A HEREFORDSHIRE writer's controversial biography of comic genius Peter Sellers will be hitting the big screen tomorrow (Friday) at the world's top showcase for movie-making.

Roger Lewis' eye-opening delve into the mind of the actor has inspired a multi-million pound film about the Pink Panther star, who died in 1980 aged 54

The film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, is being premiered at the Cannes film festival. The star-studded cast includes Geoffrey Rush as Sellers, Charlize Theron as Britt Ekland and Emily Watson as his first wife, Anne Howe. Directed by Stephen Hopkins, it was shot last year at Shepperton Studios.

Mr Lewis, who lives in Bromyard, spent five years researching the biography of the Inspector Clouseau actor who died of a heart attack.

He believes Sellers ranks alongside Charlie Chaplin as the greatest comic actor that England has ever produced.

"What I dreamt up in my book is being brought to life," he said. "I spent several days down at Shepperton. It was fascinating. The film involves a lot of clever merging and mixing."

Mr Lewis said his research into Sellers never really ends and points out that, 24 years after his cremation, the eccentric actor is still capable of exciting passion and debate.

"The book was an obsessive quest and I interviewed his children, wives, actors he worked with and people on the film sets. Sellers is endlessly fascinating and I hope the biopic comes out the right-side up."

Mr Lewis was growing up in South Wales in the late 1970s when the Pink Panther films were being made.

"I started out writing a book about a great comic actor but I unearthed the sheer pain-filled scars of his private life and the extremity of his memories. He didn't exist as a person unless he was playing a role."

Mr Lewis, married with three children, describes his biography, first published in 1994, as 'amazingly controversial'.

"For the fans it was a case of me having tarnished their hero. Sellers had doubts, fears, depression and elation. You could see he was a frighteningly magnified version of anyone.

"The books written about him before were not thorough or notably analytical. They were just profiles and did not look at his actual importance."

Mr Lewis said he originally sold the film rights to Maverick and they were later bought by Home Box Office (HBO).

"When the biography came out in the United States the reviews were read by the movie moguls and the rights were snapped up straight away. For a number of years the rights were always being renewed, so I was quite content. I get a percentage of the film, so I hope it is as successful as Titanic."