Peter Paul Wyngarde (born 23 August 1933) is an Anglo-French actor best known for playing the character Jason King, a bestselling novelist turned sleuth, in two British television series in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Department S (1969–1970) and Jason King (1971–1972).
He was born in Marseilles, France, the son of an English father and a French mother. His father worked for the British Diplomatic Service, and as a result his childhood was spent in a number of different countries. In 1941, while his parents were away in India, he went to stay with aSwiss family in Shanghai. When the Japanese Army invaded the city, they were captured and placed in the Lunghua concentration camp. Conditions in the camp were sometimes harsh. On one occasion Peter had both his feet broken and spent two weeks in solitary confinement after being caught taking messages between camp huts. According to J. G. Ballard‘s recently published biography Miracles of Life, “Cyril Goldbert, the future Peter Wyngarde” was a fellow internee at Lunghua Camp and “He was four years older than me…”. Ballard was born in November 1930 so this would place Wyngarde’s birth year as 1926.
As a young man he went into acting and from the mid-1950s had various roles acting in feature films, television plays and television series guest appearances. In the late 1960s, he was a regular guest star on many of the popular UK series of the day — many of which were espionage adventure series — including The Avengers, The Saint, The Baron, The Champions, The Troubleshooters, Love Story, I Spy and The Man In Room 17. He also played the rotating guest-star role of the villainous Number Two in the episode “Checkmate” of the cult series The Prisoner. Wyngarde’s film work was limited but had a great impact. In 1961, he made the most of his brief scenes as the leering Peter Quint in Jack Clayton‘s The Innocents opposite Deborah Kerr and Pamela Franklin. The following year he starred in the effective occult thriller Night of the Eagle.
Wyngarde became a British household name through his starring role in the espionage series Department S (1969). His Jason King character often got the girl and as she is about to kiss him, he manages to avoid it, much to the annoyance of co-actor Joel Fabiani. After that series ended, his character, the suave womaniser Jason King, was spun off into a new action espionage series entitled Jason King (1971), which ran for one season (26 one-hour episodes). The quirky series was sold overseas and Wyngarde briefly became an international celebrity, memorably being mobbed by adoring female fans in Australia.
In 1975, he was arrested and convicted for an act of “gross indecency” in the toilets of Gloucester bus station, which followed an arrest and caution for similar activities in the toilets at Kennedy Gardens in Birmingham the previous year. After the latter incident Peter had provided interviews for the Sunday tabloid press (the News of the World and the Birmingham based Sunday Mercury) where he claimed that the arrest was due to a mis-understanding; the second incident severely damaged his credibility with many fans. His homosexuality was well known in acting circles, where he was known as Petunia Winegum. He had a ten-year-long relationship from 1956 with fellow actor Alan Bates.
After losing his TV celebrity status, Wyngarde worked in Austria, acting and directing at the English Theatre in Vienna, and in South Africa andGermany. He also landed the role of General Klytus in the 1980 film version of Flash Gordon, though Wyngarde’s face was hidden behind a mask for the part.
In 1983, he appeared in the thriller Underground opposite Raymond Burr at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto and at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London. During the 1980s and 1990s he made a number of TV appearances, including the Doctor Who serial Planet of Fire (1984),Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense (1986), The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994) and the film Tank Malling (1989).
In recent years he has been a regular guest at Memorabilia, a cult, science fiction and sporting memorabilia fair at the National Exhibition Centrein Birmingham, England.His most recent television appearance was as a guest of Simon Dee in the Channel Four one-off revival of his chat show Dee Time in 2003. In 2007, Wyngarde participated in recording featurettes for a reissue of The Prisoner on DVD, including a mock interview segment titled “The Pink Prisoner”; this material was released in the Prisoner DVD set issued in the UK in 2007 and in North America on both DVD and Blu-Ray in October 2009.
A number of published references state that Wyngarde’s real name is Cyril Louis (or Lovis) Goldbert. However, the now-defunctHellfire Club official website described this as a myth that developed from his jokingly giving his uncle’s name, Louis Jouvet, in an interview in the 1970s.
In other media
- In the X-Men comics, the character of Jason Wyngarde (aka Mastermind) was partially inspired by Jason King and Peter Wyngarde. Mastermind had first appeared in the 1960s, but took on the appearance and identity of Jason Wyngarde in the build-up to the X-Men’s first confrontation with the Hellfire Club in the late 1970s.
- Wyngarde had played the leader of another Hellfire club in “A Touch of Brimstone”, an episode of the popular TV series The Avengersstarring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg who appeared in a leather costume that Jean Grey would adopt as the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen.
- He also played at least two roles in the British TV series “The Saint” starring Roger Moore. Most notably, he was the “Man Who Liked Lions” and he appeared in skin-darkening make-up in the episode “The Gadic Collection.”
- In the 1980 film, Flash Gordon, he played Klytus, an evil adviser and right hand man to Ming the Merciless who always wore a gold mask. In the film, Klytus is killed by Prince Barin (played by Timothy Dalton).
- In the early 1990s, English comic Harry Enfield, in his Harry Enfield’s Television Programme lampooned Jason King in his comedy sketch The Playboys– where he and two other hilariously-outfitted and moustachioed ‘playboys’ dressed as dandies and followed a ridiculously unbelievable plotline, to amusing effect. Quote; “I didn’t win four Grand Prix’s in a row for nothing!”
- Mike Myers‘ comic creation the 1960s spy Austin Powers also draws upon the Jason King persona, particularly as to his foppish wardrobe and penchant for frilly cuffs.
- West End producer Marc Sinden, interviewed in the Daily Mail in 1994 said: “Truth was, in the mid-70s, just after I left drama school, I based my ‘look’ on Jason King – hell, I even smoked the same cigarettes as him! They were Sobranie Imperials and incredibly hard to find, so I used to get them delivered to me by Fortnum & Mason. Then in 1983 I co-starred in a play with Peter Wyngarde and Raymond Burr. It was called Underground and we were in the West End after touring the UK and Canada. Peter wrote a filthy inscription to me on a packet of my Sobranies and we have been friends ever since. He still has incredible style.”
In 1970, Wyngarde recorded an album for RCA Victor entitled simply Peter Wyngarde and a single, “La Ronde De L’Amour / The Way I Cry Over You”. The album was reissued on CD as When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head. Unusually, Wyngarde did not deliver a set of easy listeningstandards but a most unusual collection of spoken word / musical arrangements.
The LP is believed to have been quickly withdrawn after its release, but has gained cult status in the intervening years due to a CD reissue on RPM records in the late 1990s. Selections are often played on XM Radio‘s Internet-only retro-lounge channel 79, On the Rocks. On 13 February 2009 on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, singer Morrissey presented Ross with a signed copy of the album.
The album is now readily available, entitled “When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head”.
- “Come In”
- “You Wonder how these Things Begin”
- “La Ronde de L’amour”
- “Jenny Kissed Me”
- “Way I Cry over You”
- “Unknown Citizen”
- “It’s when I Touch You”
- “Hippie and the Skinhead”
- “Try to Remember to Forget (Riviera Cowboy)”
- “Jenny Kissed Me and it Was…”
- “Widdecombe Fair”
- “Neville Thumbcatch”
- “Once Again (Flight Number Ten)”
- “Pay No Attention”