Christopher Lee? Just watch him in his cameo role in ‘Death Line’ (1972), or as Mycroft Holmes in ‘The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes’ (1970) – you believe every word. Suspension of disbelief. That’s how you tell a good actor, simple as that.

  17. Ken Mann says:

    Complementary to that Christopher Lee bookshop encounter – an acquaintance of mine ran into Peter Cushing in a bookshop and as result has a rare copy of Gray’s Anatomy signed by Peter Cushing as the most suitable book that happened to be to hand.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    Ken – I would have thought that a copy of an anatomy book signed by ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ has to be pretty damn near perfect.

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