Thursday, 16 July 2015


In January 1963, Peter Cushing emabarked on his most involved project for sometime. It was a threepart BBC adapation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, part of the nine part cycle called The Spread of the Eagle, which included Corialanus and Antony and Cleopatra. The producer and director was Peter Dawes, who in 1960 had overseen a massive and prestigious production called An Age of Kings comprising Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV and VI and Richard III, starring Sean Connery and Robert Hardy.

In The Spread of the Eagle Cushing was to play Caius Cassius, one of the conspirators in the murder  of Julius Caesar. Cassius is described by Casear as having ' a lean and hungry look'- an appropriate description for Cushing. Fellow conspirator Brutus was Paul Eddington, with Barry Jones as Caesar and Keith Michell as Mark Antony.

The setting is Rome 44BC, where'the colossus'- Julius Caesar- is urged to accpt supreme power. Howeveer, the republicans, icluding the palin thinking Brutus and the coldly intellectual senator Cassius, think they see another tyrant in the making. So a consiracy is forged to assassinate Caesar, while strange supernatural events warn the citizens that tragedy is impending. Casear's death  brings about civil war, and the republican army led by Brutus and Cassius must confront the forces of mark Antony, loyal to Caesars memory.. Brutus, troubled by conscience and ghostly visitations, has little heart fir the fight; neither has Cassius. The battle goes well for them at first, but their enemies prevail and both conspirators die by their own hands.

With it's 1960's graphics and elaborate camera set ups, The Spread of the Eagle boasts a deliberately modern approach, showing how much more sophhisticated television production had become since Cushing's last performances. The acting is naturalistic, and Cushing brings force and and passion to his delivery of Shakespeare's text, investing the complex speeches with emotion and meaning. In his black wig he looks severe, and the television cameras are noticeably less kind to his face than film cameras.

Before rehearsals started on February 25th, Cushing was in contact with Peter Dews to check the pronunciation of certain lines. The series was recorded in Studio 4, television centre on March 8th, March 25th and April 5th 1963 with Cushing's fee at 563 guineas per episode. The production was recorded 'as live', which meant that the recording breaks were kept to a minimum (to avoid costly editing) and small mistakes had to be worked through if possible. Paul Eddinton remembered the problems created by having real horses in the studio - they tended to slip on the rubberised flooring that was used for the battlefield. While Cushing and Eddington struggled to continue their performances, Keith Michell was fighting a losing battle to keep on his horse out of shot. Michelle called Cushing's Cassius 'one of the finest Shakespearean performances I have ever seen' remembering that during rehearsals, Cushing wore doormats and fire-irons in place of his sword and armour, leading the bluff Northerner Peter Dews to remark that he looked like a hearth-tidy!

The newspapers picked up on the return of Peter Cushing. This chripy piece was from James Green in the Daily Mirror,'A Few words today from Cassius. Not Cassius Clay of boxing fame. He never said just a few words about anything. This Cassius is the one with the lean and hungry look. Mr Peter Cushing will play him tonight on BBC TV in the Shakespearean play cycle The Spread of the Eagle' It is five years since Cushing last acted for the BBC. But having decided that they can be no worse than the horror films he is back with a bang. Mr Cushing as Senator Caius Cassius, will be on view for three Fridays in succession. Take a close look at the togas being worn on tv. If you buy a ticket to see Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra you will spot the same garments.

'The TV people decided to use the film company togas and we had to wait fr them to arrive from Rome!' says Cassius Cushing. 'I suppose if togas have got to come from anywhere, they might as well come from Rome! They arrive in two sizes." he explains "Large and small. All that needs altering is the hem length. They have an advantage over suits that fittings are not required. The more I wear togas the more I like them. The real thing takes a long time to wind round but these film jobs were in simplified form. A toga is loose and comfortable, does away with collars and ties and it's easy to learn to swing the train over the left arm'. Peter Cushing lives at Whitstable and for much of the year enjoys - if that is the word- a daily swim. He is the kind of Pied Piper to the local children and often joins them in beach games. In fact, the mob can sometimes be seen pushing him into the water. Casius of the wet and watery look!' 

Text taken from 'The Peter Cushing
Companion' by David Miller

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