Although the many sequels to 1963’s The Pink Panther featured Peter Sellers’ bungling Inspector Jacques Clouseau as the lead character, the original film was intended as a vehicle for the suave charms of aristocratic British actor David Niven. While Sellers doesn’t appear much in the first half of the film, the second half is overwhelmed by his unique brand of surreal humour. The British actor proved so hilarious in his supporting role as Clouseau, he stole the show from Niven, and a sequel to the film focusing on the detective went into production before the original was released. Directed by Blake Edwards, who was riding high after hitting it big with 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s , The Pink Panther was envisaged as a light caper in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955). Niven plays Sir Charles Lytton, aka the Phantom, an elusive thief out to steal a prize jewel – the “Pink Panther” of the title – from a naive princess (Claudia Cardinale). Little does he know that French detective Inspector Clouseau is on the scene to catch him in the act and reveal the Phantom’s identity. The problem is that Clouseau, who regards himself as a detective genius, is hopelessly inept and accident prone. Cue lots of laughs. Much of Clouseau’s character was invented by Sellers. The actor chose the inspector’s signature hat and raincoat – his “Scotland Yard” raincoat, as Clouseau calls it – and provided the broken English diction from a repertoire of funny voices he developed on the popular British radio series The Goons . Clouseau’s misplaced self-belief, despite the catastrophic setbacks he encounters, along with Sellers’ skilful physical humour, provide scenes of unforgettable hilarity. Out-and-out madness takes over towards the end, when the cast dress up as monkeys, zebras and knights-in-armour for a crazed denouement. Sellers took Edwards’ original idea of a fumbling policeman and ran with it. “I like my policemen to be as fallible as you and I. The beauty that hooked me in Clouseau is that he represents us all,” Edwards once said. “Clouseau’s ‘Tenth Commandment’ is ‘Thou shalt not give up’. He is a noble character in spite of himself.” Edwards said that when shooting commenced, he was so impressed with Sellers’ performance that he lost interest in the heist storyline and focused on Clouseau’s character. Sellers had problems with drink and drugs, and was not easy to work with, Edwards said later in his career, noting that he felt the star was “nuts” and would not have been out of place in an “insane asylum”. But the Pink Panther films were so successful, Edwards and Sellers made five of them together. Henry Mancini’s infectious theme tune proved as enduring as Inspector Clouseau himself, and the animated panther that introduced the film’s credits was awarded its own cartoon series. The Pink Panther will be screened on February 1 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, in Wan Chai, and on February 22 at Tai Kwun, in Central, as part of the Cine Fan programme.