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The Museum presents Peter Sellers: Does That Include Television?

Monday, June 13, 2005

New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA—The Museum of Television & Radio will present Peter Sellers: Does That Include Television?, a Museum-produced tribute to the beloved comedic genius, from July 8 to October 2, 2005. Culled from archives in the United Kingdom and United States, Does That Include Television? spans Sellers's whole career and includes many rare performances and skits not seen in their entirety since originally broadcast. An audio component, I Like to Watch: Peter Sellers on the Radio, will run concurrently in the radio listening room beginning July 19 (July 20 in Los Angeles). 

Although best known to the moviegoing public for his classic roles in such films as The Ladykillers, The Pink Panther, Dr. Strangelove, The Party, and Being There, Peter Sellers (1925–80) had a prolific and highly creative career in two other mediums: radio and television. Long before he was Dr. Strangelove or Inspector Clouseau, Sellers was an acrobat of the airwaves-a virtuosic radio comic in his native England. His extraordinary vocal inventiveness, honed during a childhood spent traveling the music hall circuit, blossomed fully in the company of fellow absurdists Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. Labeling themselves the Goons, they delighted and regularly befuddled the citizenry of postwar Britannia with their larky anarchy while inspiring an entire generation of entertainers, from the Beatles to Monty Python.

The success they found with the public ear spurred them on to the infant medium of television, where, with the help of Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night), they created "Goonavision," a radical rethinking of the Goon ethos for the video age. Sadly, only fragments remain—most of which are included in this series—of such landmark programs as A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred. In 1963 the Goons reunited briefly for a zany puppet spin-off, The Telegoons, but by then Sellers was no longer just an ex-Goon but an international celebrity, a rakish jet-setter constantly in flux.

In between films, records, and a near-fatal heart attack, Sellers returned time and again to the tube to usher out a never-ending parade of characters.  With his impish energy and inexhaustible repertoire of guises, he was both a beloved comedic icon and a lucid conveyor of the schizophrenic madness of the mid-twentieth century. A 1969 documentary profile got straight to the point: Will the Real Peter Sellers (Please Stand Up)?  Sellers is reported to have cried when it aired. "There is no me," he revealed tellingly, and rather earnestly, to Kermit the Frog in 1977. "I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed." The treasured pieces of Sellers that remain will have to do.

Does That Include Television? will screen in New York Tuesdays through Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and Thursday evenings at 6:00 p.m., and in Los Angeles Wednesdays through Sundays at 3:00 p.m. The program has a running time of approximately 120 minutes. Screening highlights include:

•A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred (1956)

"You can ruin anything with Fred."—Peter Sellers. Hilarity and hijinks as the Goons bring their popular act to the tube.

•Yes, It's the Cathode Ray Tube Show! (1957)

Sellers enlisted one-time Goon Michael Bentine to script this freewheeling concoction—of which only one sketch, "Mars Hurtles Toward Earth," survives. 

•The Telegoons (1963)

The return of Neddie Seagoon and his frolicsome friends—as marionettes! Along with the mechanical challenge of syncing the puppets to fresh recordings of classic Goon bits, there was an aesthetic hurdle as well: "Everyone has his own idea of what the Goons look like."

•The Steve Allen Show (1964)

Allen: "Speaking with Sellers that night was a bit like trying to interview the General Assembly of the UN"  The chat-fest culminated with Sellers, egged on by his host, placing a crank call to Scotland Yard.

•A Carol for Another Christmas (1964)

Crowned in a ten-gallon hat emblazoned with the word "Me," Sellers, as the power-crazed leader of the postdoomsday world, proved to all that a brush with death wasn't about to put a dent in his star. One reporter described fans who flocked to the set as "clutching at the wire like frenzied monkeys." Written by Rod Serling.

•Not Only...But Also (1965)

With a nod to his legendary ancestor, prizefighter Daniel Mendoza, Sellers joins Dudley Moore and Peter Cook for a skit about a punch-drunk pugilist who fancies himself an artiste. 

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Sellers, to whom illogical flights of verbal fancy must surely have appealed, embodies the King of Hearts in what is considered by many the most inventive adaptation of Lewis Carroll's tale.

•David Frost's Night Out in London (1967)

"Never try to be funny in a situation which is itself absolutely and essentially funny." Notorious for ruining takes with giggling fits, Sellers manages to play it straight in these two sketches (one written by John Cleese) about men who pretend to be what they are not.

•The Last Goon Show of Them All (1972)

"I will now whistle the soliloquy from Hamlet." Sellers and company reunite for one final hurrah at Camden Theatre, hallowed venue of Goonery.

•The Muppet Show (1977)

Sellers opens up to Kermit in a famous exchange that has been endlessly analyzed for clues to the comedian's elusive and often contradictory personality. 

And much more!

Admission to Peter Sellers: Does That Include Television?  is included with the Museum's suggested contribution: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles.

The Museum of Television & Radio, with locations in New York and Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization founded by William S. Paley to collect and preserve television and radio programs and advertisements and to make them available to the public. Since opening in 1976, the Museum has organized exhibitions, screening and listening series, seminars, and education classes to showcase its collection of over 100,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. Programs in the Museum's permanent collection are selected for their artistic, cultural, and historic significance.

The Museum of Television & Radio in New York, located at 25 West 52 Street in Manhattan, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m. and until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. The Museum of Television & Radio in California, located at 465 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Both Museums are closed on New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Suggested contribution: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles. The public areas in both Museums are accessible to wheelchairs, and assisted listening devices are available. Programs are subject to change. You may call the Museum in New York at (212) 621-6800, or in Los Angeles at (310) 786-1000. Visit the Museum's website at