Zodiac mindwarp

How astrology shaped Sellers' life

Peter Sellers turned to the paranormal to help him get through his turbulent life, a new Channel 4 documentary is to claim.

Friends, family and colleagues told programme-makers how the troubled comic relied on superstitions to counter his insecurities, and how that dependence led him to place all his decisions in the hands of a powerful astrologer.

They claim Sellers' interest in the subject grew through his friendship with fellow Goon Michael Bentine, who had grown up surrounded by psychics.

Peter Evans, Sellers' biographer and friend said: "Peter came under people's influence, people that he admired, and he was deeply impressed in the early days by Michael."

His personal secretary Hattie Proudfoot said: "If Peter was filming, and you went on the set wearing purple, that would be the end of the day. He couldn't possibly go on filming because somebody had come in wearing purple."

But Sellers' first child, Michael, said his father used his superstitions as an excuse. "It allowed him to misbehave," he said "[People would say], 'Oh well, it is because he is superstitious, so in that case it is OK.'

Influenced by Bentine, Sellers' interest spread to become an all-consuming obsession with astrology. He spent a fortune on daily predictions, insisting his assistants bring regular updates to him.

One assistant, Bert Mortimer, recalled how Sellers once called in to cancel a day's filming on the way to the studios because his horoscopes "were not conducive to a good day".

The compulsion led Sellers into a friendship with clairvoyant Maurice Woodruff, which was to shape every aspect of his life.

Claiming he was a gypsy, and the seventh son of a seventh son, Woodruff would give Sellers advice on everything from his career to his women. Even when filming abroad, Sellers would call Woodruff for regular psychic readings.

And when Sellers's is marriage failed and his domestic life collapsed, he leant more and more heavily on Woodruff, leaving all major decisions in his hands.

It was not long, however, before film-makers got wind of Woodruff's hold over Sellers.

As Evans recalls, "Producers would say to him, 'I've got a lovely part for Peter, you know, if you could happen to mention it next time you are reading the tea cups it would be great for me and a couple of bob in it for you.'"

The Paranormal Peter Sellers will be broadcast on Channel 4 on December 21.

Published: 3 Dec 2002

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