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Peter Wyngarde

John Cartney, A Touch of Brimstone
Stewart Kirby, Epic

by Pete Stampede

The scene in "Epic" in which the policeman/extra refers to Kirby's "lovely style" and Emma replies "if it ever comes back" could be read as cruelly prophetic of Peter Wyngarde himself. The role of playboy detective Jason King in Department S (1969-70) and an eponymous follow-up (71-72) would both make and break his career. In the 50's, after being a regular face on early live TV, including John the Baptist in Jesus of Nazareth (1953), major stage stardom could have happened after co-starring with Vivien Leigh in Duel of Angels, in the West End and on Broadway. Reputedly he was offered the lead in Alexander the Great but ended up having a supporting role in that film. But identification of him with the droopy-moustached, frilly-wardrobed lounge lizard King outweighed it all. It must have been an influence on the dismal Austin Powers—King actually says "groovy, baby" in one episode, "The Man From X"! His self-consciously smooth style of acting, technically fine but by now rather out of fashion on TV, may have worked against him as much as typecasting and some rather unfortunate publicity. Several campy villains in 60s series TV include The Saint, "The Man Who Liked Lions" (1966), The Prisoner, "Checkmate" (1967), and a few in the U.S., such as I Spy, "Let's Kill Karlovassi" (1967). Among his stranger cinematic appearances was the loudly campy film Flash Gordon (1980), which also featured Leon Greene and Brian Blessed. Incidentally, I agree with David about the similarities between his role in "Epic" and Peter O'Toole, presumably in My Favorite Year—even the voices sound similar.

Trivia: Peter was held in the notorious Lung-Hai concentration camp in Shanghai after being captured by the Japanese when they invaded in 1941. He was only a boy at the time and had been left by his father in the care of a Swiss family whilst conducting business in India.

Jason King's Groovy PadLinks: Visit the fascinating The Hellfire Club - The Official Peter Wyngarde Appreciation Society. Also, Jason King's Groovy Pad is hysterical, with some jaw-dropping photos and a chance to send messages to Mr. King (courtesy of his publisher, of course)—but actually, it's really well-designed! You get the feeling, if the Net had existed in the early 70's, most sites really would have looked like this! And, for those who prefer to take it all a little more seriously, Paul Franks has episode guides for Department S and Jason King at his Agamemnon site, with a well-researched article on the former, complete cast and crew listings for each episode, and some very detailed synopses, in the case of King actually taken from ITC press releases. Also, there is an interview with Peter at Sixties British Pop Culture.

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This bio Copyright 1999-2008 Gavin Gaughan.
Page last modified 11 May 2003.