Blog

R.I.P. Chief Inspector Dreyfus

Show Navigation
27/09/2012

By | From the Collections

The BBC reports the death earlier today of the actor Herbert Lom, who played the police chief in the Pink Panther films. His many other roles included parts in The Ladykillers (1955) and The Phantom of the Opera (1962).
Herbert Lom was born in Prague in 1917 but came to England at the start of World War II. In the 1970s and 1980s he used to visit the Wellcome Library to inform himself about Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), the designer of the guillotine (below).
Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Line engraving by B. L. Prévost after J. M. Moreau, 1785. Wellcome Images V0002456

Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Line engraving by B. L. Prévost after J. M. Moreau, 1785.  Wellcome Library no. 3854i

In The return of the Pink Panther (1975), Lom, playing the role of Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, had on his desk a miniature guillotine used for cutting the rounded ends off his cigars, but which accidentally causes the enraged police commissioner to cut off the tip of his thumb.  At that time, the full-sized guillotine was still in use as the instrument of capital punishment in France. (And smoking in offices was normal.)

The head of King Louis XVI being cut off by a guillotine. Etching by James Gillray, 1793. Wellcome Images V0039888

The head of King Louis XVI being cut off by a guillotine. Etching by James Gillray, 1793. Wellcome Library no. 31599i

Whether it was the role which started his interest in Guillotin or vice versa Lom did not reveal, but he would settle in the Wellcome Library’s Biography Room and gather around him the Library’s extensive resources on the subject, which include portraits and historical prints, books, articles and autograph letters.

His work on Guillotin resulted in a novel Dr Guillotine: the eccentric exploits of an early scientist(1992), which was translated into Spanish and Czech. He had earlier published the fictional Enter a spy: the double life of Christopher Marlowe (1978).
Author: William Schupbach

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Related Blog Posts