Interviewed by Tina Hopkins
“My Father took me from my Mother when I was a tiny child”, PETER says. “She was beautiful – a real Claudette Colbert lookalike and racing driver, who was chased all over the place by men. I ended up in China when the Japanese invaded”.
It was five O’clock in the morning when the doorbell rang, and the Swiss diplomat’s wife went to answer it. A Japanese officer with two soldiers pushed their way into the house in Shanghai. The officer held a list of names. With difficulty one of them said “WYNGARDE san?”
The Swiss lady gestured towards the little boy tucking into a large breakfast. “That’s him’,” she said. ”He’s eating his last meal’. “And for the next four years it pretty much was my last meal,” PETER adds.
“The Japanese were after my father; who was on their list to be picked up, along with all other British people in Shanghai,” PETER went on. “But he wasn’t there. He’d left me in the care of a neutral Swiss family for a couple of weeks. When the soldiers asked for ‘WYNGARDE san’ they meant Mr WYNGARDE. The Swiss lady thought they were asking for ‘WYNGARDE’s son.’
“As I was only a child, I was travelling on my father’s passport, and so I didn’t officially exist. If she’d had the presence of mind to say that I was her child, I’d have been left alone, and the Japanese would’ve been none the wiser.
“As it was, the Japanese were confused to find that the person named on their list was a child, and thought I must be some special kind of VIP. The officer didn’t speak good English, and didn’t really understand the situation. Along with hundreds of other Britons, I was herded into a truck for an internment camp for civilians about 40 miles outside Shanghai. All the other children were members of British families, but I was alone. I knew nobody there.
“The Japanese repeatedly asked me when I’d last seen my father. It was a very serious situation, but to me at that age, it was a sort of game. He was working between Hong Kong, Singapore, India and Malaya, and I think he was quite important. But at that age, I didn’t know anything about my father’s work, and believed he was on some sort of secret mission. I wouldn’t tell them anything.
“Women with children were housed in one block; the men and boys in another. I was in a billet with eighteen men.” The men made young PETER a kind of mascot. They swapped precious belongings, and somehow PETER always got the best of the bartering. All the war news came from Japanese sources, of course, and was designed to subdue the spirits of the captives. The Germans and their allies were winning everywhere, it seemed.
“With the hardships, the shortage of food, and the bad news, a lot of people were demoralised,” PETER told me. “But then a radio was smuggled into camp. It came in pieces, between the casings of vacuum flasks from a local factory. When it was assembled in our billet we could listen to Chiang Kai-Shek’s radio station, broadcasting news of the Allies.”
However, when the Japanese forbade prisoners in one block from communicating with those in another, PETER was used as their runner to spread the radio news through the camp. But then one day he was caught by a guard, who broke both his feet with rifle butts to stop him ever running again. He was then thrown into solitary confinement for a month. When he came out, he could barely walk and had to rely on crutches. His feet still show the signs of that beating to this day.
One concession the Japanese did allow was for the prisoners to put plays on in the canteen. “So we devised ways of incorporating code words into the scripts,” he said. “For instance, the main character -‘Macbeth’, was always supposed to be Churchill. And some important news event, like the D-Day Landings, would become ‘Our heroes have arrived among the Gaul’s and taken over Brittany’.”
Several other of the prisoners there had connections to the entertainment and acting professions, which included ballerina, Dame Margot Fontaine’s parents. “Hugh Colman – Ronald Coleman’s brother, was also in the camp,” PETER says, “but I don’t have any memory at all of J.G. Ballard who professed to remember me”.
But suddenly with news of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the war was over. “The commandant and the guards just disappeared one day,” PETER says. “The Americans flew over the camp dropping Red Cross parcels, which we hadn’t seen for years. When we were finally released, I was taken by submarine along with dozens of other British nationals, and then put on a ship for England. There was so many of us on-board, lots of us had to sleep on deck. The adults arranged games for us kids to play, and I became Snakes and Ladders champion!”
“My father was waiting in Liverpool to meet me. King George VI was also there to greet the returning internees. He shook hands with everyone – myself included, and pinned a medal on my chest – a sort of campaign medal, I suppose. My mother kept it until the day she died.”
When he arrived home, he was so sick with malnutrition that he was sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland to recover, before returning to England. “I was a precocious and spoiled,” he admits. “I was also an authority on matters way beyond my comprehension. I suppose I was a bit peculiar; I always had to be boss. I don’t think I’ve changed much!” he laughs. “I adored my Mother and had missed her desperately in the Lung-Hau. I was furious if she didn’t lavish all her attention on me.”
In the camp, PETER had caught the acting bug. He’d adapted a copy of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ for a simple stage play put on in the canteen – playing all the parts himself before a “captive” audience. It now appeared inevitable to him that he should become a professional actor, and with his determination and resilience, it seems that the sky was the limit. However, getting into the profession wasn’t easy.
It’s difficult to appreciate when you think about it that, as a child, he’d been so brutally tortured. From that early age he survived the kind of deprivation that some adults succumbed to. When he was freed, he was riddled with sickness and shrunken with malnutrition. He could only get around on crutches, as he was still recovering from having both of his feet broken.
“I went to see my uncle – the French actor, Louis Jouvet, up in Scotland where he was appearing on stage, but he wasn’t very receptive. All I wanted was some advice, but I feel he thought I was looking for favours. I never saw him again”.
And so with his parents pushing for him to get a ‘proper job’, he decided to further his education. “I enrolled at Oxford to study law,” PETER says, “but I couldn’t stick at it. I then tried the advertising profession, and the next thing I knew I’d been roped into the family import-export business, which was concerned with the watch trade, amongst other things. Then one day I was wandering through Leicester Square; my eyes still sunken into my skull and with three tiny tuffs of beard on my chin, when I spotted a line of people at the stage door of the Hippodrome on Charing Cross Road.
“I asked what they were doing and was told that they were waiting to be auditioned for a play, so I joined the queue. When it was my turn to step up on stage, I hadn’t a clue what to do, so I acted out all the parts from the script I’d been given. I must’ve done something right, as I was cast as the understudy to Peter Finch in a play in Brighton!
“I think the reason I was cast was that I looked so much like him – in fact his mother used to call me her ‘other son’. I actually went on stage for about five minutes at the beginning of one performance when he was running late. I don’t think anyone really noticed”.
Acting was an instinctive career choice, and he felt the best way to learn his trade was through life’s experiences. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where his classmates were Alan Bates, Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole, didn’t appeal to him. “I left because I didn’t think it was the best place to learn quickly,” he said. His unconventional approach led him to repertory theatre – starting at rock bottom; sweeping the stage after the play was over. He decided that he’d stay no more than three months at a time with each company – often less, and then move on to the next.
“‘I was in ‘The Letter’ by Somerset Maugham, playing a coolie with the line “Missi, Missi. Master – he come for tiffin”, he tells me, “but I got bored, so after I said the line, I began singing ‘A Room With A View’ as I went off. I was sacked”.
One day, having seen ‘Rebecca’ at the cinema, he played a racket-swinging juvenile lead in a drawing-room comedy in the style of a moody Olivier: “All the other actors thought I’d gone stark raving mad, and I was sacked… again!”
“Sir Peter Hall once complained that I wasn’t a ‘company man’. That’s because I’ve never shied away from voicing my opinion to directors or producers,” PETER explains. “I’m a perfectionist. Producers don’t like it because most of them are just so mediocre.
“I lost the lead in a production of ‘King John’ because I told the Director how he should direct it, and I still believe that George Bernard Shaw missed the point of St Joan’s relationship with Dunois, who I played at the Art’s Theatre! Someone said to me recently that I should’ve said ‘Yes’ more often, but that’s just not who I am.”
“All actors go through various kinds of phases. When I was an even less experienced actor, and that really was inexperienced, I went through a phase of being all the heroes I’d seen at the cinema. One moment, I’d be giving a performance as Errol Flynn, and the next I’d be Noel Coward or Ronald Coleman. They were the film and stage actors of that time. My God! I was John Gielgud all over the place – it was dreadful! But when I made ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, I really did start to learn how to act on screen. If you’re very, very lucky, the camera might pick up something that belongs to you; that little piece of you that’s absolutely real. You can’t lose that, you see. That said, an actor really shouldn’t learn too much, because if you learn too much, you become aware of it; it can become tedious. There are lots of actors who we think ‘Oh, he’s going to do the same old thing again. Isn’t he sick of it!’’”
PETER soon learned what a peculiar place the world of actors could be: “I was filming at Pinewood, and had my dressing room in one of those caravans at the back of the studio,” he recollects. “There was a knock at my door; it was the Runner  who’d come to tell me that I was needed on-set.
“I could tell by the look of shock on his face that something was wrong, so I asked if he was OK. He eventually told me that he’d been to the dressing room next door to mine and he’d witnessed an actor; a huge Hollywood star and one half of a famous TV detective duo, sucking off one of the stuntmen; neither of whom had batted an eyelid at this boy’s presence in the doorway. Said Stuntman also happened to be the lover of another prominent American male actor.
“When I approached the artiste concerned and told the Runner had told me, he didn’t bother to deny it; he was just very matter-of-fact about it – as if it was the done thing”.
And then, of course, there was the notorious meeting with Hollywood legend, Bette Davis at MGM Studios, Elstree: “It was way back in the mid-1950’s. I was sitting with a couple of the actors I’d been working with, when this guy came over to our table and said that Ms Davis wanted to see me. I was still a complete unknown then; just a jobbing actor, so I wondered how on earth she could possibly have heard of me. I thought that perhaps she may’ve wanted to give me some advice or something, so over I went to where she was seated with her entourage.
“As I reached her table, I held out my hand and said: “PETER WYNGARDE. I believe you wanted to speak to me”. She had a cigarette in a holder, which she was holding stylishly in her right hand. From behind a huge plume of smoke I heard her snarl, “I hear you have a big cock”. And with that, she handed me a note; ‘Be here at 8.30!’ It had the address of her hotel and the room number. I told her that I was a married man, and that I was faithful to my wife. She clearly saw this as a rejection, which I’m sure she wasn’t used to.
“When I got back to my friends, they were all roaring with laughter. Apparently she went through every actor and technician under the age of 25 working at the studio!”
At 21, he met Dorinda Stevens – a young actress from Southampton. “We fell in love while I was acting in repertory with the London Players at the Grand Theatre in her hometown of Southampton. Shortly after, we went on holiday to Sicily. Wearing only our bathing things, we strolled into a white-walled church in Taormina, where an irate priest materialised from absolutely nowhere and screamed in Italian that he wasn’t holding auditions for a strip act! I told him that we were trying to get married and asked if there was any law saying what we had to wear for that.” he smiled. “In a film they’d have probably told us to make a date the following week. In reality he married us that day.
“All we did for the first year of our marriage was have sex. We were very young, so we were at it five and six times a day!” he grins. “We desperately wanted children, but Dorinda was unable to conceive; we were both tested. I remember dithering in a tiny room with a little paper cup and a pile of dirty magazines. I was relieved to learn that I was OK, but the news wasn’t so good for Dorinda. I’d have loved to have had a son. I think I’d have been a good dad”.
There was one incident during his marriage when he became a real-life hero to his wife. “We were living near Holland Park at the time, and Dorinda was filming at Shepperton, so she had to get up really early in the morning to catch a train,” he explains. “On a couple of those mornings, the same man had followed her to the station, so when she told me we made a plan for me to go out first and stand around the corner where I’d wait for her to come up the street. Sure enough, this man appeared and began to follow her, so out I dashed just like Jason King and confronted him. He never bothered her again!”
PETER and Dorinda were married for seven years. “We were too young and I was in the middle of my struggling-for-recognition days for it to have lasted.” When they divorced, he moved into a flat in Paddington with a new girl. “I was always in love at that time,” he confesses.
PETER’s supposed “relationship” with fellow actor, Alan Bates, has been covered elsewhere on this ‘site. “All I’ll say on this occasion,” he states, “is that there’s been a lot of speculation and lies written about that time in my life. I certainly feel betrayed by a particular individual to whom I’d previously only ever shown the greatest respect and kindness”.
His first West End success was in ‘Duel of Angels’ opposite Vivien Leigh, who was instrumental in getting him off a West End producers’ blacklist. She wanted him for her leading man in the play and it was only when director Jean Louis Barrault, insisted that he should be given the part of Count Marcellus that PETER was removed from said list.
The ban was as a result of an appearance in Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’ in which he played Morris Dixon. “The prop letters used in plays are usually silly ones, but in this production they were from out-of-work actors looking for a break. I found this disgusting so I ripped them up. When the secretary carried them on stage there were all these little bundles of paper. Quick as a flash, Noel Coward said, “Oh dear, the rats have been at them”. However, Coward was furious and PETER was sacked and blacklisted.
Luckily in the early-Fifties, television beckoned. “The spooky thing was,” PETER remembers, “that while I was on tour in Wales with a youth theatre production of an American play called ‘Pickup Girl’, my girlfriend dragged me along to see a clairvoyant in Cardiff. She told me that someone was looking after me, and described my father who’d died about a year earlier. She also told me that, soon, I’d perform in front of millions of people; not thousands, MILLIONS! It should be remembered that this was before everyone had a TV in their living rooms, and I was playing a bloody Door Attendant in an amateur play at the time!”
He must’ve thought she was mad after experiencing his very first screen test. “It was for the male lead in a film starring Jean Simmons. The scene was in her bedroom, and I was to play a Latin-type; a kidnapper, who’d come in to seduce her. I’d never seen myself on screen before, and it was the most horrible experience in the world!
“I thought the story was very good, and I discussed it with the director, Leslie Norman, who’d made many successful films at Ealing Studios. On the day I went to see the Rushes, I took my girlfriend at the time with me for moral support, and I really did need her as I was nervous as hell. What I saw on the screen bore absolutely no relation whatsoever to what I thought I was doing in front of the camera. When the theatre darkened, we first saw the clapper boy hitting his board, on which was written something like: ‘Test for Jean Simmons’ as Lady something-or-other, and PETER WYNGARDE as Antonio’.
“I grabbed my girl’s hand for reassurance. Up on the screen, a door flew open, and I knew I was about to make my entrance, so I squeezed my girlfriend’s hand increasingly tighter. Then in came what can only be described as a total stranger; someone I’d never laid eyes on before, that’s for sure! Although the outline of the figure was familiar, the darkened skin certainly wasn’t, nor was the inane smirk or the overstated, ogling eyes or the grin that showing at least 700 teeth! I looked like one of those villains from a Victorian melodrama!
“I didn’t realise it, but I now had my girlfriend’s hand in a vice-like grip. When I heard her wince, I believed that it was in response to what she was witnessing up on the screen, but it wasn’t. My nails had jabbed so far into her hand that I’d drawn blood! It was an absolute disaster!”
Whilst PETER didn’t secure that particular part, his big TV breakthrough came playing Dicken’s tragic hero, Sidney Carton, in the BBC series of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, during which he was receiving upwards of 1,000 fan letters each week. “I got out of that as soon as I could and went back on stage”, he says. “I preferred to be anonymous. I used to think how boring it must be not being able to go out and see new places because you’d be instantly recognised.” But it didn’t stop him becoming a heartthrob at a very early stage in his career.
“When I’m doing TV drama,” he explains, “I deliberately played down sex appeal – I suppose you must call it that – unless it’s needed for the plot. I believe actors should steer away from their natural traits. They’ll still show through in your final performance, but they’ll be much more realistic if you restrain them.”
As such a celebrated sex symbol when, I ask, was his first sexual experience?
“I’m not sure if this counts, but around the age of four or five, a cousin and I were hiding behind the sofa when we ended up playing that infamous game of ‘I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours’. She dropped her draws and I got me whatsit out, only to see my Stepfather peering over the sofa at us. He never let me forget that incident, and recount the story at family gatherings to embarrass me. That went on right up to his passing in the late 1990s’.
“I also remember one of the seniors at school showing us younger kids how to arouse a woman by practicing with the valve on a bicycle wheel. I was quite a natural!” he laughs.
“One of the strangest things was when I lived in Shanghai as a child,” he recalls. “I was coming home from a Cubs meeting – I was only very young, when the local pervert stopped me and tried to put his hand down my shorts. I managed to get away from him and ran as fast as I could. When I arrived home and told my Mother what had happened, she immediately put me in the bath and scrubbed my poor ‘thing’ until it bled. I don’t know which experience was worse; his wandering hands or my Mother’s scouring!
“When the Japanese invaded, he was put in the same camp as me, where he was known as ‘Mr Billiards’, as he always had his hands in his pockets, playing with his balls. From what I heard while I was in there, he’d done the same thing to half the kids in Shanghai!”
A season at the Old Vic in the late Fifties/Early Sixties proved to be a welcome break from TV, where he was able to turn his hand to directing for the first time with ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’. He also began to meet some fabulous and interesting people.
“When I was in Lung-Hua, I cherished a copy of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ that my Mother had bought for me. In the late 50’s, I was able to spend a glorious long-weekend with A.A. Milne’s nephew after my last performance of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at the Old Vic. He sold his prize Lagonda to me”.
He also spent time with Agatha Christie and met the legendary ‘Bosie’  – Oscar Wilde’s lover, who was very old at the time.
One of the most eccentric people he ever encountered was actor and comedian, Kenneth Williams, who he worked with in ‘St Joan’ at the Art’s Theatre . “We went out to dinner one evening at a really swish place in Covent Garden, which I paid for,” PETER recollects. “But when it came to the return outing, he took me to a Lyon’s Corner House!” 
He also came face to chest with Clint Eastwood at Pinewood Studios one day back in the early Sixties: “I heard this very loud American voice coming from across the actor’s restaurant; the man behind it was giving one of the waitresses a real dressing down. The group I was sitting with all agreed that this person’s behaviour was rather ungallant, but only I was fool enough to march across to confront the scoundrel. I’d never seen Eastwood before, so when all 6 feet 4 inches of him stood up as I was launching into him, the entire room fell silent. My life genuinely flashed in front of my eyes. Thankfully, he was very good natured about it, and he apologised to the young lady – much to her relief, and mine!”
Even after being cast as Count Marcellus in ‘Duel of Angels’, he said he found it hard to maintain discipline: “I almost missed one show during the American leg of the tour,” he says, “because I’d been gambling at Lake Tahoe in Nevada. I was late for the plane back to San Francisco and so I had to book onto another one. So there I was on the plane, when I turned to the chap sitting next to me and saw that he’d turned completely white. I looked out of the window and noticed that we were completely surrounded by pine trees, and there was the wing, but no propeller. I suddenly thought to myself, ‘We’re going to crash!’ and we did.
“The next plane which was hurriedly chartered, was piloted by a real Gabby Hayes-type character, who sat in the cockpit chewing and muttering. It was only when we encountered the thick, black fog over San Francisco that I discovered that he didn’t have Radar!”
PETER arrived just in time for the performance, but afterwards was summoned to Vivien Leigh’s dressing room. “‘How DARE you!’ she raged. “I have never been treated like this by an actor before. I didn’t want to come to America in the first place, and THEY didn’t want YOU! And yet you do THIS to ME! You’re late for show after show’. And then she paused, hesitated, and said: ‘Except one, and he fell flat on his face!’ And then she roared with laughter, and it was all forgotten”.
Over the years an inordinate number of myths have grown up about PETER’s private life which has absolutely no basis in reality: “I’ve never had any doubt about my sexuality,” he asserts. “I’m mad about women.
“My problem is that women fall in love with Jason King, but then find that I’m really Dracula. In a way, I’m very sadistic, but I think women quite like it. Treat them with any amount of charm, that’s how you start – then you throw off the frock coat and put on the bearskin. I love being the caveman. The reason I’m so sadistic is that men have a side of them that hates their mothers. Having so many women is a kind of revenge against your mother!”
And was his life as replete with women as Jason King’s? “Well, there were always so many on film and TV sets, I had a marvellous time!”
His relationship with Vivien Leigh is well documented, both in this Blog and elsewhere. All he will say about her is that “She was the love of my life”.
In the past he mentioned a girl he’d been in love with, and an affair that had lasted three years. I asked him if he ever thought of that time and the actress, who he called Elaine. He nodded and contemplated for a moment: “Maybe I’ve been too career-minded sometimes. I’ve never hesitated to do acting jobs that took me away for months on end. Elaine was in a long running play in the West End while I was filmed several plays for American television , and the day I returned she went on tour for months.
“Many actors seem to tell themselves that their love life is something they can come back to, and devote time to, when they are big stars. Our relationship was a fatal combination as I was probably telling myself the same thing that couples had in staying faithful to someone you didn’t see for months, or even years on end. One needs to be very undersexed to stay faithful to someone who is out of sight for long periods of time. She didn’t hit it big. Luck is such an important factor in show business”.
There was also a famous actress to whom he was engaged in the mid-1960’s, and a girl he had a fling with in Australia in the early 70’s: “The Aussie girl came very close to making me think that waking up next to her every morning for the rest of my life would be the most marvellous thing in the world”.
He laughs when he remembers another former girlfriend: “She wanted me to tattoo her name on an unmentionable place. So to appease her, I got a kids transfer tattoo from a pack of bubble gum that washes off after time. The trouble was, she had such a short name it disappeared when I got a hard-on!”
And then, of course, there was the infamous Paternity suit. “It wasn’t the first time it’d happened. I was at the English Theatre in Vienna, and this girl claimed I’d shagged her and that she was pregnant. To be honest, I can’t really remember whether I did or not, as I was drinking quite a lot at the time.
“Anyway, she took me to court, so I decided to defend myself. If I remember rightly, there were three judges – one of whom had never heard of Jason King, so they showed one of the episodes in the courtroom. The baby was asleep on the girls lap; an uglier child I’m yet to see. I picked him up and said something like: ”Your Honours. You can all see. Can you say, with hand on heart, that I could be capable of producing such an unpleasant-looking child?” There was a stunned silence, then everyone roared with laughter – much to my relief, I have to say.
“Of course, there was no DNA testing back then in the mid-1970’s, but if he had been proven to be mine, I’d have drowned the little brat!”
As any self-respecting Classic British TV fan knows, PETER made guest appearances in many of the most iconic series of the 1960’s, including ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Saint’ – and, inevitably, stole the show on each occasion.
“I did two episodes of The Avengers – ‘A Touch of Brimstone’ and ‘Epic’ – the latter of which I got an Emmy nomination. I’d gone over to Greece to film the ‘I, Spy’ story, ‘Let’s Kill Karlovassi’, with Bill Cosby, who’d also been nominated in the same category as me. We both flew over to Hollywood from Greece for the ceremony, but I was terribly disappointed as the award went to Cosby. Now he’s a multi-millionaire and I’m not!”
And, of course, there was the infamous scene’ in ‘A Touch of Brimstone’: “The thing I remember most about the Hellfire Club sections was the snake that Diana was holding. I loved it and wanted to take it home. The controversy was, of course, because of the costume she was wearing and the whip. But Diana is now a neighbour, so I haven’t whipped her for
a long time!”
“I remember the Saint episode: ‘’The Man Who Liked Lions’. I recall an orgy scene or something, and we were dressed up in Ancient Roman costumes. Roger (Moore) and I were supposed to end the episode with a sword fight. I’d always fenced, and had fought many times at the Green Club in London, but I decided to have a little game with him. Every time he came along to see how the stunt guys were getting along with me, I’d be shrieking, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh, God!’ I went to him and said, ‘Don’t you think it would be better if we did this with a stand-in; you know, like they did in the old Errol Flynn films – with just a shot of my face looking fierce?’ He laughed and said, ‘Oh, come on – have a go! We’ll have one big take and you’ll be fine’. The idea was that I’d have to go, Bang! Bang! Bang! He’d grab me and stick me with the sword, causing me to fall into the lion’s pit. It would be a marvellous big moment to end the film. Anyway, he went over to the stunt boys and said, ‘Look, he’s a bit tricky with the fight scene. Never mind, we can make some cuts here and there and somehow we’ll make him look tough. But when they called action, I really let him have it, and went whack! Whack! And he fell straight into the lion’s den!
“As far as ‘The Prisoner’ was concerned: I don’t think anyone but Pat (McGoohan) knew what was going on. We all asked, of course, but it was always a bit like a George Orwell’s ‘1984’ thing, which I feel ‘The Prisoner’ had parallels with. It was as if you knew there was something amazing going on, but that you were likely to be done away with if you started asking too many questions. There was an absolutely fabulous atmosphere on the set – not just the chummy-chummy, all-actors-together thing”.
“There was an incident just after we’d finished filming ‘The Prisoner’,” PETER recalls. “I was asked to go on a sailing trip with David Peel – an actor friend of mine who owned a yacht. There were four of us on board; him and his wife, and my girlfriend and I. We were just off the French coast near Cherbourg when a storm blew up and the lot of us almost drowned. I remember the incident distinctly being after ‘The Prisoner’, as I was wearing the Dunlop plimsolls I’d worn as Number 2”.
And then, of course, along came the character that would inevitably define his career: Jason King. But what many fans don’t know is that he almost gave up the role.
“I looked hideous!” PETER says earnestly. “He was this blasé idiot floating about on screen – looking like a Mexican expatriate, with this awful English accent. I nearly decided not to go with it”.
Nevertheless, PETER says that he greatly enjoyed his Jason King role because “Jason is a very romantic extension of me.” The program was based on the rumoured adventures of James Bond creator, Ian Flemming. As to the success it brought him, he says “I freely admit I miss it dreadfully.”
It was PETER who brought his own sense of style to Jason King and also persuaded television bosses to film on location – something very rarely done in the 60’s and 70’s.
“I wanted us to stop doing those terrible studio backdrop scenes, but I was told that location filming was too expensive. Eventually they agreed to send just me and a camera man away. We went to Vienna and did shots at the Wheel that featured in ‘The Third Man’ and a man appeared in black with a hat pulled down over his face, looking just like Orson Welles. He was actually selling watches, but it was wonderful stuff.
“When we went to Rome and came across a gaggle of nuns and I just ran into the middle of them like some terrible rooster among all these hens,” he says. “Then we would write stories to fit in with the location shots.” The result of this inspired improvisation was a very different-looking series. The idiosyncratic King was very much a creation of PETER himself.
“When ‘‘Department S’’ was being planned, I was told that I was going to be an Oxford professor sitting at his desk solving problems for two Americans. I thought it was a bit dull. Then I had the bright idea of basing him on Ian Fleming. The clothes were sort of an extension of me. I was a bit of a peacock then. I loved clothes, but I didn’t much like the kind of fashions that were about for guys in those days. Then I saw a picture of an Edwardian riding jacket and I thought it had real style, so I did some drawings and had a similar coat made.
“A conventional tie never looked right with it and I had the idea of making the shirt and tie the same colour.” The idea started a popular fashion, as did his trademark of turned-back cuffs, which actually evolved by accident.
“We were filming in Venice in a gondola and one of my cuff links fell off into the water,” recalls PETER. “The camera was rolling so I turned back my shirt cuffs over the sleeve of my jacket – and that was how it began.
Fans have often asked how he got on with his Co-Stars, Joel Fabiani and Rosemary Nicols? “I liked Joel and we became good mates, but Rosemary – or ‘Knickers’, as we all called her – and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye. She saw herself as the star of the show, which she wasn’t. I really didn’t care for her at all.
“A strange thing happened some years ago when I was in Africa, and I was questioned for several hours as to the whereabouts of Dennis Alaba Peter, who I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the series ended. Apparently, he’d been involved in a property investment which had gone tits up, and the police were looking for him. I couldn’t make them understand that I was just an actor in a TV series, and that I didn’t really know Dennis at all. It was the last I ever heard about him”.
The influence of Jason King in his heyday was almost frightening. He was an all-action hero but, at PETER’s insistence, he had no guns. “I was walking my dog in Holland Park once. Some kids were playing there and one of them pulled out a replica gun and pointed it at the other. I asked him what he thought he was doing. This kid just rolled back his cuffs and said: ‘I’m Jason King, who are you?’ And I thought, that’s it – I’m never going to have a gun.”
While the Sixties invented the dolly-bird, the glam-rock Seventies refined the concept with the making of the bimbo. She was paid to look gorgeous, but vacant.
‘Jason King’ was also renowned for all the different girls who appeared in it – many of whom became household names: “They were the television equivalent of a Bond girl, I suppose” PETER says. “We had Felicity Kendal, Stephanie Beecham, Michelle Dotrice and the stunning Kate O’Mara”.
Women were Jason King’s fashion accessories. His ever-changing harem wore tarantella eyelashes, bovine expressions and even bikinis to do the housework for him.
He well remembers Felicity Kendall’s first day on the set to play ‘A girl for whom a king would abdicate’. “My lovely Felicity – I fell in love with her. I found she was madly attractive.” recalls PETER. “She is and was one of the most attractive things around. I was in love with her and so was 50 million viewers. The whole crew fell for her. She was quite unique, because it was rare to find intelligence and beauty.
“Everyone loved the ladies on the set, because they were young and glamorous with long legs, which were quite appealing; I’ve always been a ‘Leg Man’. I endorsed all the ladies we had on the show. They were one of the perks of the game. It’s lovely to have beauty around, whatever kind.”
It helped the series enormously to have women with such qualities. “Everyone was supposed to look like a bimbo, but Felicity and Stephanie (Beecham) certainly weren’t that,” says PETER. “We did have a lot of bimbos to fill some of the scenes as extras.”
Kate O’Mara vibrated sex around the studio. “Sex, sex and sex again – you could sense it coming down the stairs! She had a wonderful face and figure and she’s a terribly sweet girl. Although she had those gorgeous looks, green eyes with black hair, she had this hockey school captain manner. But she could suddenly change it and become a sultry sex kitten. She could be a chameleon and after all that’s what acting is about.”
Another of his leading ladies was Michelle Dotrice. “She had a wonderful sense of comedy,” says PETER, explaining: “Comedy has nothing to do with the person who says the lines – it’s to do with listening and reacting. She had a kind of innocence, and again, intelligence.”
So why was every woman on TV at the time made to look so dumb? “It was all to do with fashion. They didn’t want girls looking as if she had a brain. Remember, it was pre-yuppie time. A man had to have the brains and be dominant, while the woman was just extra-terrestrial bits hanging around” PETER explains. “They were very macho days, when men were dominating in a suit. Now they have to be dominating in boxer shorts.”
Jason’s elegant wardrobe frequently competed with the costumes of his ladies. His personally tailored single-breasted suits costing £500 a time and had to be figure-hugging, apart from the slight flares covering platform heeled boots, but not so tight that he couldn’t karate himself out of trouble.
So with his shirt cuffs turned back without cufflinks, his never carrying gun, and smoking his own brand of Russian cigarettes, he’d drink champagne and whiskey, but never together. Jason King was an all-action, devilish lady-killer with huge sideburns who inspired a million suburban imitators who lurking in Top Rank clubs on Saturday nights.
Jason King turned PETER into a highly influential star. To prove it, Jason became the most popular choice of name for boys in 1971 (even the kids TV show, ‘Blue Peter’ named their Siamese Cat after him). Despite becoming a TV hero, with his stylish clothes copied by men – including pop stars like Barry Gibb – and receiving thousands of adoring fan letters every week from women, PETER admits he lost out on making a fortune.
“I’m not very good at business,” he says. “I had a standard contract fee. They syndicated the show in America and I didn’t get a penny extra, nor have I ever received anything for the video and DVD releases.
“With my London tailor, I designed the Jason King suits based on an 18th-Century riding jacket. When the series became a success all around the world, everyone was trying to copy them. In Hamburg, it was terrible. I found there were seven shops advertising Jason King suits and I wasn’t earning anything from them.”
Didn’t it make him feel bitter? “Not bitter,” he replied. “I had a great deal of fun doing it. It brought me a huge amount of fame at that time, and I enjoyed doing them”.
At one time, he had 56 Jason King suits in his wardrobe, but now there are only two left. “I’ve given them all away. After spending four years changing into five suits every day of the week, the last thing I want to do now is put one on.”
And how did he cope with the big star image: “I never saw the point of trying to live up to anything,” PETER replies. “I remember doing some recording in Soho, and each morning I’d throw on a pair of jeans and a sweater and grab the first taxi I saw. One driver didn’t say a single word all the way, which is unusual for London cab drivers, and when I went to pay him, he said: ‘Excuse me. ‘Hope you don’t mind me asking, but didn’t you did get the award for the Best Dressed Man in Britain?’ It’s part of the training. You learn how to behave like a star; it’s as much a part of the job as it is learning your lines.”
After ‘Jason King’ ended, PETER returned to his first love – the stage. His first outing was in a two-hander with Hermione Baddeley, who played his mother. It was a complete departure from the flamboyant King, but something he was desperate to do.
“’Mother Adam’ was fantastically written. It was a about a mother and her son, who live in their own extraordinary world. Adam has the world’s problems on his shoulders and his exoticism is in the language he uses”.
Then came a revival of ‘The King and I’, in which PETER made 260 appearances as the King of Siam: “I had a share of the show’s profits, so was naturally interested in seeing good houses. I have eyes like a lynx and across the floodlights I could see the back of the auditorium and the circle. I counted the number of heads, and the number of pounds,” he told me, smiling.
He had a very moving death scene as the King, and laughed as he recalled, “Englishmen never like to appear affected by such things. The ladies shed a tear at my death, but the gentlemen invariably pretended to blow their noses, or stifle a sneeze with their handkerchiefs. I think it’s lovely, really.”
There was, however, something far more humorous going on during that final scene: “Because it was my responsibly to ensure that the play ended on or before 10pm, I’d personally be expected to pay reparations to the theatre if it overran, even by a minute. I therefore guaranteed that we’d be done and dusted on time by having someone in the wings with their eye on the clock, who’d indicate to me as I lay on my deathbed whether we needed to more things along.
“I recall several of the Royal Children giggling away as I began to hurriedly say my final words to Anna. In fact, one critic commented on it – saying how strange it seemed that some of the little princes and princesses were tittering away as their father lay dying.”
There was also another incident on the opening night in London, during the scene where all the Royal Children were brought onstage one by one to pay homage to the King.
“Each of them filed past me – bowing their heads,” PETER recollects, “until we came to the very last one, who was only a tiny 3-year-old. I was to pretend that I hadn’t seen him, at which he’d tug on my trouser leg until I looked down at him. I’d then pick him up and he’d kiss me on the cheek. This was the first time the little fella had been in front of a full house, and as I picked him up he peed with fright!”
PETER then went back on tour with Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’, which was a huge success… until one particular night: “We were at a theatre in south Wales that was a pre-booked full house. But when the curtain went up, we found we had about three people in the audience. The next-door town hall was packed… for Shirley Bassey. I sent her a dozen red roses, but never heard a word from her!”
Of course, PETER’s work hasn’t been confined solely to stage and TV, he’s also starred in several films, which include ‘The Siege of Sidney Street’, ‘Night of the Eagle (A.K.A. ‘Burn, Witch, Burn’), and ‘The Innocents’.
His first big-screen outing was in Robert Rossen’s epic, ‘Alexander the Great’. “I was playing Dunois in ‘St Joan’ at the Art’s Theatre when I was approached to do the film,” he told me. “Siobhan McKenna who played Joan, was fervently against me leaving the play to do it, as she said the part just wasn’t right for me. I couldn’t see it then, but she was dead right.
“I was in Spain for almost 12 months filming, and I missed my wife terribly. It was over 45 degrees centigrade for the entire time we were there; terribly, terribly hot. I used to cool off by swimming in a lake close to the set.
“Working with Richard Burton was fabulous, although he was pissed most of the time. I recall a particular scene where he had to disembark from a galleon down a two-foot wide gangplank – totally pissed out of his mind. He said his lines perfectly, but the instant Robert called ‘Cut’, Richard fell off the plank straight into the harbour. Of course, because he was wearing all the armour, he just sank to the bottom!
“Each day after filming near Montessori, which is not far from Madrid, Richard and I would drive back to the hotel where all the cast were staying. There was one communal shower for five room, which is where Richard taught me how to sing in Welsh. I remember the songs word-for-word, even now. (He gives me rendition).
“Later, we’d go on our usual pub-crawl in the city, where he’d say to anyone who’d listen: ‘Those stories you’ve heard about WYNGARDE spending his childhood in a Jap war camp are definitely true; you can tell from the size of his schlong. He obviously had no other toys to play with!’”
Whilst PETER and Burton became real buddies, one person he didn’t particularly get along with was Stanley Baker.
“When the shoot was over,” PETER says, ”Stanley Baker, who was planning to drive back to London, offered me a lift and I gratefully accepted. Do you know, he never spoke a single word to me for the entire 20-plus hour journey!”
And ‘The Siege of Sidney Street’? “I learned about Peter the Painter through Prince Kropotkin , who was a sort of serious Champagne socialist – having changed sides when he met Czar Nicholas and realised he was hopeless!
“‘The Siege of Sidney Street’ would’ve been a really good film if they’d cut out the absurd Bulldog Drummond character played by Donald Sinden. But then I’d have missed his wonderful Prank.
“We were all staying at Oscar Wilde’s favourite hotel in Dublin – it was the last day of shooting and time to pay the bill. The company paid for our accommodation, but there were some pretty heavy bar bills on two months of shooting. There was an American there; a Texan, I think. Very loud and rather showy. Donald took care of everything for us by going to reception and asking what room his American “cousin” was in, and then having our bill signed to his suite. Wonderful days and nights!”
PETER hit a few bumps in the road in the mid-Seventies, which were widely reported at the time, and which have been added to and embellished ever since. “The past is the past,” he says, philosophically. “All I can say is that the bastard who set me up certainly got his revenge!”
“The trouble with the British press is that they like to big you up, but at the same time, they can’t wait to bring you down again. There were a lot of lies told about me, but I try not to dwell on it. I’ve had all that could happen to me as a child in Lung-Hua, so nothing – especially a lying journalist – could ever hurt me again”.
So I ask him – what IS the worst thing that’s ever happened to him?
“When I had the Bentley, I collected thousands of Green Shield Stamps with the petrol and oil, which I hoped to buy a scooter. Then someone broke into the bloody thing and stole the lot. Oh, how I mourned those stamps!”
“I think the only time I’ve ever been really frightened was when a flight I was on stopped off in Hong Kong en route to Australia, where I was doing a publicity tour,” PETER reveals. “There was a bomb scare resulting in everyone being evacuated from the plane.
“I bumped into an old friend of mine, Leslie Bauld, who’d been in Lung-Hau, and who was now Head of Security at the airport. The passengers were refusing to reboard the plane after it’d been searched, and so Leslie asked me if I’d get on first – reasoning that if they all saw Jason King step back on the aircraft, everyone else would follow suit. I was like the proverbial swan, who looks perfectly calm on the surface, but underneath, my heart was racing. Thankfully, the plane landed in Perth without incident.”
When he wasn’t acting or writing PETER had, and still has, a large number of interests. “I’ve always been a bargain hunter, and I’ve managed to accumulate a large collection of clocks and watches. My latest acquisition is a 1320 Swiss Buco. I spend AGES hanging the weight chains, which have to be precise. Collecting clocks is said to be a sign of madness. Make of that what you will!
“I also love sports. I boxed at school, and I enjoyed playing tennis; still love to watch it. I tried playing golf once, in the teeth of a hailstorm. My partner for the day said I should take it up, as I apparently had a ‘good swing’. I didn’t care what I had, I didn’t want to play it again, and I haven’t!”
“Cars have been a lifelong passion of mine; the faster, the better. I’ve owned many over the years; a Studebaker, TR7, TVR’s, Bentley’s, Triumph’s, Bristol’s, Porsche’s, a Lagonda and a 1929 Dusdenberg. I sold one of my Bentley’s to the late Robin Gibb of the Bee Gee’s.
“As a child, I was a mad plane spotter and knew every make and model by heart. When I had the money, I decided to get my pilots licence and also studied the Navigators Course, which meant that I had to do an awful lot of swotting. In the early 1970’s, I toyed with the idea of buying a mini helicopter, which cost around £2,000 back then. I wanted a place in Norfolk and thought I could commute to the studio in it each day.
“The scary thing was, I was actually on my way to the airfield – chequebook in hand, when I spotted one of the contraptions hovering overhead. All of a sudden, it just fell apart and smashed to the ground in piece. It was a tremendous tragedy, as the pilot was killed. Needless to say, I didn’t buy the helicopter.”
“I also loved fencing and swimming and, of course, Pistol Shooting. But then I had to give that up when handguns were banned in the 1990’s, and I took up Clay Shooting. But really, I’m just happy to find a wild bit of country or a beach with lots of sun. I don’t need too many people around me.”
“That reminds me,” he exclaims, and then roars with laughter. “What about that bloody dangerous Jeep we hired in Kaş!” 
He’s talking about a rust bucket, masquerading as an open-top 4×4 that we were talked (conned?!) into renting in Turkey a few years ago. We thought we were getting a brand new Suzuki Vitara, and it wasn’t for the want of trying I can tell you (NEVER barter with PETER WYNGARDE – I’m just saying!). What we ended up with was a skip on wheels, which was held together with chewing gum and Sellotape!
“My God! It was a death-trap, which we cavalierioulsy careered round all those even more cavalierioulsy dangerous bends, and round and round that island! There must be a God, as SOMEONE was looking after us!”
Then there was that submarine which we SWORE we’d spotted anchored about a mile off-shore We’d told everyone who’d listen about it… until we realised it was just an unusual rock formation. “What a couple of Derby and Joan’s!” he adds, and then screams with laughter. But we digress…
PETER is also mad about animals. He was surrounded by them as a young boy, and has had numerous dogs – including a Fox Terrier called Cassio; two Welsh Corgi’s – Cyrano and Pipistrello, and an Afghan Hound, Youssef. He also owned a horse when he had a farmhouse in the Cotswolds: “He went crazy one day,” PETER explains, “so I called in the vet. The poor boy had a brain tumour and I had to have him put to sleep.”
So what has changed for him over the years?
“I think I’m much more tolerant than I was. I used to be very intolerant of things that didn’t go my way, and I’d sulk or make an awful lot of noise. Now I’m more inclined to see others points of view. Acting has done that for me, as it’s helped me to learn more about people and life. I keep growing as a person through performances.”
I’ve known PETER for almost 30 years now and, in spite of some quite terrible experiences and incredible setbacks, I’ve never once heard him complain or attempt to blame anyone else for there’s misfortunes. So I asked him, is there anything that he regrets?
“In the mid-1950’s, I signed a contract with Paramount to be in a film version of ‘War and Peace” he replied. “I’d done a screen-test and met Audrey Hepburn, who would be in the lead role. I’d been told that they wouldn’t need me for another three months, so I took a part in a TV play by Peter Schaffer called ‘The Salt Land’ , in which I played a Jewish man who leads a group of people – including his brother, who was played by my mate, David Peel – to Jerusalem.
“We’d just started filming the play at Shepperton Studios when I received a call from Paramount telling me that they’d decided to bring the shoot forward, and that they needed me on the ‘War and Peace’ set right away. I told them that I was committed to the play, but Paramount was livid. There was a big court case about it, and I was replaced in the film by Henry Fonda. I do wonder how things might’ve panned out if I’d done the film.
“I was also asked by Ken Loach to be in a film he was planning about the Jarrow March , in which I was to play a northern miner. I believe that role would’ve changed my whole career considerably”.
“But I suppose the biggest one was working with Orson Welles’ in ‘King Lear’. My agent called to say that Welles was going to do ‘Lear’ on Broadway, and he wanted to see me for the part of Edmund. So I was asked to call at the home he rented in Sloane Square which was, coincidently, opposite the back of the house owned by the Olivier’s.
I arrived at the house a good ten minutes early and stood outside almost as long trying the bell. Finally the door was opened by a dumpy Irishwoman, who enquired what I wanted.
“Orson Welles – I have an appointment at three. My name is…”.
“He’s not here!” And with that, she slammed the door.
It was quite a shock, and it took me a few minutes before I found a telephone box to call my agent to ask him what I should do next. His advice was a waste of time, as he directed me to go for a drink at the pub next door to The Royal Court Theatre, which I knew well, as I’d been there many times when I was in ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ . While there, I bumped into the actors from the present play, and ended up staying until closing time.
Later that week, I received another invitation to call on Welles and, thankfully, on this occasion I was asked in. I followed the Irish lady to the drawing room where she left me before returning to the kitchen. It was then that I was accosted by Orson’s booming voice…
“Mr… er… er…” I interjected with my name.
“Oh, there must be some mistake. I have (rustling of paper), Kenneth Haig”, Haig had been a huge success in John Osborne’s ‘Look Back In Anger’ at the same Royal Court Theatre. I managed to blurt out that I wasn’t he.
“Are you sure? I have a CV of all you’ve been in on stage”.
There followed a long silence.
“Well, I could give you a brief résumé of all the things I’ve done”.
“Will it be more than half an hour?”
“In that case, please do. Into the dining room”
We headed to the dining room, in which stood a miniature model of a set – displayed on what looked like a ping-pong table.
“That’s my set for ‘Lear’. What do you think?”
I’d hardly had a chance to look at it, but as he spoke, he’d gone for a switchboard which controlled the lighting. There was the great man standing before me; or as he would stand before he went on stage, and blew an enormous breath of air on to the set, followed by “Blow winds… etc. etc.”
I’d got the full impact of the fascia’s for the first time, which is something I will always cherish. And that was it.
Suddenly, he produced his script for ‘King Lear’, as if by magic; showing off the slight-of-hand he’d learned for the film ‘Magician’. Of course I’d studied the play and Edmund in particular, as I expected to have to read for the part.
He then gave two performances: HIS ‘Macbeth’, and HIS ‘Lear’ – the latter of which only a great actor could manage. Gielgud did it, of course but, for me, he lacked the quality I believe every actor should have; the ability to be able to laugh at himself.
Unfortunately, I said all this to Orson Welles, and I believe it may’ve lost me the part. It was my opinion of Donald Wolfe as ‘Lear’ that did it.
He then asked me to do any Shakespeare – but not Edmund, so I did Cassio’s speech to Brutus and afterwards, he stared at me for a very long time. So much so that I thought he was so embarrassed by what he’s seen and heard that he didn’t know what to say! But, thankfully, he wasn’t and asked me if I was free and available to start rehearsals. I was consumed with joy.
“Of course, I shall be directing the play. Do you have any objections to that?”
I said no. When I left Welles’ home I went back to the telephone box to call my agent. But, sadly, that was the last I heard from Welles.
I read much later that the he’d had an accident which had confined him to a wheelchair, and that the production had closed after two weeks”.
It’s a well-known fact that PETER has no time for the press, having had so many lies written about him over the years, but he’s been truly shocked at what has been written about him on the Internet:
“The press are garbage collectors,” he states firmly. “They take a story and twist it to suit their agenda, which is to sell as many copies as possible. They could make Mary Poppins look like Jack the Ripper by adding a little something here, or omit something there. More than once things I’ve said have been taken completely out of contexts. I’ve also seen it suggested that I’ve been in one place when I’ve actually been hundreds of miles away in another.
“As far as the Internet is concerned, I’m really quite appalled that someone can simply take it upon themselves to write about my private life without knowing anything at all about me. I feel as if they’re violating my soul, and it’s really quite outrageous that there doesn’t appear to be any way of stopping them. It does make me wonder what kind of person would spend such an inordinate amount of time, prying into the personal business of someone they’ve never met. I really find it totally bizarre; the whole invasion of one’s privacy is quite distasteful. I’d rather like to hire a detective to follow them about – day and night – and report their every movement on the Internet to see how they like it. But I really can’t bear such interference in other’s private affairs. They’re really just vermin!”
Then, of course, there are the idiots who persist with the allegory that PETER’s career derailed in the mid-Seventies: “That’s because they haven’t the intellect to notice that there are mediums other than television. If you’re not on the box every week they think you’ve disappeared! My first love was always the stage, and after ‘Jason King’ ended, I couldn’t wait to return to the theatre. I feel that if some journalists had a brain, they’d be dangerous!”
In spite of the misinformed persisting with the line that his career crashed and burned from the mid-seventies onward, PETER actually did some of his best work post-Jason King, with critics expounding platitudes by the dozen:
Mother Adam: British Tour
“PETER WYNGARDE gives a performance of near genius – a great actor in the very best sense of the word.” Harold Hobson – Theatre World
“…as for PETER WYNGARDE, in this play he approaches with a quiet, unassuming step, very close to greatness.” The Times
The King And I: The Adelphi Theatre, London.
“PETER WYNGARDE touches depths of understanding not always encountered in a musical. This is a spectacle indeed.” The Daily Express
Present Laughter: Theatre Royal, London
“WYNGARDE himself bears no relation to his famous Jason King, with the possible exception of his immaculate wardrobe. Instead he produces some masterful touches sometimes by a word, an action, or as in one possible case, an expression.” The London Evening Standard.
Flash Gordon: Film
“Regardless of whether you’re a fan of science-fiction or not, those who delight in studying the diverse acting talents of Mr PETER WYNGARDE and his multi-faceted performances must agree that he did a marvellous job in creating the malevolent, sadistic, and incredibly evil Klytus without the benefit of facial expressions. His totally chilling inflection and faultless performance in this most challenging of roles is yet another shining example of WYNGARDE’s tremendous acting ability.” Empire
Doctor Who: ‘Planet of Fire – TV
“Top honours for this story must go to PETER WYNGARDE, oozing faith, fire and fanaticism in a quite brilliant performance.” BBC Doctor Who Magazine
Last year, two-bit journalist, Gavin Stewart-Gaughan, suggested that, in future, PETER WYNGARDE would only be remembered for the role of Klytus in ‘Flash Gordon’. How misguided. In May this year (2017), ‘The Innocents’ – an all-time classic – was named as one of the greatest films never to have won the coveted Palme d’Ore at the Cannes Film festival, and he was mobbed by admirers after a showing of ‘South’ by the British Film Institute on 3rd July, 2071
These, and his guest appearances in such landmark series as ‘The Prisoner’, and standout episodes of other classic series, such as ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Saint’ and ‘Doctor Who (‘Planet of Fire’), have assured that PETER WYNGARDE’s name will live on LONG after most of todays “stars” have been forgotten.
“There was a suggestion that the character of Langdale Pike could be given his own spin-off series,” PETER says of his memorable appearance in ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ in 1994. “The idea was to make him the link man between the two series.
“I’d have loved to do something like ‘Quantum Leap’, where a character similar to Pike could travel from one time period to another, and I could play a different personality ever week.”
In the early Eighties, he finally got the opportunity to be in an episode of ‘Doctor Who’: “I’d been asked to appear in the series in the 1970’s, but it was due to be filmed entirely on a soundstage, which I’d have hated, so I turned it down. When ‘Planet of Fire’ came about, I was told that we’d be filming almost exclusively on location, so I jumped at the chance. It gave me the opportunity to do a lot of sunbathing between my scenes, which I love.
“The only thing with me is that I’m a bit of a loner; I don’t like being around people too much, so I spent quite a bit of time with my earphones on. Some of the cast and crew thought I was being a bit distant and unsociable, but that wasn’t the case. I just like my own company.”
And he still gets a HUGE amount of fan mail, which is evident by the three-foot pile of letters stacked up in the corner of his flat: “I get them from all over the world. I’m currently getting dozens and dozens from Germany, but I’ve also started to get a lot from America and Canada.”
Indeed, visitors to this Blog include people from as far afield as Singapore, Ukraine, Columbia, Hong Kong, Iran and Senegal.
“I really don’t understand it all,” he says modestly. “I thought that once ‘Jason King’ had finished, things would die down and I’d just return to the relative normality of the theatre. But the fan mail has never dried up – not for a moment. The surprising thing is that I’m getting letters from a lot of younger people; those who weren’t around when all that crazy stuff was going on. They tell me that they’ve seen me in ‘Flash Gordon’ or ‘Night of the Eagle’, and then have discovered ‘Jason King’ as a result. It’s quite bizarre!
“I had to phone the hospital a few days ago to rearrange an appointment, and when I gave the lady my name, she said: ‘WYNGARDE – like the actor?’ I said, ‘Yes. I AM the actor!’ She only sounded about 12!”
Apart from the occasional paternity suit, I wondered if any part of PETER’s past has ever come up and bit him on the backside?
“Not particularly. Although, at a recent convention, I was given a photograph of Alice Cooper Peter Sellers, Richard Chamberlain, Lynsey de Paul, and myself which had been taken at a party for Cooper at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in September, 1975.
“In the middle was Royal impersonator, Jeanette Charles, presenting Cooper with a gold disc. We were pissed out of our minds, so all I can remember about it was Lynsay trying to get me into her draws; Peter encouraging her, and Alice cooper standing at the bottom of the bed, watching”.
What do you think of those individuals who alleged to have seen you here, met you there, or witnessed you doing all manner of outrageous things in nightclubs and bars?
“To start with, I was never really interested in nightclubs or bars. Of course, I’ve been to clubs, but I was never one of those people who spent every night in. Even when I was on tour in a play, I’d rather drive home to my farmhouse rather than go to a crowded pub or club. Those people who maintain that they’ve seen me in this or that establishment have clearly had one over the eight themselves!
“I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve claimed to be a cousin, sister-in-law, brother, aunty… It’s ludicrous! Everyone has a story to tell, and it’s really got out of hand. It’s quite disgraceful!”
I wondered what he thought of those individuals who, having read some nonsense in a newspaper or on the Internet, believe themselves sufficiently informed to argue the point with someone who’s known him personally for years?
“People believe what they WANT to believe. They convince themselves, based on newspaper gossip, that I’m this or that person but, in reality, I’m really very different. I do find it incredible though, that they’ll attempt to discredit my closest friends whilst upholding a piece of gossip from a third or fourth-hand source. To me, that’s the final word in conceit.
“I do recall someone prattling on via the Hellfire Club’s Facebook page whenever anything from an ‘Official’ source was posted on the ‘site: claiming that Felicity Kendal had said this or that to the contrary. I was utterly baffled by this, as I hadn’t so much as set eyes on Ms Kendal since we filmed an episode of ‘Jason King’ together back in the early 1970’s. The impression given was that this character had direct contact with her, and that she knew something about me that I didn’t know myself. It transpired that the person in question had merely been quoting from a book – and a very misleading book at that! I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself!”
And so, after all his parents’ hopes for him to get a “proper job”, how does they feel about what he’s achieved as an actor?
“My Mother was very proud of her son,” he says, smiling. “I was always mindful of her whenever I was sent a script to read; wondering what she might think of this or that character. I remember being asked to take a part in a play in which I’d get sucked off every night by a naked girl, and the first thing I thought of was, ‘What would my Mother say?’ I decided to pass on it”.
It’s just as well that PETER defied his parents and followed his heart. Just think of all the wonderful things we’d have missed out if that advertising job had worked out?!
 Young man or woman who delivers messages etc. on a film set.
 Lord Alfred Douglas 1870-1945.
 Williams played The Dauphin.
 A chain of coffeehouses popular in Britain in the 1950’s and 60’s.
 ‘I, Spy – Let’s Kill Karlovassi’, ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour: The Further Adventures of Gallagher – A Case of Murder’.
 A small town in south-western Turkey.
 Russian activist, scientist and philosopher.
 International Theatre: Broadcast: 8th November, 1955.
 The Jarrow March: Protest march by the unemployed from North-East England to London – October 1936
 Play. The Royal Court Theatre, London. October 1956. Character: Yang-Sun.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/