Apart from those people closest to PETER – i.e. his family and friends, NO ONE knows the exact details that led up to his arrest in 1975, so no one else is sufficiently well acquainted with the facts to comment. The only source of information available to anyone outside that intimate circle has been the press who, as we’re all aware, tend to cherry-pick what they feel are the most outrageous and shocking fragments of a story, whilst completely disregarding others. This is because scandal and gossip sells papers!
This minor incident, which occurred over four decades ago has, tragically, overshadowed PETER’s career in many people’s eyes. It’s time to address the supposition, lies and embellishments which have been spawned as a result of this episode and in doing so, expose the prevaricators and fantasists who continue to perpetuate the myths.
Every time PETER WYNGARDE is mentioned in a magazine or newspaper, regardless of the reason, his arrest for a trivial incident over 40+ years ago is inevitably wheeled out by the reporter who, quite possibly, wasn’t even around at the time this episode occurred. Whilst some people have committed the most heinous crimes and been granted immunity after paying their debt to society, appallingly, this incident has come to define PETER in many people’s eyes.
The unfortunate thing about this affair is that EVERYONE has an opinion since EVERYONE believes they know what happened. And they consider themselves thus informed because they read about it in a newspaper! The trouble is, the only thing you can take as gospel from the tabloids is the date!
The truth is that NO-ONE knows what happened because they weren’t there! Even so, it hasn’t stopped an industrial-sized rumour mill from embroidering and inflating the story, which has since taken on a life on its own. What the scandalmongers and gossips DON’T know, is that there were circumstances that led up to this incident, involving a disgruntled member of the establishment and a well-documented instance involving a former employee. And whilst the former was to ignite the fire, it was the latter who then poured petrol all over it.
The previous year PETER’s Personal Secretary, Jeremy Dallas-Cope – the son of a family friend, and his accomplice, was found to have defrauded his employer out of tens of thousands of pounds, which he’d used to feed his gambling addiction. Both Dallas-Cope and his accessory were subsequently arrested, charged and sentenced by a high court judge to a term in prison. So distraught was Dallas-Cope’s mother by his actions, that she severed all contact with him.
During the mid-1970’s, PETER owned a farmhouse in Gloucestershire, and would often spend his free time there. The house was surrounded by acres of land, where he was free to ride his horses and escape the glare of the press and public. In the July of 1975, PETER was approached by representatives of the local Hunt, who included a high-ranking Civil Servant. They wished to acquire permission to access to his property to partake in their lust for blood, but PETER refused. He was told in no uncertain terms that he’d come to regret that decision.
On the day he was arrested PETER, an actor friend and his wife had been together in Gloucester City Centre where they’d enjoyed a meal. Since we’re all now familiar with how he came to be arrested (it was a sting operation managed by Gloucestershire Police), I’ll just say that he was taken to a city centre police station where he was required to give a statement; this was completed by the arresting officer in his own hand. However, when PETER read through the statement, he was not satisfied at the way in which his testimony had been recorded, and so he refused to sign it.
Whilst it might’ve been easier for him to accept an on-the-spot fine, he chose to attend court where he might be afforded a voice and an opportunity to give his side of the story.
“I don’t believe it was PETER’s fault, but I can’t prove that. I mean if I could have proved it I’d have gone to court on his side, but it did upset him a lot”.
Carl Gresham – Actor, Presenter, Newspaper Columnist, Musicologist and Broadcaster
On the first Sunday after this event took place (September 14th, 1975), the now obsolete News of the World published a story which had been sold to it by a certain disgruntled former employee. Whilst everyone who knew PETER were aware that the story was a complete work of fiction, the rest of the Fleet Street pack decided to join the mob and claim their pound of flesh.
Although this former employee had grabbed the opportunity for revenge with both hands, there were many others – including several well-known actresses who’d enjoyed relationships with PETER over the years – who leapt to his defence (one described her liaison with PETER as “The best sex I ever had!”). But whilst wild speculation and inference were the order of the day, these ladies were given little or no opportunity to have their voices heard. The public’s interest was charged more by gossip and innuendo than it was by mundane reality.
Below, is a handwritten letter which was penned by a very well-known actress, who sent it to PETER a few days after the aforementioned article was published. Whilst I’d dearly love to reveal her name to you, this was a private letter, and must remain so. And therein lies the rub. If I were to post the names of those persons who supported PETER in such correspondence, it would be a betrayal of their confidence. On the other hand, by not doing so, it leaves the door open for the cynics to level accusations of fabricating stories. It’s basically a catch 22 situation! I will however say that the lady in question has appeared in many of the ITC stable of programmes, and guested in both Department S and Jason King. As you may note, she makes reference to the former secretary, as described above.
LETTER IN TYPE FOR EASIER READING:-
I hope you are alright. I’ve read the article in The News of the World and don’t really know what to say. Well I do I suppose. I believe you and you should sue the paper for making the accusation about you. I thought maybe that if I didn’t write or say something you might think I believed the article. Anyway you know I still care, even if you had any remarks made about you. I love you. I wondered if by any chance an ex-employee of yours and his friend were out again and perhaps wanted some bad publicity for you? Just a thought.
Sadly, the News of the World wasn’t the only scandal rag on PETER’s tail. He now found gangs of journalist and photographers camped outside his home that would trail him wherever he went. This continued on for months. By the time he was to appear in court, the press had already sentenced him and set the tone for the trial itself.
“Imagine how it feels trying to avoid the world’s press perusing you relentlessly for three solid months, no matter what country you tried to escape to.
Try not being able to look out of a window without seeing a goon with a telescopic lens looking at you.
Try driving down a motorway and seeing them on overhead bridges doing the same thing.
Try being a prisoner in a friend’s home miles away from anywhere, where even their children are asking embarrassing questions about you.
Try imagining what it’s like to have van drivers shouting abuse at you as they pass by.
Imagine what it’s like trying not to notice the look in the eyes of people who believe what they read in the papers as you pass them on the street;
Think what it’s like trying to avoid hearing the news in case there’s yet ANOTHER piece of filth about you in it.
Just think what it’s like to feel that you no longer have the strength to cope; that your career is over and that all you’ve worked for 30 years has been totally destroyed.
Try imagining what it’s like to read the same reminder of that nightmare from yesteryear every time a magazine or newspaper mentions you even now.”
As fortune would have it, PETER had been offered a season at the English Theatre in Vienna prior to this incident, and the Theatre was happy to honour that engagement. So whilst the hapless hacks jostled for position outside his West London home in the vain hope of snapping a picture of him, he was already on a flight to Austria.
Sadly, PETER wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last person to be put on trial by the media. Who can forget the treatment of Christopher Jeffries who, in December 2010, was found guilty and sentenced by the British press for the murder of his tenant, Joanna Yeats. Ms Yeats’ body has been found by a dog walker on Christmas morning that year, after she’d disappeared over a week earlier. Mr Jeffries – a former schoolmaster, was cast as the prime suspect by Fleet Street wolves, when it transpired he’d been the last person to see the 25-year-old Landscape Architect alive. Journalists and photographers from the press camped outside his home in Bristol whilst the police carried out their enquiries. Meanwhile, a second line of investigation was taking place by scandal-hungry reporters, who sought out anyone and everyone with a story to tell. These included former pupils from the school where the teacher had previously worked – some of whom saw the opportunity to even the score for a poor mark or detention he’d given to them many years earlier.
The quietly-spoke Mr Jeffries was a loner; had never married and wore what many saw as an unusual hairstyle, which ticked enough boxes for the tabloid to convict him. Every day, there were four or five pages devoted to Jeffries’ in all the daily nationals…. that was until the real perpetrator of the crime – Dutch national, Vincent Tabak, was arrested for Ms Yates’ murder.
In 2011, Christopher Jeffries struck a blow for everyone who’d been tried by the media when he successfully sued eight national newspapers. Sadly, not a single lesson was been learned, since there is always someone willing to disseminate there’s stories and, equally, there’s always someone eager to read and believe them.
Take the Daily Mail as a case in point: They claim to take pride in the “quality” of their reporting, yet every day WITHOUT FAIL, they carry a notice entitled ‘Clarifications & Corrections’, in which they amend or revise their numerous errors. Whilst apologising for an inaccuracy is the least they can do under the circumstances, said confessions of regret are tucked away in the bottom corner of page two, whilst the offending headline was inevitably emblazoned across the front page in 2-inch headlines! Indeed, the Daily Mail in particular has such a reputation for imprecise reporting that many website in Britain won’t allow their contributors to use the paper as a source!
To give you some idea of how these people can twist your words: Around 1993, I was interviewed by the Liverpool Echo regarding my running of The Hellfire Club – The Official PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society, and was inevitably misquoted. Several years later – probably around 2004-05, I was again contacted by the Echo, who were running a series of articles about people with “Unusual”(!) hobbies. I told the reporter that I had no interest in talking to them, given the fact that I’d been misrepresented on the previous occasion. I was assured, however, that it wouldn’t happen this time, and before I knew it I was answering her questions.
Over the following two weeks, this journalist called me six or seven times to ask addition questions and to clarify certain points. One of the things I was asked was how many times I watched episodes of Department S or Jason King. I replied that I rarely had time to watch either, as I had a fulltime job and other responsibilities to attend to, in addition to running the Appreciation Society. In the end I said I might see two or three episodes a year!
Since I don’t live in Liverpool and therefore have no interest in what goes on there, I’d never bought an issue of that paper in my life, and had no intention of doing so on this occasion. In the end, it was a neighbour who showed me the published piece. Imagine my surprise when, inscribed across Page 7, was the following: ‘PETER WYNGARDE Fanatic Who Watches His Films Every Day!’ Needless to say, that wasn’t the only thing that was attributed to me which I hadn’t said.
The point I’m trying to make is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a huge star of a nobody like me, all they’re interested in is luridness, outrage, or sensationalism! By overstating everything, they’re able to convince their readers that this person is not like ”Us”.i.e. ‘While the rest of us are dancing round our handbags on a Friday night, or lay in a gutter covered in carrots having been thrown out of a nightclub at thee in the morning, THIS weirdo sits in her room all day watching endless episodes of Jason King!’ The truth, unfortunately, is never sufficiently ‘odd’ enough for them to push their itinerary.
Needless to say, when I attempted to contact the journalist in question to give her a piece of my mind she’d always, conveniently, be “out of the office”, and a strongly-worded letter to the Editor of this rag went unacknowledged.
To give you an example of how things can become tangled and confused over time: Just a few months ago, someone on Facebook attempted to repeat a quote that PETER had given to the Daily Express in October 1975. The person in question asserted that PETER had all but admitted to having homosexual tendencies, by (mis)quoting the following sentence: “I have an aberration”. In fact what he actually said was: “I HAD an aberration”, which means something entirely different. Of course, the party who posted this comment remained steadfast; accusing me of lying and making things up when I attempted to correct him. It was only when I produced the original article that he finally backed off although, I might add, there was no sign of an apology! Although this might seem like a minor point it does show how, with the passage of time, coupled with the desire by certain individuals to believe what they want to believe, selected ideas and opinions can become cemented in an persons mind where, in reality, they bear little or no relation to real events.
PETER has been asked many times why he chose not to sue the News of the World for that repugnant story back in 1975, and always gives the same answer:
“If there’s one thing I learned from Sir Lawrence Olivier is never to cross swords with the press, because they always have the last word!”
Only this weekend, I saw a column on a website entitled ‘Bi-Sexual and Gay Actors’ which was, word-for-word, what had already appeared on Wikipedia and other clone ‘sites who, in turn, had sourced their information from the press. It’s become like a chilling game of Chinese Whispers; ‘he said/she said’. The inevitable visitor comments, which are encouraged by blogs, bear witness to how susceptible certain sections the public are to this brainwashing. In this instance we had someone with the username ‘Cromwell’, who enquired: “Is the old queen still alive?” How, other than from media speculation and misrepresentation, did this character come to choose these specific words? I wasn’t the only one to suspect that ‘Cromwell’ had been spoon fed the same yarn for years, as another visitor to this ‘site not only gave him short shrift, but also questioned the bloggers sources.
Consider for a moment that the News of the World editorial is a virus (‘Patient Zero’), which ‘infected’ the first generation’s perception of PETER four decades ago. The ‘affected’ parties – which included all sections of the media that reproduced the lies and other erroneous content – then passed on the ‘germ’ onto the next faction. Four decades down the line, the implication is: “Well, I’ve seen this in other papers/magazines/blogs etc., so it MUST be true!” What they never stop to consider is how inaccurate the original source was, or why all these channels say EXACTLY the same thing in EXACTLY the same way. It’s not because these websites and publications are telling the truth. It’s more to do with the fact that it’s easier to cut and paste a passage from another journal or webpage than it is to get up off their fat behind and research the subject properly!
The echoes of that News of the World article can still be heard today through the jibes that appear on Social Media on an almost daily basis. The mere mention of PETER’s name will result in at least ONE clown trundling out this threadbare tale. These kinds of articles are written by scavengers; read by fools and believed by the gullible. Anyone who has to be paid by a journalist to recount a tale is not doing so out of civic duty. 99% of the time it’s as a result of malice or revenge. Reporters don’t care how much is embellished because they know it guarantees sales; little thought is given to the fallout which can last a lifetime.
A FAN’S PESPECTIVE
Having shared a few thoughts with Tina on the subject of how journalists and authors deal with the matter of PETER’s personal life, Tina invited me to write this short companion piece to this article.
Tina has pointed out that many of the recent references seem to have been lifted directly from Donald Spoto’s book on Alan Bates, a book that doesn’t seem to provide anything in the way of corroborative evidence for his claims. I’m afraid Mr Spoto has past form for this sort of thing, I know that Laurence Olivier’s son Tarquin had some similar criticisms regarding allegations made in Mr Spoto’s book about his father.
Bearing in mind that few people seemed to give much credence to the Olivier allegations why, when it comes to PETER, do they feel the whole lot can be repeated as though it were proven fact?
I think that this is, in no small measure, because the way that the media handled PETER’s arrest in the mid 70s is still echoing down the years. What they are forgetting however, is just how hostile the press was to anyone they suspected of any form of homosexuality, homophobia was not just accepted in this period but many saw it as a virtue. Despite this fact many are still using these largely malicious stories as justification for the allegations and assumptions that they are making.
I was only 8 years of age when the original story hit the media but even at that young age was convinced that I was witnessing some form of injustice and have spent the last 40+ years feeling that PETER has been treated unfairly. Everything that I have learned from Tina’s articles not only confirms my opinion but suggests that the injustice was worse than I had suspected. Is it really acceptable, in this day and age, that we still have battle against such shoddy and prejudiced journalism?
As a closing thought, I would add that I fail to see why some people feel they have a right to know about PETER’s personal relationships. If he were a politician pontificating about how we should live our own personal lives, then it might in the public interest, but he is not and therefore it is not. To my mind the correct response to this sort of malicious gossip is “It’s none of your damned business!” If we all feel we have the right to a private life why should this not apply to PETER?
. The News of the World – Sunday newspaper that specialised in kiss-and-tell yarns, general scandal, and smut. Ironically, in 2011, the paper closed down after a scandal which involved journalist hacking into private phones.
. The lady in question has appeared in many of the ITC stable of programmes, and guested in both Department S and Jason King. As you may note, she makes reference to the former secretary, as described above.
. A reference to the former Personal Secretary.
. National British newspaper. Supported National Socialism and persecution of the Jews in the 1930’s. Been sued numerous times for libel. Outspoken supporter of the Conservative Party.
. It’s convenient, that when someone posts a comment relating to this incident online, they need not provide any sort of verification to substantiate their assertion. Yet, that self-same person will demand proof from anyone who contests their charge. Under UK law, this scenario is reversed, with the burden of proof being on the accuser. With this in mind, I for one cannot wait for the law to catch up with cases of libel online. Come that day, the mindless minority will need to think twice before attempting to pass off speculation and opinion as fact.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/