Choose Your Route


What you are about to see is not an idle tale of people who never existed and that that could never have happened. It is a PARABLE.

Do not be alarmed: you will not be bored by it. It is, I hope, both true and inspired. Some of the people in it are real people whom I have met and talked to.

One of the others may be YOU.

There will be a bit of you in all of them. We are all members one of another.

If you do not enjoy every word of it we shall both be equally disappointed.  

Well friend: have I ever disappointed you?”

From ‘Major Barbara’ 1941


You can navigate 'The Sleep Artist' by time period or by character. Or you can just scroll down and keep going...

The Cast 


The Writer……………………….…..         Isabella Shure

The Biographer…………………….      Tim Wright

The PA/Young Agent …………….     Martin Chambers 

The Director…………………..…         Devon

The Actress ……………….….….        Helen Grosvenor

The Punk Rocker…………….….      Clem Media/Christopher Shure

The Diaries of Peter Shure

Press Cuttings


1920s    1930s    1940s    1950s    1960s    1970s    1980s    1990s    2000s


“Sometimes I wish I was ordinary like you. Dead ordinary.”


Why did I not become more involved in the search for my darling Christopher in 1996? To a very large extent that is no-one’s business but my own. Moi tout seul. But I will tell you, nevertheless.

Truly, I became tired of living my life in the public eye. I had to account for myself and my family on so many different occasions – good and bad – ‘paradis et enfer’. And because of my gifts – ‘ma donée’ as Belmondo called it - people have expected me to give them all the answers to the various mysteries of their lives and provide solace in the face of difficult news.

But I’ve had the most miniscule of thanks or praise for my troubles in that regard. Looking back, I sometimes wonder what it was all for. When I was honest and open about my premonition of Peter’s death, the press simply mocked me as ‘Mystic Helen’. “The fake that launched a thousand quips” was one headline. Amusing, but also hurtful. Nobody wanted to take me seriously.

Before that, I had always taken a lot of time out of my busy schedule to help the authorities with events that were mysterious to them in some way, in particular regarding the deaths of men I was familiar with, such as Pasolini and Belovice. No doubt you can dig up any number of statements I made at the time that were intended to be helpful, but instead were met with ridicule. All the good it did for me to talk of the men in my dreams!  There was zero chance of any European funding for my projects after that. Gangsters, all of them.

And, of course, people like to associate me with the first time Christopher went on one of his wanders in 1974.  

All those films and television programmes. All those theatre performances, and they remember me for this.

I did what any mother would have done. I did everything in my power to galvanise the authorities and maintain strong press interest in finding Christopher as quickly as possible.

And it worked – as publicity often works. He was back with us within three days, completely unharmed. Sain et sauf.

But, again, I was painted as a witch. People want to say I was callous because we only delayed filming on ‘Queen of Scots’ for a few days. But that was the business back then. The show had to go on. Important people were in danger of losing money - the kind of people who do not like losing money.

So perhaps you can understand why I have become more muted in recent years. I still do have dreams and visions, but I have decided not to share them ouvertement. Bien sûr, if I felt someone was in danger, I would speak up, naturally. But who would believe me these days?

In the case of Christopher in his last wander I knew very well that there would be no funeral, so I did not fear for him in that regard. And to be very honest, I had become accustomed to Christopher’s disappearances. They were a regular occurrence in our lives.  Every few years he would take off. That was just how he was. A wanderer. You can ascribe something psychological or Freudian to it if you will, but I tend not to look too deep when it comes to people’s behaviour. Peter’s behaviour, for example, has been analysed far too much to my mind – the absurdité of his sleeping and all that junk. He was what he was.

In Christopher’s case I had every confidence his ‘96 disappearance was very much like all the others – his way of coping with stress and rejection. Not unlike Peter’s facility to absent himself whenever the going got tough – there’s an explanation for his sleeping if you want one. He was a coward!

So no, I had no need to speak out. On top of that, I think it was clear to everyone since Peter’s death in 1990 that Isabella was beyond keen to play the leading role in family affairs. While this may have have been a source of difference between us in the past, there came a point where I was more than happy to give up and let her take the lead.

There comes a time of life when the baton has to be passed over to the next generation. And it isn’t a question of whether they’ve developed the necessary competence or charisma to justify taking over. Time marches on and the young just do take over from the old. I have had to accept that.

Nobody really wants to know what I think or feel anymore. Certainly, nobody wants to hear about my dreams, my visions of the future. Least of all my children. Christopher, I believe, is very much still out there and has decided not to make contact with me, not even in my dreams. Isabelle is at an age where she deserves to handle the shocks and ambushes of life in her own way. I try not to look at the future with her anymore. Chiefly because there isn’t one.

I don’t wish to be gloomy. But the end has to be recognised when it shows itself. But don’t expect me to speak about that any more. Ç'est ça. My dreams are at last entirely my own.

Biographer’s note

Helen Grosvenor fails to mention the first time the world came to know of her as a person with second-sight. It was destined to have consequences for how the world would see her from thereon in, and may have played a part in her reticence regarding premonitions in later life.

In the 1966 film ‘Autumn Séance’, she played Myra Stanley, a professional medium who becomes obsessed with helping the police find a missing child, only to find that her husband has come under suspicion for the kidnapping.*

The plotline of the film chimed in powerfully with the big news story of the day, the notorious Manchester Murders.

Three children - Stephen Case (12), Mark McCargill (10) and Susan Begshire (9) - had all gone missing in the months before ‘Autumn Séance was released. The police had failed to arrest anyone for their abduction (or worse), but had connected the cases, citing a series of sightings of a Blue Vauxhall Victor at places where the children were last seen, as well as similarities in the way each child had been spirited away.

It would have been easy for the producers of ‘Autumn Séance’ to let the film speak for itself. Instead, posters and promotions for the movie included references to ‘an evil amongst us’ and ‘the spine-tingling search for a missing child’.  

Grosvenor was actively encouraged in promotional interviews to draw parallels between the film and events in Manchester. Perhaps emboldened by the positive critical reaction to her performance (or had vestiges of Myra, her character, remained fresh within her after an arduous and immersive shooting schedule?), Grosvenor went a lot further than simply commenting on the Manchester Murders. She spoke for the first time in public about her ability to dream about events that would happen in the future, and went as far as to claim she could tune into the life spirit of particular individuals.

“I have had these powers since I was a little girl,” she told the Daily Express. “I’ve never really talked about it before, but this film has given me the confidence to speak out. And now I feel there’s a chance to put my gifts to very good use. I feel sure I might be able to help in locating these poor children. I sense I can perhaps tune into them spiritually and have them tell us where they are and what happened to them.”

“No, I’m not saying they’re alive or dead,” she went on. “I’m just saying I might be able to help the families and the police find out where they are, where they’re being held and exactly who it is who has taken them… if indeed they have been taken.”

The Manchester and Salford Police were understandably sceptical about this statement from Helen but felt obliged to follow it up, in order to keep the case in the news and encourage new witnesses to come forward.

Grosvenor gave at least two interviews to the police, and also met with the families of the missing children. It is said she even conducted a controlled ‘sleep séance’ that led to the identification of two separate locations where Helen believed  the children might be. Both of these were investigated by the police to no avail.

As time went by, Helen’s pronouncements on the Manchester Murders lost favour with the newspapers and the general public. The more she asserted her desire to help and to have received more visions from the beyond, the more people considered her to be ghoulish and cranky, and suspected her of using the tragedy simply to boost her own film work.

When the arrests came of the two people who were eventually charged with three counts of murder, Grosvenor was made to look foolish indeed. None of what she had predicted matched up with the testimony of the killers, and the bodies of the three children were recovered in locations far from where she had predicted.

Some positive press came later in 1966 with the return of Peter Shure from Hollywood, seemingly to play happy families. But this too quickly ended in disaster. Peter walked out in early 1967 when Helen was already pregnant with Christopher. As one particularly acerbic showbiz columnist wrote at that time: “She certainly didn’t see that coming."

*Initially, the role of her hen-pecked husband was to be played by Grosvenor’s real-life spouse Peter Shure, in a vague attempt to mimic, in a low-budget way, the screen chemistry Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Letters written by the director Bryan Ford in 1964, however, make it pretty clear the role was always going to go to Richard Attenborough, much to Shure’s chagrin.

How does he do it?

In days gone by, it was simply accepted that a Marilyn Monroe or a Cary Grant had something mysteriously magnetic about them that was beyond categorisation. 

But in today’s world, increasingly governed by money and metrics, focus groups and film school seminars, the actor’s ability to connect with audiences is constantly put under the microscope.

Many tricks of the trade are already known – different lighting setups, filters, lenses, the presentation of a particular aspect of the face, catchphrases, signature expressions and body language, a timbre of the voice that is immediately recognisable, specialist microphones for distorting the voice, voiceover artists for replacing the voice, specialist makeup that might take hours to apply, prosthetics and wigs, body doubles, digital avatars…

Actors have a growing arsenal of techniques they can apply in order create a recognisable screen persona that audiences can’t help but be drawn to. In more recent times, various ‘methods’ of character immersion have been adopted famously by the likes of Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman, all of which one can now learn from a book. In the 1980s, Michael Caine offered masterclasses in how to be Michael Caine on screen. And Oliver Reed memorably gave away the secrets of being an effective screen villain (straight, short hair, very little mouth movement when speaking and no blinking).

But just how Peter Shure secured his hold over the viewer, through the simple act of being asleep, has never been explained. And most directors he has worked with you can’t tell you his secret either.

One might assume it was the result of things Shure himself has learned along the way working with particular directors or DoPs.  For example, from the early 1970s onwards, Shure would often lobby for revered cinematographer Jack Cardiff to be on board for any project he agreed to. Producers quickly learned, though to laugh this off as a delusion of grandeur on Shure’s part. Cardiff was far too grand to be associated with the kind of movies to which Shure was attached. Cardiff himself only learned of these requests much later, after Shure and the director Michael Powell had become friends. There is no evidence, in fact, that Shure ever actually met Cardiff and certainly never worked with him.

Where there are clues about Shure’s secret method (if indeed there was one) is in his diaries. We do know for certain, for example, that Shure was a great admirer of Powell and Pressburger films, and it’s safe to say that ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was an important point of inspiration for Shure. He mentions going to see it during the Christmas holidays in 1946, accompanied by his fellow PoW Robert (later Roberta) Cowell:

“Cowell was rather upset by it. I calmed him down afterwards with a few scotch and sodas in a pub just off Piccadilly. For my money, the film was jolly good. Niven is spectacular, even though he spends a lot of the time just lying about the place. And the whole thing is rather fantastical. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, a strange comparison to make about a war film I know. Cowell couldn’t see it that way. It just made him think of burning planes and motor crashes. And it must have dug up stuff from Barth, too, although the less said about that the better.”

For Cowell and for many others who watched ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, the film must have triggered appalling memories of bomber raids gone wrong. Yes, the tone of the film is unnervingly light, with a soundtrack which is for the most part rather jaunty, and characters that speak in a quick and quippy way. But the backdrop to the whole film is the hundreds and thousands of dead men and women queuing up for the afterlife. They too are chatty, full of laughter and backslapping on their way to eternity. But the sheer number of the dead, turning up every day every hour, can’t help but be sobering. And for Cowell it must have been a difficult watch.

At the time he was dealing with his own trauma of bailing out of a plane, not knowing whether his parachute would open, the screams of his mates burning alive ringing in his ears. Like many who went to watch that film in 1946, Cowell was almost certainly struggling with an undiagnosed stress disorder. As he sat in the dark cinema all the trauma and pain of war must have washed over him, threatening to drown him in a wave of horror and helplessness. The attempt of an upbeat romantic ending, with Niven's final line being 'We won!', would have been no consolation. In 1946 many like Cowell would have seen the victory as hollow.

For Shure, there was no such emotion. Something else awakened in him – not just the possibility of becoming a screen actor, but the foundation of a new mythology about himself.

He watched David Niven, the lead actor,  floating unconscious in the shallows on a beach, sat sleeping in a library chair, laid flat out on an operating table, and he must have instinctively understood that screen acting wasn’t just about hitting a mark and remembering lines. Many of the other main actors in the film spend time as frozen figures, suspended in a moment of time whilst various angels and other inhabitants of the world beyond argue the case for whether Niven/Peter should be allowed to live or die. It must have occurred to Shaw at this moment that it might be possible to become the lead actor in a big film and yet spend most of your time on screen either asleep, unconscious – or dead!

Other elements of the film will have chimed deeply with Shure.

Niven’s character is called Peter. He is a poet of some promise and a squadron leader who has flown over 60 missions. Shure was a navigator who flew 29 missions before being shot down. He counted amongst his friends several poets, some of whom he’d befriended during his time as a ‘kriegie’ (the terms PoWs liked to use about themselves)

The film opens on 2 December 1945, the exact same date that the Russian army arrived at the gates of Shure’s POW camp to signal the end of the war and the start of a new life. And the film is inspired by the true story of a bomber pilot who jumped from his burning plane from several thousand feet without a parachute and survived. Records show that Shure was in a compound at Stalag Luft 1 in 1944/45 with someone who did exactly that.

Later in life, Shure would refer to ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ as one of his all-time favourite movies. But he’d always remain deliberately cryptic about where his sleeping powers came from, and he never let on about his preparation before shooting a scene. In later years he clearly enjoyed the idea of his own mystique and came up with several different stories about how he had come to develop his unique skill.

He wasn’t averse, either, to mythologising his own wartime record, with several tall stories about incidents that took place during bombing missions. He once claimed that he and the rest of his crew had been temporarily knocked unconscious by a blast of flack on the way back to Britain from Germany, but they had all survived because the plane had miraculously flown itself across the North Sea without once getting knocked off course.

In one interview, Shure talks about transcendental meditation as something he adopted well before the Beatles and others started to extol it. In another he mentions astral projection. Another story involves him suffering from insomnia at his prep school and being sent to a sleep expert by his headmaster.

His wife and children have gone on record about a certain amount of drug use, which Shure always vehemently denied. Shure was a drinker – which actor of that generation wasn’t? – but there are no stories of Shure turning up on set drunk.

Certainly, Shure was a man of ritual and his P.A. of many years has described in his own memoir a routine that involved listening to specific pieces of music, a fairly strict diet regimen before filming and – intriguingly – time spent silently looking through a series of personal photo albums and scrap books that have failed to ever make it into the public domain.

Whatever his secret was, from 1968 onwards film directors and multimedia artists were queuing up to secure Shure, even for just one day or one scene, not only because he was guaranteed to boost the audiences for their work, but also because they were all keen to discover his secret.  They’d hire him in the belief there was a definite  technique or a trick. But nearly all of them came out of the experience talking about Shure’s abilities as something natural, unmannered and, in the end, unknowable.

“I guess I was thinking there might a load of preparation and technique in what he did, but no. He was quite unprepared actually. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, if anything he taught me that you can prepare too much. I realised that a lot of the other scenes I was planning to shoot in that movie were simply too premeditated. I was trying too hard to actively ‘present’ them rather than just let them be. Peter was great at that – just being. I’ll always remember his catchphrase just before he settled down into a take. “Just keep it rolling,” he’d say. I made a note to steal that as my own mantra.” -  Terence Mallick

And here's Peter Greenaway talking about Peter Shure's extraordinary performance in the lost arthouse classic - 'Architect, Body and Mind

“There are basically only two subject matters in all Western culture: sex and death. We do have some ability to manipulate sex nowadays. We have no ability, and never will have, to manipulate death. But with Peter Shure I think we gave it a bloody good go. What was great about that scene was it didn’t rely on script. My memory is that we barely spoke at all and certainly Peter was serenely quiet. He didn’t need any words. He just lay down and told me I should just start filming whenever I thought the time was right.

And as he drifted away, I couldn’t stop watching through the camera. I remember seeing his eyelids twitch, and noting that his breathing was rather artificially steady at first – in through the nose, out through the mouth sort of thing - and I was worried it wasn’t going to work. But slowly and surely his face relaxed, and I want to say he started to shine from the inside, except the more you watched the more it was like the life going out of him, of the light escaping him and leaving him dead to the world. A chilling effect - because it felt exactly like watching someone you love die. I was so shocked I almost forgot to roll the camera and whisper ‘action’. And all without any reference to lines, or any dialogue or script. Just a human being in time and space and light.

You see, it doesn’t matter whether you're Godard or Almodovar or Scorsese, what you’re so often battling with is text, text, text. Everything begins with the text, and this was always a great source of great anguish to me. What I always wanted was for cinema to get on with doing what it does best, which is expressing ideas in visual terms. Working with Peter was one of the few times I thought I was really getting somewhere with that."

Ivre de la vie. Gelé dans la mort.

Sleep is something we all do. Some of us better than others, maybe. But we all sleep. Peter Shure slept like a baby. Like an angel. He slept the sleep of the dead. He was the ultimate sleep artist.

He was first caught sleeping on film in 1956, in a forgettable British war movie that actually did mysteriously well at the box office at the time. The somewhat primitive market research team at Rank put the success down to the appeal of two relatively unknown young actors who supposedly stood out – Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. It was only when Shure appeared again as a drunken crew member in a second-rate pirate movie, that producers and directors started to notice his effect on audiences.

They were helped by an article in the influential French magazine 'Cahiers du Cinema' which dedicated half its word count to analysing one scene in which Shure is passed out from too much rum and his captain (Yul Brynner) is forced to admit that all his men are more than likely doomed to death in battle the next day.

“In a more realised version of this scene, the camera would focus less and less on Brynner and draw in on the prone figure, lying on the deck, his body thrown into a shape that prefigures what is destined to happen the next day. The sleeping drunk is the essence of the scene, the only real thing in it that a contemporary viewer can relate to. Brynner is a symbol of the past, starchly reading out his hero lines, his false concern about his underlings, the dummy belief in their sacrifice for his honour. Even his peacock buccaneer outfit with tall boots and flouncy sleeves places him in a world that is dead to us. Meanwhile the man playing dead on the floor vibrates with meaning. He is dressed in plain colourless clothes. He is splayed out with arms and legs outstretched as if he has been falling in air. He is the fallen everyman. Drunk in life. Frozen in death. Despite the grossity of Technolicolor he withholds an inner light. We see him peaceful in his cups, serenely lost to the world, but held well in his dreams. For us who look up to the screen, he is a captivating example of a moment in all our lives when we are both stuck with what has been handed down to us and yet also free internally to roam the new mental universe of the future. As the camera holds on the sleeping pirate, we consider our own moment of rest and respite, and wonder how thoroughly and effectively an actor can communicate a moment of humanity without actually doing any acting at all!”

The young author of this lengthy encomium was, of course, Francois Truffaut. Only a year later he would give the world 'The 400 Blows', with its own important sleeping scene, sadly cut from the international release of the movie that most people will have seen.

Peter Shure: bfi Retrospective Speech by Martin Chambers, 2010

“First of all I’d like to thank the BFI, and thank you specifically to the curators of this impressive Peter Shure retrospective for inviting me here tonight. I have not spoken in public for quite some time, so forgive me if I seem a bit nervous. 

Most of you probably only know me as the man at the centre of rumours and conspiracy theories surrounding Peter’s death. Subsequently, I’ve also been dragged through the mud by both the press and some members of Peter’s family regarding Peter's property and belongings, his 'chattels and goods' as it were...

But I’m sure you didn’t come along here tonight to go over all that again. And I'm equally certain it isn't why I've been invited here tonight.

What you might not know about me is that, as a very junior agent back in 1979, I was probably the first person ever to put together a showreel for Peter Shure. 

I didn’t do it willingly, I’ll admit. I was just 23-years old and more interested in bands like Wire and Japan than I was in ageing film actors and ancient movies. To be completely frank I was a pushy little prick and this job seemed rather beneath me. But, trust me, I eventually learned the error of my ways.

Peter, at that time, had only recently reunited with Martin Cielowicz, my boss, the now-legendary show business agent. Peter and Martin had fallen out badly in the mid-Sixties, mainly over Peter’s somewhat disappointing three-year stint in  Hollywood (of which more anon).  When the great reconciliation came - after more than 10 years of silence  - Peter’s career was in need of a restart. 

Yes, he had already created a cult persona for himself as the sleep artist we’ve all come to watch tonight . But, really, Peter was still someone who harboured ambitions as a serious actor, as someone who might hold the screen with his words and his actions rather than his dozing and his simulacrums of death.

Peter wanted Martin to secure him more substantial roles in films, with plenty of lines. He’d been spurred on at the time, I think, by the notorious Kevin McClory - an old friend of Peter’s - who was yet again repackaging the James Bond script & storyline he’d kept the rights to, supposedly turning it into a new film called ‘Warhead’. Peter claimed Kevin had promised him the role of Blofeld. Most of us in the office found this hard to believe.

Nevertheless it was my job - as handed down by Martin - to put together a showreel containing enough clips of Peter actually acting rather than sleeping to convince casting directors and producers that he still had it in him.

And it is this body of work - not the sleeping  - that I’d like to celebrate here tonight. Not just because, with the passage of time, I’ve come to think that Peter was a perfectly respectable screen actor, but also to perform my version of a ‘mea culpa’ - no, not for anything to do with Peter’s demise. No, I have nothing new to say about all that. But I do want to say sorry for playing my part as an agent in pushing Peter towards the lucrative sleeping roles and leading him away from what I came to believe he went into the movie business for.

You see, in the end, I am like you - a Peter Shure fan. 

You might think that’s a given, me having been his personal assistant and his agent for all that time; me having secured all the development deals, the TV ads and music videos, the bit-parts and cameos that marked Peter’s career in his later years. 

But agents are not always fans. They are first and foremost business people. The job is not to like or love a client, but to find that client the kind of work that is commensurate with his or her talents and current standing in the industry, and then make sure everyone is fairly remunerated for their efforts. No more, no less. If the client shows an aptitude for a particular kind of work, then generally the agent will look for more of the same. And thus the artist can become pigeon-holed. Typecast.

Peter was fighting a losing battle in this regard from very early on in his career, and even this retrospective event goes some way to proving that. I note that just three of the films being shown - ‘After The Fall’, ‘Against The Strike’ and ‘A Werewolf In The School’ - come from the period when Peter was still being considered seriously as a traditional actor. 

But there were several other projects that I had to dig out and watch for that showreel that show Peter in a different light, I think, and which most people will have forgotten about. 

No, I’m not talking about those iconic early one-line appearances in ‘Beach Drifter’ and ‘London Fog’, or the countless car-related movies you can spot him in, racing around tracks or chasing after villains, usually directed by the likes of McClory, Terence Young and others who would eventually coalesce around the James Bond franchise - without Peter still in the gang.

No, I’m thinking about his more substantial roles: 

  • the psychopathic husband in ‘Under The Floorboards’ who plots the death of his wife - and then his stepdaughter - by gassing them in the family home, whilst he remains hidden beneath the floor, safe with his own customised air supply; 
  • a loyal desert rat following Richard Burton on a suicidal secret mission in ‘Second In Command’ that can only end in betrayal and death;
  • the stoic terminal patient in ‘The Surgeon’, sharing two powerful scenes with Michael Redgrave;
  • the guilt-ridden kidnapper, chased down by Marius Goring in ‘Relentless’. 

I can’t honestly say I enjoyed sitting through all of these films back in 1979. Let’s face it, ‘Alien’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Stalker’ were all out there to see at the time. But
 even then - aged 23 and disdainful - I could see the pattern that was emerging for Peter way back when. In every film Peter does eventually die. He never makes it to the end. And his death is usually a lingering one, a central scene if you like. 

It was as if every director he worked with could sense where his power lay and contrived to push his performance towards a key moment of stillness and silence. 

I remember telling Martin that the showreel was a fool’s errand and that Peter’s value as a client was all about pretend-sleeping and playing the corpse. Beyond 1962, the only usable clips I could find were small roles in ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘Rawhide’, plus a truly execrable appearance as an eccentric jungle explorer in a spoof spy movie - ‘Kiss of a Spy’ produced by deLaurentis. I still can’t recommend that one.

Martin insisted I carry on and, thus, I spent a couple of miserable months putting a reel together that I was sure would be of no merit and no use in terms of getting Peter work.

You may be hoping that I’m going to surprise you with that reel tonight, but I’m afraid it disappeared at the the time of the agency take-over, Martin’s retirement and my dismissal - a whole other story. But I do wish I could watch it again and remind myself of Peter in his pomp, and of me as a snooty youth who thought he knew best what an actor needs. 

I was wrong. I believe now Peter should have been allowed to pursue his ambitions more directly, even if it meant failure. For all his success as a sleep artist I know that Peter was, in the end, unhappy and unfulfilled. People like me - and Martin - should have been more supportive of his dreams.

Yes, we might have been deprived of many of the performances you will be enjoying tonight and in the coming days. But Peter would have been happier. Happier as a bad actor rather than a successful sleep artist. 

It’s taken me more than 30 years to step up and admit that I was a bad agent, and possibly a bad friend, in that I focussed on securing work for Peter and getting paid, without thinking what might be best for his soul.  When you watch Peter sleep in these films tonight, I dare to suggest that in his slumber he was more than likely thinking about another role rather than the matter in hand - a speaking role he hankered after, a chance to truly shine on the screen, a chance to stand alongside his peers such as Pleasance, Price and Lee and to scrap with those he admired a little less - the Attenboroughs and Belmondos of this world. 

In the end I should have been less of an agent and more of a true fan. Enjoy the show.

A Tribute to Peter Shure

Although he died nearly 20 years ago, before the Web was even invented, the work of Peter Shure was made for YouTube. His performances are nearly all short cameos rather than starring roles. His most memorable scenes are never long, always intimate, often involving intense closeups. One can imagine a channel with dozens of short videos, each one from a different film, possibly without audio, every time with the camera falling inevitably and obsessively in love with Shure’s stillness and mysterious power. The library would contain contributions from many of the most famous film-makers across several generations.

From the mid 1950s onwards, Shure was never out of work and was always sought out by directors who wanted to take on the challenge of capturing the essence of the actor’s method. It was often said that each performance by Shure inspired someone new  to invent a role or, in one famous case, to undertake a complete rewrite of film, in the hope of securing his talents.

He appears in any number of roles – the prisoner, the soldier, the bank robber, the jilted lover, the hitchhiker, the hippy, the middle-aged businessman, the old saint.

And yet he is not what one would call a versatile actor. Many might say he was a bad actor when required to actually speak and perform. But in one mode that he was ethereal, magnetic, much lauded. Peter Shure was always peerlessly magnificent when he was asleep.

Preface, 2004, Enhanced ‘Memography’ Edition

When my father died, it was revealed that he had nominated me as his executor. No-one was more surprised than me, given that we had been estranged for a number of years.

I can only assume he had no-one else in his life who he felt could take on the responsibility. This, I believe, demonstrated both the parlous state of his personal relationships at the time of his demise, and also his negative attitude toward others in my family, notably my mother and my brother.

I took on the job of sorting out his affairs with something of a heavy heart, but also with a certain amount of curiosity about what I might find.

My father had never been very forthcoming about his past - or indeed about his present – and I wondered innocently whether I might at last unlock the riddle of his personality through the personal papers, photograph albums and business documents that might be awaiting me.

I found much more than I bargained for. Yes, there were personal papers, photographs, postcards, bills, contracts. There was also a set of diaries dating back to the 1930s. And there were many letters too – from my mother, my brother, from me, from his agent Martin and from various fellow actors, artists, directors, producers.

I realised quickly there was something of value here that a publisher might be interested in. And, lo and behold, a rather public auction for the publishing rights took place very quickly (with indecent haste, I know some might say), raising funds sufficient to  to cover the cost of executing my father’s will and also pay any outstanding taxes and other bills.

Once it had been agreed with a publisher that a book about Peter Shure was of some interest, the question arose about who might be the author of said book. Various names were mentioned – Philip Norman, Craig Brown, Janet Maslin, Claire Tomalin. I was an admirer of them all, but none of them seemed quite right. It was my preference to find someone who actually knew my father personally, given that to many he was such a cypher.

It should be mentioned at this point that Martin Chielzowicz, my father’s long-time agent, would have seemed like the perfect candidate. But alas Martin had a few years before been diagnosed with dementia and had already all but forgotten who Peter Shure was (Perversely he remained full of anecdotes about Noel Coward right to the end).

My father’s personal assistant was also considered briefly, but he had announced very soon after the funeral that he would be writing his own memoir, including his own somewhat partial view of various events, including the peculiar circumstances of my father’s death. It was therefore very clear that it was not going to be possible to collaborate with him on the kind of book I had in mind.

In the end it was the publisher who came back to me with the surprising suggestion that perhaps I should like to write the book myself.

I have been a writer all my adult life, publishing a number of historical novels, plus a biography of Mary Shelley which was well received at the time. But to take on the task of writing about my own father in an honest and dispassionate way was initially unthinkable for me.

I had to admit, though, I was very well placed to deliver a good book. I had access to all of the personal material you would ever want. I had some personal experience of some of the key periods of my father’s life. I knew most of the people who it would be necessary to talk to (if they were prepared to talk to me). And I had a proven track of delivering.

The outstanding question was whether it was sensible for me, as Peter Shure’s daughter, to act as his biographer. Could I write the book without veering too far into the realms of a personal memoir? Could my own personal role in some of the situations that I would inevitably have to write about allow me to remain dispassionate, unbiased, accurate?

Initially, I had my doubts. But my publisher seemed confident that I could do it. And time was of the essence. Commercially there was only a short window of time after my father’s death when there would be enough interest in him, as a minor celebrity, to merit publication.

I would still refute to this day the accusations made at the time that I was somehow profiting from my father’s death, or that the book was too hastily written and therefore not of sufficient quality. The book, in fact, took longer to write than my ‘Mary Shelley’ and, as to profit, readers can be assured that I am hardly a person who lives in the lap of luxury – and half the royalties from the book have always been handed back to the estate of Peter Shure and then divided equally with my brother.

In the years since publication in 1992, I have come to think that I was, if anything, too responsible in the way I handled the material - too distant and too dispassionate. So keen was I to act as a professional biographer that I sometimes failed to capture the whole truth about situations in my father’s life, some of which involved me.  

The nature of biography has changed a great deal since that time. Writers now have licence to be more imaginative about how to present a life. Readers, too, are a bit more accepting of an approach that allows for subjective expression and imaginative projection.

With this in mind, I have been encouraged to publish a new updated edition of ‘The Sleep Artist into which I have decided to weave a number of more personal pieces of writing that I hope will provide further illumination as to what my father was really like, and how he related to his nearest and dearest.

I like to think of this new edition as half-way between a biography and a memoir (a memography? a biogoir?!). This feels like a much more honest approach to the  remembrance and honouring of my father than my previous attempt could ever be.

At that time, his death was still very fresh in all our minds. There was a certain amount of noise around the manner of his death. And frankly I was burdened – if not overwhelmed - by a strong and stiff sense of duty when it came to handling and editing the material that had been handed over to me as his executor.

In my somewhat old-fashioned desire to do the right thing, I produced a work that was sensible, straightforward and honest. I see now that these are not qualities that a book about Peter Shure really needs, in order to communicate what he was like.

By adding my own thoughts and feelings, recovering my own memories of sometimes painful, sometimes joyful times, I am hoping readers will gain a much richer understanding of what Peter Shure was like.

It is often asked of me whether I ever did get to the essence of an understanding of Peter Shure’s remarkable talents. A few years ago I would have said categorically ‘No’. But with this new edition, with its radical new approach to the presentation of a life (several lives!), I am hoping tentatively now to say ‘Yes’.

Peter Shure is not dead. He is only sleeping.


  • The body they found on the beach back in 1990 was never formally identified as Peter Shure.
  • The only people who say the body was definitely Peter Shure are his ex-wife, his daughter and his P.A.  There is no independent identification of the body. FACT.
  • Director Devon X has refused to ever comment on Peter Shure and what happened that day. WHY?
  • Peter Shure’s official biographer has confirmed that there are no entries in Peter’s diaries for 1990, despite Shure being a religious diary keeper for over 50 years.  
  • Look carefully at outtakes Peter Shure’s scene in ‘The Angelic Upstarts’ (available on our YouTube channel), and you’ll see a small boat going back and forth in the background of that day’s filming. There is no formal record of any boat being in the area that day. FACT.
  • The coroner’s report is a crock of shit! (Read it on our website and DECIDE FOR YOURSELF)
  • Peter Shure’s P.A. was arrested in 1992. It wasn't just for stealing Peter Shure's property, but he was also done for possession of a number of illegal medications – including  propofol. FACT.
  • There have been at least 17 confirmed sightings of Peter Shure since 1990. FACT. (check out details on the website). 

We – the True Friends of Peter Shure – hold all this to be True



"You cannot look at the sun or death for very long"

I have discharged myself from hospital and have come back to an empty home.

Well, not entirely empty. As I sit in this room that serves as my kitchen, dining room, living room and study, I am surrounded by my possessions, everything that remains after thirty years of working as an independent artist and filmmaker.

There are many books, of course. Several shelves packed with the volumes I’ve acquired over the years. Some time ago I had a purge and kept only the ones that either I hadn’t read, might read again, or might need for creative research purposes. I did allow myself a few sentimental keepers:

- A biography of Oscar Wilde I’ve had since school

- An ancient hardback copy of the collected poems of Keats with etched illustrations, bought from a second hand bookshop in Chichester

- ‘Les Enfant Terribles’ by Jean Cocteau – bought for me by an ex-lover containing a bitter-sweet and cutting farewell remark written in the front

- My mother’s copy of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Belljar’

- My childhood ‘Noddy’ books

Also on the shelves:

- VHS copies of all my films

- Countless Super8 reels, store in marked envelopes

- Three box files containing invoices, bills and other tax-related paperwork

- A jar for coins/loose change

- A hand-designed thank-you card from Marianne Faithful

- Three postcards bought at the Uffizi

- Two finger puppets  - a horse and a dragon - made by my sister

At my work desk I find the large metal desk lamp that I rescued from a skip in Bermondsey and repaired with my own hand. It is chipped and dented, with only a few flecks of its original racing green paint remaining. It has done fine service, beaming on into the long nights of writing and sketching.

Here, too, is a stack of artists books, notepads and sheaves of A4. Most are full of scribbled notes, doodles and diagrams. I like to play a game of opening one of them at a random page and trying to decode what is there – What project was I working on? What project is being described? What ideas am I reaching out for? In most cases, the pages make no sense and I have not a clue as to what I am scratching and scribbling on about.

There is a pot of pens of many colours. I use only the blue and the black and the red. The others have sat there for years unused and unloved. There’s also a childs tin of watercolours  with two spindly thinning brushes and pretty much every cell of colour washed down now into a muddy brown.

Looking around the walls, there are just half a dozen paintings and photographs left. The rest were lost in the fire at my last studio.

I possess two small paintings by Hockney. One is an interior, looking towards  french windows in a living room, with garish wallpaper. The other is me sitting in a whicker chair in 1973.

Next to them is a Calder – bright blobs of orange, blue and yellow. Exquisite and mood-lifting. Probably worth more than the bloody house.

Next, a Keith Haring print with a bunch of his multicoloured anonymous figures bouncing around at a club and lifting up a giant figure that looks not unlike me, but with giant Mickey Mouse ears.

Then two black and white Chris Killip photographs taken in rural Ireland only a few years ago. I have no idea why I like them so much. I have no connection with Ireland, or indeed with Killip, but there is something about these images that takes me – pilgrims with staffs struggling down rock scree, a lone tree on a hillside, an empty track.

There, also, is the last image I ever took of Peter Shure, asleep on the beach. The best image I ever captured. He speaks to me every day. He says ’Death is not the end’.

The last thing on the walls? A death mask. No, not of Peter. That story is just a myth as far as I'm concerned. This is a copy of ‘L’Inconnue de la Seine’ – one of thousands of copies that used to grace the walls of late-Victorian households. The petit bourgeois Mona Lisa. The dead tart with the enigmatic smile. I look at her every day and wonder what she had to smile about as she sucked water into her lungs and sank into the depths of the Seine. Who knew a drowning could be so peaceful, so sweet?

And now I am struggling. Struggling to list what's left of any value. And also struggling to breathe! (Fortunately I have acquired a small oxygen tank and mask that I keep with me at all times). Let me catch my breath...

Now let me see...

Upstairs there is a wardrobe of old clothes, some of which might be described as 'vintage'. There may be costumes and props up there that the V&A might appreciate.

Outside a shed of garden tools. Over in the kitchen area there are pots and pans, a drawer of cutlery, kitchen knives and other utensils. Nothing of value. I don’t even own a toaster or a kettle any more. I use the grubby old electric cooker to heat water and grill things.

I suppose there are the vases. Some of them might be worth something – gifts from potters I have known, or picked up cheaply at exhibitions. They allow me to bring the garden into the house - one of the true consolations of my current life: to still have flowers and grasses, twigs, buds and berries to surround me in my solitude.

Here I am in my armchair, upholstered years ago a in a deep blue corduroy that has faded and flattened into Quinky blandness. My slippered feet rest on the Moroccan carpet, brought back to commemorate a hash-hazed sexy trip with two of the boys from art school. It has moth-holes in it now and is frayed at the edges. A metaphor.

Is this the sum of all my years? All that I leave behind? I suppose it is. At least I leave this and no debts. I should be proud to have made it this far and to have maintained a life as a free and independent artist all that time. So many before me have died in the gutter, died of syphilis, boozed their way into oblivion or, worse, gave up and lived on as shop assistants or shelf stackers or council workers. Yes, I have become diseased and will die soon. But I never gave up. I never stopped working, making art. And I kept this roof over my head, and these beautiful things around me, until the end.

When they find me here, expired, what will my expression be? I am hoping it will be like Peter’s – content, slightly puzzled, but content, and with the idea that I am thinking about another place, a better place. And perhaps with some inner light still shining out of me. That’s how I would like to be remembered. For a kind of brightness. A light that could never entirely be extinguished.

Show me the money! Show me the money!

Download (7)

I find it hard to go through this with you all over again. We’ve had God knows how many battles since Peter died. I’m tired. Aren’t you?

To be clear – yes, it was me who directly told Chris about his grandmother. No, I didn’t do it in order to upset him or drive him mad, as you suggest. You, perhaps, weren’t aware that your brother had been asking himself some deep questions recently - about where he came from, and why he’d ended up the way he was. This involved him wanting to know a lot more about his father's roots, and I was happy to tell him what I knew.

Christopher is – was – a rule unto himself about many things. It was he who made the choice to come to me when he was in trouble in 1994, rather than to you or his mum. I put a roof over his head – a roof that you tried to take from me. I sorted out his financial affairs so that he was essentially solvent again. You tied up his inheritance, so he found it hard to access funds without your permission. I connected him to the art world so he could develop his ideas for installations and exhibitions. Yes, the critics were harsh – as were you – but Chris could be resilient in the face of criticism. At least he had been in the past.

I also tried to help him with his addictions and mental health issues, but I’m afraid in that one crucial area – like many who came before me – I failed. Perhaps his tough talk and spiky wit made him look and sound stronger than he was. Do you think I would have mentioned his grandmother if I thought it was going to be so emotionally disastrous for him?

As much as anyone, I was duped by Chris. You may not choose to believe it, but in the end it was him manipulating me, not the other way round.  You say that my revelation about his grandmother ‘tipped him over the edge’, but if we’re both honest, we know that Chris was a boy who never really knew where the edge was. Everything he knew about being a human being seemed to come from films and music and comics rather than real life. And, as such, he couldn’t really cope when anything went off script or out of the frame.

In that he was more like his dad than he might have wanted to admit. That gift of sleep was also a defence. Many a time Peter would avoid difficult situations by conking out. The more stressful the situation, the quicker he’d doze off. He’d even do it in meetings. Altman once accused him of using it as a negotiation technique. The more sleepy and uninterested he looked, the more desperate producers were to hire him.

Your brother never had the same narcoleptic gene, or maybe the drugs and the booze had blunted it, so instead he opted for running away. Three days, usually, wasn’t it? Three days missing. Just enough to get everyone’s attention. Then mysteriously reappear. Where are we now – day seven? We both know that’s not like him.

I don’t want to accept at all that he has gone forever. And I understand why you wouldn’t either. But when we lost your father we had the same challenge – to let go, to accept that he wasn’t just sleeping for a while, but that he’d gone forever. It took me quite a while to come to terms with that. And you, Isabelle, were not kind.

As to money, I consider that all to have been settled between us quite some time ago, thank God.

If you really must know, the regular monthly payment to your grandmother is something that I inherited from Martin Sr, when he was Peter’s agent. The money was never paid directly through any of Peter’s accounts. It always came through his agent. When I took on that role, I made sure a standing order was set up for Dorothy in one of my personal accounts, and Peter always made sure that I was paid enough by him to cover it.

This is why it will never have showed up in statements you had access to as executor, and comes as a surprise to you now. It was me, I was paying for her. And you might as well know that I still do.

Given the generosity of Peter in leaving me the house and a relatively small lump sum (all of which I had to fight you for), I thought it only right that I should continue to send regular money to his mum. It didn’t sit right with me that she would suddenly be without funds. And I didn’t fancy having another awkward conversation with you about an outgoing that you might not be so keen to honour without tedious lawyers getting involved for months first.

Anyway, I figure she’s already in her 90s so it won’t be for that long. Although by all accounts she sounds like a tough old bird. Perhaps the rhino skin is something you’ve inherited!

So you see, Isabelle, I’m not the nasty grasping vampire you make me out to be – well, not all the time anyway. I’m happy to keep that standing order in place for as long as granny lives. You need not worry about that. And I’d be very happy for Chris to continue to live under my roof again should he return from wherever he has gone. Which I fear he won’t. But at least he will always know that for once in his life someone was ready to take him in and treat him with care.

Ok, that’s enough digs. Perhaps it’s time we stopped the fighting now. Soon it will just be you, me and Helen left. All of three of us deserve some time out of Peter’s shadow; that is, if you think you can live in the light all on your own. I’m going to try at least. One more go at living, really living, before the eternal sleep.

I’m sorry for your loss, Isabelle. Or rather your losses. Let this be the end of it.


No Fixed Abode

I’ve been to the places that nobody goes

When it rains it rains, when it snow it snows

I took myself to a serious side

I took the best of my friends for a ride

No-one was waiting, nobody knows

There’s nothing but white lines at the end of the road

        No fixed abode


I took a job just to keep from starving

Kept me from crying, kept me from laughin’

They offered me hope and a fat pay rise

I said I won’t stay, whatever the size

One hundred percent of nothin’ is nothin’

And I can’t earn nothin’ of what I’ve never been owed

        No fixed abode


So I took my self to a place up North

Tryin’ to learn a limit, enough is enough

You can’t go further without goin’ round again

And whatever you carry, you carry your pain

I’ll give you one nugget, for all that it’s worth:

The thoughts in your head are the heaviest load

        No fixed abode


There’s a search for the mother, a search for the sun

A search for the other, the search for the one

I gave up looking for the man I couldn’t be

He wasn’t it. It wasn’t me

I’ll take my chances on a girl and a gun

We’re breaking the bank. We’re cracking the code

        No fixed abode


So I ended it all in a place by the sea

Where I went after that is a mystery

I left you with nothing, there was nothing left

But the shirt on my back and a holy mess

Not sure how you’re hopin’ it’s gonna be

But wherever you’re livin’, it’s gonna explode

        No fixed abode



They took me into a shabby office area and offered me a cup of tea. When they showed me the CCTV footage, my stomach turned.

A grainy figure with Chris’s ratty silhouette and slouchy gait stuttered across the screen at a very small number of frames per second - up a ramp, towards the bridge.

The footage switched to a camera on the bridge pointing down at the pedestrian walkway. A smudge of blue-black slurred its way through the scene in three jumps and then was gone. That was all they had. 

“Are you sure it was him?” I asked.

“We have clearer images of him approaching the bridge,” said the police sergeant.

“And what about at the other end, on the other side?”

“Nothing I’m afraid.”

“But…” I stopped myself.

The obvious questions welled up – why didn’t anyone raise the alarm? Why didn’t someone get out there and challenge him, ask him if he was ok? Why didn’t someone stop this?

The police sergeant read my mind, He’d been through this before. Many times.

“Unless someone exhibits obvious signs of distress it’s hard for our staff. They can’t just go out there and challenge every person walking across the bridge. They do their best. In fact, they do escort at least one vulnerable person off the bridge pretty much every day. But I’m afraid it’s the law of averages that they miss a few.”

The law of averages.

I made my way back to Granny’s house along the coastal path. The wind was splattering sea-spray  onto one side of my coat, half soaking me. I stopped in an arcade promising Vegas-style ‘rock n’ roll’ fun. For about half an hour I pushed old tuppeny bits into a machine, watching them zig-zag their way down a perspex wall, then clink onto a thin metal sheet to be shoved by a plastic bumper into a melee of other coins.

Each time they were shoved, they folded and rolled into the mass of coin, causing the occasional one to tip over a small drop into the next level, where the same mechanical process would repeat itself – clink, shove, fold, roll, drop.

A load of coins dropped into the payout slot of the machine next door to mine, without anyone having to play it at all, coughing up coinage with a sudden metallic upchuck. I grabbed a fist-load and fed my machine with more shrapnel. Nothing came out. I came away with nothing.

I tried to explain to Granny what had happened, but she'd forgotten who Chris was. I could feel myself already forgetting who he was. I thought about Daddy and tried to remember what he looked like, what he sounded like, but I couldn’t bring him back. 

I couldn’t quite think of Chris as dead. He might be out there still walking. My little Frankenstein monster, heading relentlessly north.

I tried to find some photos of him in Granny’s scrap books. There weren’t any, except of him as a baby in Peter’s arms. A magazine photo shoot from 1968.  Everything here was about Peter in the end. All we had left of Chris was his own voluminous folder, left deliberately for me to find. Cruelly, I thought about how  it might have helped to weigh him down when he jumped off the bridge.

I hadn’t bothered looking at his notebook til now. You don’t read a living person’s private diary, do you? It's a naughty thing to do. Intrusive. Picking it up now was an admission of a kind. That he’d gone and couldn't complain anymore about anything. It was the start of letting him go, maybe. Or rather the mark of his escape.

Titled on the front, in scrawly marker pen it read:


From the Mind of



No Fixed Abode

New York/London


Solar System

The Galaxy

The Milky Way

The Universe

All Future Universes


Tucked in the back were two sheets of folded Basildon Bond letter-writing paper, yellowed with age. Scrawled across one half in Chris’s unsteady hand:



I was getting tired of all these discoveries - these scraps stored up as some kind of ambush. I couldn't read anymore. I went out, saying to Gran I wanted to clear my head. But my head was clear. It was empty. Rejoining the coastal path, I walked north, past Butlins, past the concrete flood defences with the tea-brown waves whacking and shushing into them and away and into them and away, past the derelict Reggae Bar, the shut-up Zombie Shootout arcade, the empty £1 a pint drinking barn with a mock galleon outside, its figurehead wrapped up in a bin bag and masking tape ready to be dumped in concrete or driven off to the woods.

I was trying to imagine Chris walking past here, but I couldn't. I was already losing him.

Instead I reached a row of beach huts with silly names - Den's Den, Wendy's House, Beth's Barn, Molly's.

I stopped walking and tried to think of what my beach hut would be called. But I couldn't.

And it made me cry.