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| " Blessings" |Entry | Remembered | Ealing Studios | Smiley | The Lean Films |

Excerpted from the opening paragraphs, "Blessings In Disguise"

Many actors, when they have made a name for themselves, are endlessly recounting in the public prints how they don't know who they are, why they are, or, indeed, where they are. Poor, rich, exceptionally brilliant Peter Sellers never seemed to get himself sorted out in spite of the fact that, apart from some upset marriages, there didn't appear to be much confusion in his life. I, on the other hand, was born to confusion and totally immersed in it for several years, owning three different names until the age of fourteen and living in about thirty different hotels, lodgings and flats, each of which was hailed as 'home' until such time as my mother and I flitted, leaving behind, like a paper-chase, a wake of unpaid bills.

My birth certificate registers me as Alec Guinness de Cuffe, born in Marylebone, London, and April 1914. My mother at the time was a Miss Agnes Cuffe; my father's name is left an intriguing, speculative blank. When I was five years old my mother married an army Captain, a Scot named David Stiven, and from then until I left my preparatory school I was known as Alec Stiven (a name I rather liked, although I hated and dreaded my stepfather). At fourteen I was told, quite casually, that my real name was Guinness and that de Cuffe and Stiven were obliterated. So it was as a very small Alec Stiven, shortly after the start of my mother's violently unhappy marriage, which only lasted three years, that I entered yet another new 'home' - a very depressing three-roomed flat at the top of a gloomy house in St-John's Wood.

The basement of the house was occupied by a caretaker and his wife, whom I cannot remember, and the ground floor front room was lived in by a mysterious old lady whom I didn't encounter for several weeks. An echoing, stone staircase twisted up the house past three deserted floors. The whole place was chilly and spooky, and to pass the empty flats, with their locked doors of peeling black paint, I found terrifying even if my hand was held. 'To this day I can still be apprehensive, on a grey day, when passing the shut door of a room I know to be empty; it is always just possible that the room holds an unknown presence - a snake, a corpse or the wraith of an old lady who might skim over the door and disappear through a wall.

In the middle of the night, shortly after we had moved in, I woke and called out, 'There's a man in my room!' And indeed there was; it was Captain Stiven, crouched on the floor, fumbling in the bottom drawer of a creaky wardrobe, which was usually locked, for his service revolver. The bullets were kept in a small, soft leather bag slung over a door-handle. 'It's only me,'he whispered, and crept out of the room in his striped pyjamas, fully armed and ready for action. For once his voice was reassuring and as there were no further sounds I fell asleep again. In the morning I overheard my mother talking in a low voice to the caretaker's wife, who had come up to do a little dusting. 'The Captain,' my mother was saying, in a tone which might have implied Field-Marshal, 'heard someone up here in the night and I thought I saw someone standing at the foot of the bed. Whoever or whatever it was slipped downstairs quickly when the Captain said, "Where's my gun!" He always has his gun with him, in case the Sinn Fein come after him.''Ah!' said the other voice. My mother went on, 'It disturbed the boy. But I think he thought it was a dream. But it wasn't a dream. This house is haunted. We may have to leave.' Later in the day I said, 'What's haunted mean?' 'Ask no questions and you'll hear no tales. It means silliness.' I wasn't satisfied, but left it at that.

The following afternoon, the Captain not at home, my mother, looking fetching in a cloche hat, told me she was going out 'for just a few minutes.' I grew accustomed, later on, to interpreting just a few minutes) as two or three hours. 'You stay in here and draw me a nice picture. I'll be back before you've even started.'I settled down happily in the sitting-room and drew a huge fleet of dreadnoughts. As smoke and shells bulged out of every gun I provided an appropriate 'boom'; until it struck me that it was getting dusky, I needed lights, and the house was exceptionally quiet. Could I hear breathing somewhere! I began to panic.'This house is haunted.' I still didn't know what that could possibly mean but I felt something unpleasant was beginning to happen. I went on to the landing and peered down the well of the stone staircase, wondering if I could get safely to the basement and the indifferent comfort of the caretaker's. Not a sound anywhere. I tiptoed down the first flight of stairs, holding my breath as much as I could, and waited by the black door of the next: flat to see if it moved. Nothing. I took the next flight at greater speed,
paused in terror at the second door, and then plunged down the last flight with an uncontrollable clatter and stood panting in the hall where, to my horror, the door to the Ground Floor Front stood ajar. 'Who's that?' asked an old voice, neither male nor female. I began to back towards the basement stairs.
'Who is that'' the voice demanded, very imperiously.
'Me,' I said. There was a short pause.
'Who is me?'
In my anxiety I forgot my name.
'Come here, Me! Don't be afraid, Me! Come in.'