One of the greatest comic talents of his generation, Peter Sellers had an exceptional gift for losing himself in a character -- so much so that, beyond his remarkable skill as a performer and his fondness for the humor of the absurd, it's difficult to draw a connection between many of his best performances. While his fondness for playing multiple roles in the same film may have seemed like a stunt coming from many other actors, Sellers had the ability to make each character he played seem distinct and different, and while he was known and loved as a funnyman, only in a handful of roles was he able to explore the full range of his gifts, which suggested he could have had just as strong a career as a dramatic actor.
Born Richard Henry Sellers on September 8, 1925, Sellers was nicknamed "Peter" by his parents, Bill and Agnes Sellers, in memory of his brother, who was a stillbirth. Bill and Agnes made their living as performers on the British vaudeville circuit, and Sellers made his first appearance on-stage only two days after his birth, when his father brought out his infant son during an encore. As a child, Sellers studied dance at the behest of his parents when not occupied with his studies at St. Aloysius' Boarding and Day School for Boys. Sellers also developed a knack for music, and in his teens began playing drums with local dance bands. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Sellers joined the Royal Air Force, and became part of a troupe of entertainers who performed at RAF camps both in England and abroad. During his time in the service, Sellers met fellow comedians Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine; after the war, they found work as performers with the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Sellers hoped to follow suit. After several failed auditions, Sellers struck upon the idea of calling Roy Speer, a BBC producer, posing as one of the network's top actors. Sellers gave Sellers an enthusiastic recommendation, and Speer gave him a spot on the radio series Show Time.