I Say I Say I Say: A Delightful Home Movie by Peter Sellers (1964)

In late 1964, when he was at the height of his suc­cess, Peter Sell­ers filmed a series of vaude­vil­lian sketch­es with a group of wealthy and social­ly elite friends. He edit­ed the scenes togeth­er into a movie and called it I Say I Say I Say.

The ten-minute film was made dur­ing a week­end at the home of Joce­lyn and Jane Stevens. Joce­lyn Stevens was the pub­lish­er of Queen mag­a­zine and had recent­ly gained noto­ri­ety by financ­ing the con­tro­ver­sial pirate radio ship Caroline–hence the ref­er­ence to “the Duke and Duchess of Car­o­line.” A draw­ing of the pirate ship appears at the begin­ning of the film on top of the Duke and Duchess’s coat of arms, with its sym­bols for mon­ey and guns and the Latin mot­to “Errare Humanum Est” (“To Err is Human”).

Sell­ers is joined in the film by his preg­nant wife Britt Ekland, the Stevens­es, Princess Mar­garet and her hus­band Antho­ny Arm­strong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snow­don. Sell­ers jok­ing­ly called the enter­prise “Snow­do­deo­do Pro­duc­tions.” In one scene, Lord Snow­don appears as a rather effem­i­nate gang­ster. But the most famous episode fea­tures Sell­ers as “The Great Berko,” recent­ly returned from his “dra­mat­ic suc­cess at the Work­men’s Insti­tute, Penge,” who presents an uncan­ny imper­son­ation of Her Roy­al High­ness, Princess Mar­garet.  Sell­ers dis­ap­pears behind a screen and out comes–of course–the real Princess Mar­garet, sis­ter of Queen Eliz­a­beth II.

I Say I Say I Say was locked away in the Sell­ers fam­i­ly archives until about 1995, when the BBC pro­duced The Peter Sell­ers Sto­ry. The film was nev­er intend­ed for pub­lic exhi­bi­tion. “It was total­ly impro­vised,” Lord Snow­don told The Tele­graph in 2004. “Peter had a cam­era that he want­ed to try out. It was all very hap­haz­ard. We made the whole thing in I should think two hours.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Peter Sell­ers Per­forms The Bea­t­les in Shake­speare­an Mode

Peter Sell­ers Gives a Quick Demon­stra­tion of British Accents

Peter Sell­ers Reads The Bea­t­les’ ‘She Loves You’ in Four Voic­es

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Comments (2)
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  • Debby S says:

    Thank you. You might enjoy look­ing up Spike Mil­li­gan, too.

  • Nixer Doyle says:

    First­ly, while it is not inac­cu­rate in style to label the film “vaude­vil­lian”, it would per­haps bet­ter be described as influ­enced by ‘music hall’, the British equiv­a­lent of what is osten­si­bly the same form of vari­ety the­atre.

    Peter (actu­al­ly Richard Hen­ry Sell­ers; Peter was the birth name of Sell­ers’ old­er broth­er who was still­born. Sell­ers’ moth­er Peg became preg­nant almost imme­di­ate­ly and always referred to her sec­ond born as Peter) was ‘born in a trunk’, mean­ing he was born into a fam­i­ly of music hall per­form­ers, con­stant­ly tour­ing with a troupe, there­fore liv­ing out of a steam­er trunk, hence the above-men­tioned expres­sion.

    Leg­end has it that Peter’s first appear­ance on the music hall stage was at the age of two weeks. Peg was a dancer in The Ray Sis­ters troupe and his father Bill, accord­ing to Peter, was a bit of an all-rounder but excelled at the ukulele.

    Five years before Peter’s rather well-cut home movie, he and Richard Lester, who would lat­er become famous for direct­ing A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, made anoth­er ‘home movie’ with Peter’s friend and comedic col­league Spike Mil­li­gan.
    Along with Har­ry Sec­ombe and, in the ear­ly years, Michael Ben­tine, Peter and Spike became famous for their week­ly radio half hour com­e­dy, The Goon Show.

    This col­lab­o­ra­tion would not mere­ly serve as the spring­board for Peter’s lat­er star­dom, The Goons rev­o­lu­tionised British com­e­dy, a sem­i­nal influ­ence for a gen­er­a­tion of British come­di­ans, includ­ing the stars of the West End & Broad­way smash Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook, Dud­ley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Ben­nett, as well as six mid­dle class war babies who, in 1969, began their own jour­ney as comedic rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies with the ‘tele­vi­sion pro­gramme’ Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus.

    Oh but how I digress and moistly express grat­i­tude for your indul­gence in mak­ing it this far.

    The ear­li­er ‘home movie’, cred­it­ed Sell­ers and Lester as direc­tors but was almost cer­tain­ly the brain­child of Mil­li­gan, was called The Run­ning, Jump­ing & Stand­ing Still Film. It was nom­i­nat­ed for an Acad­e­my Award in the short films cat­e­go­ry. So, there’s a lit­tle more absinthe in your sug­ar cube.

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