Thursday, 18 January 2018

RIP Peter Wyngarde

Jason King star Peter Wyngarde has died at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital at the age of 90 following a short illness.

A unique talent, Wyngarde shot to fame in the 1960s with his role as the campy flamboyant author turned sleuth Jason King in the ITC drama Department S. So popular was Wyngarde in the role that, when it came to a second series, ITC decided to relaunch it solely around his character, and Jason King was born, making Wyngarde an international star. Australia was so besotted with the actor and the Jason King character that, following his being voted 'The man most Australian women would like to have an affair with', Wyngarde was mobbed at Syndey airport and was so roughly manhandled by the lust crazed ladies of Oz that he was hospitalised for three days. At the height of his fame, Wyngarde even released an album; When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head is a psychedelic offering that has to be heard to be believed. My favourite track from the album is his version of The Attack's Neville Thumbcatch

Despite his ladies man pin up status, in reality Wyngarde was homosexual and had, for some time during the 60s it is alleged, enjoyed a relationship with fellow actor and flatmate Alan Bates. One of his first major roles was in the controversial 1959 ITV drama South, which saw him cast as a Polish army lieutenant during the American Civil War torn between the love of a plantation owner's niece and a fellow officer. Broadcast live, this groundbreaking drama was said to be the first to tackle homosexuality on British television just two years after the Wolfenden Report. The Daily Sketch critic at the time remarked "I do NOT see anything attractive in the agonies and ecstasies of a pervert, especially in close up in my living room" Wyngarde's sexuality became public knowledge in 1975 when he was fined £75 and convicted of an act of gross indecency when caught cottaging with a lorry driver. The revelation put an end to his career as a leading man, but he did memorably go on to star as Klytus in Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon five years later. 

Wyngarde was presumed to have been born in France in 1927 (he offered various contrasting accounts of his birth over the years) and grew up in the Far East. During WWII he was interned alongside other European and US citizens (including the young JG Ballard) in Lunghua, Shanghai. Upon ceasefire, Wyngarde came to the UK and initially studied law at Oxford for three months before taking a job in advertising. He made his theatrical debut in 1946 and his first television appearance was in Dick Barton Strikes Back just three years later. In 1961 he starred alongside Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, Jack Clayton's acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James story The Turn of the Screw. Wyngarde went on to guest star in a number of ITC dramas including The Saint and as Number 2 in The Prisoner, as well as starring as John Cleverley Cartney in the infamous A Touch of Brimstone episode of The Avengers. Other roles include that of Timanov in the 1984 Doctor Who serial The Planet of Fire and Langdale Pike in The Three Gables from the 1994 series The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.


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