INTERVIEW WITH… Cyril Frankel

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PETER as Jason King in Department S

PETER had first caught my eye in the controversial ‘Whipping Scene’ with Diana Rigg in the Avengers episode, a Touch of Brimstone.” However, Monty Berman didn’t see the, then, unnamed character in quite the same way as Messrs’ Frankel and Spooner did. “I had to convince Monty to give me a free hand in nurturing PETER”, Cyril explained. “ But firstly a name for the character had to be found. It was PETER who chose ‘Jason’, whilst the wife of actor Michal Bryant – a personal friend of PETER’s, chose ‘King’.

With the formal tweed-wearing university lecturer formally shelved in favour of the elegant and flamboyant King, production began on department S at Associated British Elstree in April 1968, with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) being filmed simultaneously.

“I’d been appointed director of the pilot episode of both series,” said Cyril, “their being The Man In The Elegant room in the case of Department S, which had been scheduled for broadcast on September 3rd, 1969 (later replaced by Six Days), and my Late Lamented Friend and Partner for Randall and Hopkirk.”

While it’d had seemed like a good idea at the time, filming working on both series at the same time soon began to take its toll. “It became apparent that I was spreading myself a little too thinly”, Cyril explained, “and I felt that some of the leading actors were beginning to take advantage.”

Frankel was experiencing certain difficulties with Kenneth Cope who played the ghost of Marty Hopkirk: “He could get away with what he wanted with other directors, Cyril said, “but not with me!”

PETER, he claimed, had also started to lead people a merry dance on the Department S set, “Although this was just a trait of his perfectionist nature, rather than anything more sinister.”

While Frankel would sometime incorporate an idea put forward to him by the cast, particularly those presented to him by PETER who was, of course, instrumental in the development of the Jason king character. But if any notion meant disrupting a sequence or altering the concept of a scene, then it would’ve been rejected.

Nevertheless, Cyril felt that Department S was in urgent need of his services, and towards the end of production, he was spending much more time on D.S. than on Randall and Hopkirk, which hadn’t been the plan.

In spite of their differences of opinion, Frankel did acknowledge PETER’s great talent and invaluable contribution to the series, saying: “PETER is a fine actor. I cast him myself, but he did need controlling.”

Frankel ended up directing nine out of the twenty-eight episodes of Department S. One of those stories was a Fish Out Of Water, which he names as his favourite, adding: “It had a certain romanticism about it.” He also named The Invisible Man as his No.1 Champions instalment.

“I have to say that working with PETER wasn’t always easy,” Cyril confessed. “He’s arrive with more and more extravagant ideas about his character. One day he just said, quite matter of factly: ‘It might be nice if I have a falcon on my arm in one scene!’ “When I point blankly refused, he looked at me and said: ‘Oh, you’re just so mediocre!’”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t always a question of whether his ideas were good enough, since Frankel was under great pressure from his employers to get at least twenty-five shots a day on film in order to keep up with the studios hectic schedule. His responsibility as Director was basically to get things done.

With PETER’s popularity at an all-time high, his desire to perfect every word; every scene in the series began to infuriate Frankel: “I saw it as a colossal ego-trip, which cause no end of problems, yet the show’s creator, Dennis Spooner, experienced no disruptive behaviour, and would say: “I think PETER is the finest actor, technically, that I have ever worked with”.

“I think that PETER was the most accomplished actor on TV at the time”, he said finally. “I cast him as Jason King in Department S, and he really hit the jackpot!”


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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