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Peter Sellers at Chipperfield Manor

PUBLISHED: 16:49 02 March 2011 | UPDATED: 18:58 20 February 2013

Peter Sellers at Chipperfield Manor

Peter Sellers at Chipperfield Manor

For Peter Sellers his grand house in Hertfordshire heralded the beginning of international stardom, but even such splendour brought little contentment to the volatile actor, as Amanda Hodges discovers

For Peter Sellers his grand house in Hertfordshire heralded the beginning of international stardom, but even such splendour brought little contentment to the volatile actor, as Amanda Hodges discovers



MANY people have a passion for novelty but the actor Peter Sellers surely eclipsed them all. He would change a car for the smallest imperfection or move home on a whim, something to which his first wife Anne attested.
In late 1959, when living in Whetstone with their two young children she recalls, We saw this advert in the Sunday Times for this manor house in Chipperfield so we went out to have a look at it and Peter decided, there and then, he had to have it.
The actor himself said, I wanted a place I could walk around without crossing any streets. It is a very civilised exile. And exile is what he seems to have wanted by this stage in his life. He wryly told the press, Im trying to build a legend that Im a mad actor who rides a black mare across the field at night with a hook on my hand. Then maybe theyll leave me alone.
Chipperfield Manor, near Kings Langley, was a huge Grade II listed Queen Anne mansion. The estate cost 17,500 and boasted a seven acre park, tennis court, swimming pool, paddocks and two Tudor barns amongst its assets.
Sellers swiftly restored the barns to house his drum kit and model railway set, lopped down beautiful apple trees for no apparent reason and installed a home cinema and finding dedicated space for his photographic hobby.
By the late 50s Sellers was on the cusp of super-stardom. Born in 1925 to parents who were seasoned variety performers Peter had spent much of his childhood on tour with his parents.
After wartime service in ENSA he found fame on radio sensation The Goon Show, his uncanny skills as a comic actor and astonishingly gifted mimic presaging his international screen career. Fellow Goon Spike Milligan said of Sellers, For anyone who found reality difficult, like Peter, The Goon Show was sheer therapy. Here he could indulge his considerable imagination and vent all frustration in the name of comedy.
Chipperfield, purchased just before the release of Im All Right, Jack, still didnt give Sellers any tangible security. He said, I get worried. Success does it I suppose. Youre suddenly able to afford a vast mansion in Chipperfield and you wonder how long its going on.
Ever the benign host, Sellers invited Stanley Kubrick and the Boulting Brothers, among others, to enjoy his hospitality. But Sellers mood swings intensified as his screen career soared. Once a chubby, unappealing boy of exceptional talent he was starting to transform himself into the more svelte, laconic being familiar from later films.
There used to be a me behind the mask, but I had it surgically removed, Sellers often commented on his own vacuity of personality.
A man who could be immensely charming and amusing, Sellers was also infinitely capricious and it was at Chipperfield that his marriage began to falter, sealed by the marital debacle caused by The Millionairess.
Initially unenthusiastic about Anthony Asquiths film in which he would play selfless Dr Kabir, the generous fee and casting of Sophia Loren as heiress Epifania changed his mind. I dont normally act with romantic, glamorous women. Shes a lot different from Harry Secombe!
he said.
Sellers was soon hopelessly smitten by the actress and began declaring his passion openly, even to his long-suffering wife . I was never in love with any woman as deeply as I was with Sophia, he would always maintain.
Nothing could dampen Sellers ardour, until the realisation that Loren would not leave her husband for him eventually dawned.
Departure from Chipperfield was just as impetuous as arrival. In 1961, irritated that it would take time to be accepted in the locality, Sellers sold the house impulsively without his wifes knowledge and moved everyone to the Carlton hotel, before taking up residence in Hampstead, the first of many subsequent moves, none sadly providing the stability hed long craved.

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