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