Is all publicity good publicity?
As most members of the Official PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society will be aware, I recently had a skirmish with an individual who, some time ago, contributed a so-called ‘Biography’ of PETER to Wikipedia; a piece which has been proven to have so many holes in it, looks not unlike the proverbial Swiss cheese! Normally we (PETER and I) would dismiss such writings for the claptrap that they are, but we’d noticed that more than one lazy tabloid journalist had relied on this particular article rather than getting up off his flabby backside to conduct his own research. Whilst to begin with this had been an insignificant piece of amateur copy published on a notoriously untrustworthy website, it’d had suddenly become the source of a self-perpetuating myth on which several Internet and media stories were based.
In an attempt to correct the numerous errors in this ‘Biography’, I signed up to Wikipedia and began editing, which I understood was my prerogative. However, no sooner had I rectified the more erroneous segments of the text, than the ‘Author’ of the piece – who goes by the Username, ‘Nthep’, immediately reverted it back to its original form.
Reference to The Hellfire Club  (see end of article)
After making a complaint to Wikipedia, I was told by an ‘Administrator’ that I should contact ‘Nthep to discuss the matter’, which I did – highlighting the main bones of contention. One of the inaccuracies was PETER’s date of birth, which was quoted as 23rd August, 1928. ‘Nthep’ stated that he’d based this date on a document (FO 916/1345) that is currently held at the National Archive at Kew, and which had been completed when PETER entered Lung-Hau Civil Assembly Centre (China) as a child. The document in question had been filled out by a minor official of the Japanese Imperial Army, amidst the chaos of an invasion and round-up of the civil population, which were hardly appropriate conditions in which to register personal details accurately!
‘Nthep’ goes on to quote from J.G. Ballard’s autobiography, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, in which the latter mentions knowing PETER in Lung-Hau. PETER, however, says that he had no idea that Ballard had ever been in the Civil Assembly Centre, and that he’d never met him, either in the Camp or afterwards. When I forwarded this statement to ‘Nthep’, he dismissed it outright, saying that PETER was not a “reliable source”! I also offered to forward a number of other items of contrasting evidence – one of which was an article from the 4th February, 1942 issue of ‘The Totem’ – the official magazine of the Cub Scouts. The piece features the 4th Shanghai (Telephone Company) Cub Pack, of which PETER was a member.
It reads as follows:
Sponsored by the Telephone Co. they had their first den at company headquarters on 230 Medhurst Road, in 1932. Now at 491 Yu Tuen Road. The 4th Pack have come to life again after being disbanded for nearly seven years. The original 4th was started in connection with the old Thos. Hanbury School and was later amalgamated with the 2nd Pack.
The new 4th, who held their first meeting on June 7th, 1941, will be known as the Telephone Company Pack, with headquarters at the Telephone Company office, 491 Yu Tuen Rd. Mr E.W. Brambleby, their Cubmaster, was Asst. Scoutmaster in the Cathedral Troop, so the pack will have a flying start with an experienced Cubber. The new 4th Pack colours will be blue and grey.
Accompanying the article is a picture (see below), which shows PETER and fellow members of the 4th Shanghai (Telephone Company) Cub Pack at a Rally at Millington Camp in 1941, when he was 8-years-old. Since only boys between the ages of 7 and 10 were/are eligible to join the Cubs, this alone would be proof positive that PETER couldn’t possibly have been 16-years-old (i.e. born in 1928), as Wikipedia assert. Nevertheless, ‘Nthep’ refused to accept it or any of my additional pieces of evidence.
PETER is right in the middle, holding the dog.
We now come to a segment which states that PETER had been in a 10-year relationship with fellow actor, Alan Bates, and that they’d shared a flat in London, as many young actors did in those days and still do. ‘Nthep’s’ source is an unauthorised biography entitled, ‘Alan Bates: Otherwise Engaged’, written by American Theologian, Donald Spoto. The only verification that ‘Nthep’ provided in support of Spoto’s assertion was an article by journalist Roger Lewis, which was published back in 2007. However, after further investigation, I found that the piece ‘Nthep’ refers to was derived almost entirely from a book entitled… ‘Alan Bates: Otherwise Engaged’ by Donald Spoto! It would appear that the snake had swallowed his own tail!
At the time PETER met Alan Bates, they were both jobbing actors making their way in the business. Like many young players, they decided it would be convenient to share a flat in the capital which one or both could make use of when they were working in London. During the time they rented the apartment, and when not working, PETER mainly used his cottage in Kent as his base.
“The flat was well-located for either one of us to use when we were working. If ever we were both in Town, there was a divan in the spare room where Alan would sleep. It was a good, mutually beneficial, professional relationship”, PETER WYNGARDE.
Due to the numerous stage productions he was part of during that time, PETER hardly used the apartment. Indeed, between 1956 and 1962, he was to spend over 12 months in Spain filming ‘Alexander the Great’, a year and a half at The Bristol Old Vic starring in both ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and The Taming of the Shrew, two-and-a-half years touring Britain and the U.S. with ‘Duel of Angels’, 6 months in Dublin filming ‘The Siege of Sidney Street’, and a further six months starring in and directing ‘A Long Day’s Journey Into The Night’ at The Bristol Old Vic. And, of course, Bates had his own commitments.
By the early 1960’s, the professional relationship between PETER and Bates had begun to break down. By that point, Bates had already become involved with Victoria Ward, who would become his wife, and PETER was engaged to a well-known actress who he’d worked with several times both on TV and the stage
“Alan could be a bit unreliable at times. I remember an occasion when we’d arranged to go to the theatre to see a new play starring a mutual friend of ours. I got the tickets, and I waited for him to turn up but, of course, he was nowhere to be seen. The following day when he called me, I asked where he got to, and he was totally oblivious to the fact that we’d had an arrangement. Of course, he had this girl he was seeing, and it was easier to let down his chum than her!” PETER WYNGARDE
‘Nthep’ suggests that PETER’s assumed ‘homosexuality’ was “well-known in acting circles”. Given the nature of this claim, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that he should provide more than one resource on which to found this charge. But, no! His entire basis for this assertion is, once again, Donald Spoto’s book!
The term “well-known” implies that this ‘knowledge’ was prevalent within the theatrical world – meaning that the majority of actors, directors, writers and producers would’ve been privy to it. Yet neither Donald Spoto nor ‘Nthep’ were able to provide a single piece of first-hand testament to validate their contention. This would suggest that ‘Nthep’, as with the idle journalists referred to earlier, relied entirely on Internet gossip and/or on this unofficial profile to base the offending piece. The fact that he wasn’t able to present even one individual amongst this immense and, apparently, knowing group of thespians, is very telling.
Repeatedly I attempted to convey to Wikipedia how damaging this editorial had been to PETER – both personally and professionally, given the fact that newspaper journalists aren’t the only group of writers who’ve picked up on this particular profile. Nevertheless, I was repeatedly beaten back by so-called “Administrators”, who merely quoted Terms and Conditions and who undertook to wrap me up red tape.
Now you might think that some of the passages quoted here from the Wikipedia article are relatively trivial and that, perhaps, I’m overreacting. In that case I ask that you to read on, and you’ll see how mountains can sometimes be made out of molehills!
ENTER THE INTERNET BLOGGERS AND THEIR ‘NO HOLDS BARRED’ APPROACH TO DISTORTING THE FACTS!
One of the more ridiculous details the majority of Bloggers have seized upon is the name ‘Petunia Winegum’, which Donald Spoto claims was given to PETER in the late Fifties the wonderful people of the entertainment industry and was, inevitably, repeated in the Wikipedia article. In fact, it was first used in a skit of Jason King by the British comedy duo, The Two Ronnies in 1974, which featured an ultra-fashionable secret agent, of that name! Therefore, it couldn’t possibly have been prevalent amongst the acting community during the 50’s as Spoto asserts. Nevertheless, some self-important columnists have clearly failed to do their homework, relying instead on embroidered myths and stories, while insisting that if it’s on Wikipedia “then it must ne true!”
The name ‘Petunia Winegum’ was first used in an episode of the Two Ronnies, which was broadcast at 8.20pm on Saturday, 5th July, 1974.
But while the misinformed and supercilious are bad enough, what lurks in the darkest recesses of the Internet are far more dangerous. Here you’ll find the ‘Controversialists’ and the purveyors of the supposed “Exposé”; the latter of whom have taken it upon themselves to disclose and expose anyone who THEY believe are most deserving of the public’s loathing.
Let’s look at the first type in this category: the Controversialist. These people are the Frankie Boyle of the World Wide Web. For whatever reason (probably their mum’s made them wear shorts until they were in the last year of school!?), they only feel empowered when concealed behind a Username. They tend to regard themselves as both contentious AND amusing, but inevitably fall short on each count. These are the people who inevitably keep alive events that should, by rights, be left in the past. And whilst they might consider themselves relevant and cutting-edge, they’re really just egotistical windbags peddling redundant and timeworn yarns, with a little extra of their own thrown in for good measure!
The real scum of this Rouge’s Gallery are the self-styled Judge and Jury of the ‘Alternative News Blog’, i.e. The Tap, The Coleman Experience and Before It’s News, to name but a few. These are the self-important online ‘Investigative Journalist’(!) who never leave a turn unstoned. With a bare minimum of proficiency or substantiation (the latter having been gleaned from the aforementioned Controversialists sites and the ever reliable (sic) Wikipedia!), this creature genuinely BELIEVES that he/she is doing us a great public service. Let’s take Before It’s News as an example: A couple of years ago it ran a story entitled ‘Petunia Winegum – Lover of Rent Boys’. It alleged that, back in the 70’s, PETER had been a regular at a particular watering hole in Nottingham called The Flying Horse, which the author revealed was also a hang-out for local “Rent Boys”. Having putting 2 & 2 together to make 95, the writer of this revelation(!) blathered on endlessly about PETER’s alleged connection to this particular establishment, and in spite of quoting passages taken directly from Wikipedia (Yawn!), it inevitably failed to provide a single date or time when PETER had supposedly been there – nor could its author produce anyone who’d even so much as seen him within a 50 mile radius of the joint! In actual fact, when the ‘Author’ did finally manage to dredge up a named source, HE didn’t mention PETER at all!
The same article also alleged that the BBC, with whom it maintained PETER had a contract, would be forced repeatedly over the years to plead with the police to drop charges for sexual impropriety against their star turn. In actual fact, PETER has had a contract with the BBC, since the vast majority of his TV work was produced by the independent television companies (this information can be verified via a number of reliable sources, including The British Film Institute). To anyone who knows anything about PETER WYNGARDE, this supposed exposé has clearly been cobbled together by a rank amateur, based on Internet gossip and bloated urban myths, with a substantial part of the text having been lifted directly from Wikipedia.
Read more on ‘The Tap’ at: The Anatomy of Libel
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come into contact with people who’ve told me that their best friends cousins dad was talking to a bloke in the pub who’s barber once worked in London and saw PETER WYNGARDE do this or that. Not ONCE have I ever heard anything first-hand, nor has anyone been able to furnish me with a day or even YEAR when these alleged incidents occurred (most of these are the same tale, only the location has changed!). For PETER to have been in all these places – Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Merthyr bloody Tydfil, he’d have had to be omnipresent! Once again, these anecdotes have been derived from embellished and warped accounts published in the press or on the Internet.
We must go right back to the beginning of this article to see how the Before It’s News “exposé” (which, incidentally, was reproduced in its entirety on The Tap) got its wings. ‘Nthep’ determined to bring the name ‘Petunia Winegum’ to a vastly wider readership than Donald Spoto’s book ever could, simply because he failed to do any research of his own. Spoto is an American, who is probably unacquainted with The Two Ronnies, and in turn, he seized upon this as a “Nickname” allegedly given to PETER by his fellow actors. Add this to the already inflated stories in newspapers and more recent blogs about a minor incident over 40 years ago – no doubt penned by individuals who weren’t even alive at the time, and suddenly, we have a rather sinister and potentially damaging game of Chinese Whispers. From the aforementioned ‘Minor Incident’, we’re now left with a version of events which have taken on a new, and potentially damaging, life of its own.
Indeed, only recently I saw a post on Facebook which referred to him as “Pervy actor, PETER WYNGARDE”. On what grounds had this individual come to this conclusion? He obviously doesn’t know the man personally, or anyone associated with him, otherwise he wouldn’t have made such an ill-informed and defamatory remark. I can only conclude that he’d read one or more of the abovementioned articles whilst adding a little spice of his own!
A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING
Another startling development has been the fan who professes to know more about PETER than he or his closest friends do. Last year, as Secretary of The Hellfire Club: The Official Peter Wyngarde Appreciation Society, I was put through the wringer by a couple of characters who’d built an image of PETER in their minds over many years; founded entirely on old newspaper reports and hearsay. When inevitably they began to realise through regular postings on our Facebook page, that PETER wasn’t the character they’d fabricated in their minds, they both gave up their membership of the Society and flounced off.
In spite of my being very close to PETER for almost 30 years, my relationship with him was regularly called into question by these two individuals, and it was implied on more than one occasion that they knew both PETER and I better than he knew ourselves – irrespective of the fact they’d never met either of us! (i.e. I was informed a number of times what my relationship with PETER was, and what it was based on).
As anyone who’s been associated with The Hellfire Club since the beginning knows, PETER has always taken a keen interest in its progression and development, and would often submit contributions (essays and observations) of his own. This has continued long after it evolved from the printed newsletter into a web-based Club. However, in spite of my assuring fans that he did regularly read contributions to the Site, I was incessantly undermined by one of the above mentioned, who’d always attach a Emoticon to my postings showing a knowing wink, as if to say “Yeah, really!”.
PETER, meanwhile, had been keeping abreast of all this activity, and would either laugh uproariously at the misguided conceit of these two characters, or would ask when one of our postings was contradicted: “Am I meant to know this person?” Of course he didn’t, but THEY believed THEY knew HIM! Yet the person they were describing bore no resemblance to the man I knew. Why? Because they’d read about him in the papers, and built him up in their minds to be something he wasn’t. So fixed had this ideal become, that nothing and no one – not even PETER himself, could persuade them otherwise.
As a result of this duo’s inability to accept reality, events took a shocking turn when a group of four Club Members – all of whom appeared to have a collective agenda, decided to leap on the bandwagon. The attack they launched against me personally was so vicious that it resulted in my having to take legal action and to have them barred from our Website. PETER deduced that their vitriol was due partly to jealousy. That might well be the case, but I also blame the inability of certain individuals to separate fact from fiction; tabloid sensationalism from reality.
NO ONE outside of PETER’s immediate circle know the realities of his life, his relationships with his peers (plutonic or otherwise), or the particulars relating to events 40+ years ago. Everyone is welcome to his or her own opinion, but for anyone who wasn’t an eyewitness to these events, their views have no grounding in reality. An estimation is all it is, yet certain individuals still manage to confuse opinion with fact. As my grandmother always used to say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!”
Many of you might ask why PETER hasn’t chosen to sue these journalists – both amateur and professional, for Libel. I’ve asked him this myself. He told me a story about Sir Laurence Olivier who, at the time, was the best known, most respected and powerful actor on the British stage. A critic had published a very bitter review of a play Olivier had produced and directed and had made a number of disparaging personal remarks about him. Olivier decided to confront the hack through the press, but his challenge only made matters worse, as other journalists joined the fray and soon Olivier was swamped. “Critics ALWAYS get the last word”, PETER told me. “Sometimes it’s better to just let it lie”.
Nevertheless, our legal representative has been successful in getting a number of defamatory articles deleted from the Internet using the recently introduced ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ ruling. Indeed, at the time of writing, we have three cases pending. Thankfully, most ‘Bloggers’ tend to remove their offending editorials when challenged, simply because they’re unable to substantiate their assertions.
OUROBOROS (see end of article)
So, was I successful in having ‘Nthep’ edit or remove the erroneous content from his editorial? Partially, would be the answer to that.
As you’ve already read, I tried several times to convey to ‘Nthep’ how damaging his article had been to PETER’s reputation, and while I stated repeatedly that we didn’t wish to go down the legal route, I assured him that we’d have absolutely no hesitation in doing so if we felt there was no other option. When both ‘Nthep’ and the third party ‘Administrator’ continued to resolutely defend this reprehensible piece in the face of irrefutable evidence, we felt that we’d reached an impasse. It was then that we decided to hand the matter over to our Legal Advisor, which immediately resulted in me being “banned” from Wikipedia
The ‘Administrator’ described my “threat” to use the law as “chilling”. What I find infinitely more chilling is that some random person can flick through an unofficial biography, cite a few bits of Internet gossip, then patch together a so-called ‘biography’ and present it to the world as fact. The subject of that profile will then be denied any recourse, and anyone who dares challenge it will instantly be “banned” (for ‘Banned’ read ‘silenced’)!
It’s interesting to note that, since advising of probable legal action, ‘Nthep’ has removed large sections from his editorial, which included many suppositions and potentially libellous passages. I believe that this demonstrates without any shadow of a doubt that our objections were justified, and that without the threat of legal intervention both ‘Nthep’ and the Wikipedia ‘Administrator’ would have simply continued to defend it.
Whilst ‘Nthep’ has FINALLY done the decent thing and removed the aforementioned paragraphs, it begs the question: How much more of this specious article would he have felt obliged to edit out if he’d agreed to inspect the contrasting evidence I’d offered to send him? I’d also like to add that ‘Nthep’ latterly admitted to having doubts concerning the reliability of the document he cited giving PETER’s date of birth as 23.08.28. Again, I offered to share several pieces of evidence with him to prove the date he quoted was incorrect but, again, he disregarded it – probably because he knew he was on such shaky ground.
While the Wikipedia ‘Biography’ has been significantly improved by the removal of the offending passages, the damage may already have been done. If this editorial was to be deleted today, the innumerable facsimiles that still saturate the Internet will ensure that PETER’s character and repute will remain sullied at least into the foreseeable future.
. The Wikipedia article states that The Hellfire Club is “now defunct”. These EXACT words were derivative from a biography on an amateur PETER WYNGARDE tribute site called ‘Hellfire Hall’ (Thunder Child). When I attempted to inform ‘Nthep’ that the Official Appreciation Society is actually alive and well, and based on Facebook, I was notified that they (Wikipedia) do not consider Facebook to be a “reliable source”.
Bizarrely though, they DO consider the above named tribute site to be a “reliable source”, given that several other passages and snippets of information were taken from it and reproduced verbatim, in the P.W. ‘Biography’. The twist is that the creator of The Hellfire Hall page, in turn, took the majority of his/her material from the original Official Peter Wyngarde Appreciation Society website, which I created, built, wrote and edited entirely from scratch, from 1999 onwards.
It would appear that Wikipedia are content to use my work when it suits, but only via a third party. Nevertheless, they’re STILL not prepared to acknowledge the existence of said Appreciation Society or accept it, PETER or myself as dependable and trustworthy sources. Work THAT one out if you can!?
 Ancient symbol of a snake swallowing its tail as an emblem of infinity, or self-perpetuation.
Cal Romano: I’m a big fan of Peter Wyngarde. He is a great and iconic talent, and I am always interested to read about him on this blog. But I am also now persuaded that like many actors and entertainers of his generation he does seem to have told a few fibs about his age. It all adds to his mystique!
About his date of birth, if it was just the dodgy Lunghau records and JG Ballard’s memoir that gave a date of birth of circa 1928, I would agree it is not a reliable source at all. And indeed the Wikipedia article about him no longer gives a date of birth because the facts are disputed, perhaps following your intervention on his behalf. I fear this might have backfired though: some editors have now done some proper research, citing UK public records that also give a birth year of 1927/28. Historical facts, logic and common sense also appear to back it up.
For example, the article now shows that the passenger list of his December 1945 sailing to Southampton on the Arawa (under his original name — there is no Peter Wyngarde on board) says he was 18 at the time. Then as Peter Wyngarde he was playing adult roles in the theatre from 1947 onwards, and while he could have still been (just) in his teens, he surely cannot have been 13 or 14. When he appears on the London Electoral Roll in 1948 (the only Peter Wyngarde in the UK), this confirms that he must have turned 21 during the life of that electoral roll. A 15-year-old would not be listed.
I think Peter Wyngarde is almost as beloved as much for his mystique and his larger than life persona as he is for his impressive body of work. Many fans and admirers acknowledge with a wink that he has created a compelling character, which might have some differences from actual historical facts of the man’s life. At the same time, the historical facts are out there, so it’s not really fair to deny them or to put it down to researchers’ being trolls or acting out of malice.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/