Written by Freddie Valentine
Anyone who was old enough to watch television in the late 60s or early 70s would have been aware of Jason King and Department S. To a whole generation, he was the king of cool. Stylish, witty, tongue in cheek, and a solid role model for any male who grew up in that era.
In the latter part of the 1970s, the series was rarely repeated and PETER WYNGARDE, the actor who played Jason King was absent from our screens. It wasn’t until Flash Gordon was released that we heard his unmistakable, dulcet tones yet again. In the days before satellite TV, videos and DVDs, the only way to have seen this remarkable show again was if it was repeated on terrestrial television – which it wasn’t. So, for some time, us fans were starved of Jason King and only had to rely on our memories as to what a great show this was. It was around this time that I discovered that PETER had released an album. An actual LP! I searched far and wide for a copy but it seemed to be so elusive, like some kind of vinyl Holy Grail. It was at a record fair in the first half of the eighties where I chanced upon a stall that had a whole section of TV/film soundtracks and there, wrongly placed but obviously put there because of the Jason King connection, was a pristine copy of this masterpiece. At the time the chap wanted £10 for it which was more in the upper price range in the early 80s but not extortionate. To be honest, if I’d has £100 on me and that was what the dealer wanted I would very likely have paid it due to it rarity and my obsession with Jason King and Department S.
When I first played the album, I didn’t think I could admire PETER WYNGARDE more than I already did but listening to this surreal and captivating album showed me that not only was Mr WYNGARDE one of our greatest actors but he also had a fabulous, surreal and outrageous sense of humour! I was quite disappointed to discover that he only released the one album and I often wondered what gems would have been produced if his recording career had continued. I imagined him being discovered and produced by Frank Zappa and releasing a series of albums that would have been seen in the same light as Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’.
When VHS videos arrived on the scene, both Jason King and Department S were available again and I often wondered whether my memories were far better than the programmes themselves. It can sometimes be the case that a TV show you watched as a child and held fond memories for was often disappointing when revisited as an adult. It was not the case with these shows. Just like ‘The Prisoner’ (which PW also had a great part in) both series are timeless. The humour is still there. The style is still fabulous. And of course, it’s PETER’S performance in both series that elevate this above many shows of the time. Yes. He was as cool I remembered!
In the late 90s I had a band called The Paisley Wheelchair Experience. When writing some new songs I felt compelled to write one about Jason King returning and taking on the criminals of the day. There wasn’t anyone else on TV since him who could solve mysteries with such humour and panache so I made the rest of the band discover the wonders of JK and it became quite apparent to them where my dress sense came from. We performed around the music circuit and easy listening scene in London and I was delighted when PETER himself got wind of the song. Tina, who run PETER’S official fan club was incredibly kind to us and we decided to release the song as a limited edition through the society. PETER was amazingly gracious and not only did he agree to let us use his image for the cover, he signed every single copy! To say we were delighted was an understatement!
Delving back into his career, I realised what an amazing actor he was. He lit up the screen and was captivating in every performance he gave and it annoyed me that he wasn’t being held in the high esteem he deserved when mediocre actors were receiving acclaim. The British press were undeservedly vile to PETER in the 70s and he vanished from our screens from some time but the sporadic appearances that followed were ones to be cherished. Whether it was his face hidden behind a mask in Flash Gordon (identified by his unmistakable voice), a brilliant appearance in Doctor Who or, oddly enough, a bizarre and hilarious role in Channel 4’s ‘The Comic Strip Presents’ it was a joy to catch a glimpse of such a charismatic actor.
I always remember a story a friend of mine told me which although may seem like a trivial anecdote, but it did impress me. Around 1969 he was walking along the Kings Road in Chelsea when a big Bentley turned the corner and stopped, waiting to turn. Sitting behind the wheel was PETER WYNGARDE dressed exactly as he was when onscreen as Jason King and smoking a cigarette. There was no difference between the character and the actor as far as my friend was concerned as he looked like Jason King, dressed like Jason King and smoked a cigarette with the same panache the coolest television character did. How much of PETER was in the character of Jason? It appeared to be a lot! It was very gratifying to think that the person playing the coolest chap on television was actually as cool in real life as the character he played.
In the series Jason King defeats baddies and then writes novels as Mark Cain which are enthusiastically read by a public who are unaware that the events in them actually happened. Could PETER WYNGARDE actually be having these adventures in real life and the TV exploits are his ‘Mark Cain’ novels? With someone as incredible as PETER WYNGARDE it’s entirely plausible!
There are so many roles that PETER could have been offered. He was rumoured to be in the running for James Bond at some point. You could easily imagine him as a wise old Jedi in one of the new Star Wars films. But the fact that he wasn’t everywhere has perhaps added to his allure. He gave us the coolest, grooviest TV character of all time, blessed us with one of the most jaw dropping albums ever made, stole the show in an episode of The Prisoner and was one of the most memorable onscreen villains in the classic Flash Gordon. His ‘cool’ credentials remain intact and he’s managed to retain an air of mystery about himself at the same time. Anyone who is in the know will be fully aware of the fact that PETER WYNGARDE is quite possible the greatest actor the UK has ever produced. Fancy!
What’s wild, wacky and as mad as a balloon?
It’s The Paisley Wheelchair Experience, of course!
Original article published in The Hellfire Club Magazine – Summer, 1997
Lead Vocalist: Lord Freddie Valentine. Guitarist: Lady Karen. Bass Player: Lady Elizabeth. Pianist: Lady Helens. Drummer: Lord Amado. Backing Vocalists: The Pogeria Twins.
Donning their best feather boas, safari suits and oriental dressing gowns, The Paisley wheelchair experience, who admit to having an on-going fascination with the Demi-god of high fashion, PETER WYNGARDE, are currently one of the hottest bands on the pub and club scene south of the Watford Gap. With a set that includes such songs as ‘Shaken Not Stirred’, which pays homage to the delectable Jason King and his TV contemporaries, the Wheechairers are definitely an act not to be missed.
Lord Freddie Valentine – a crooner on a mission, told The Hellfire Club mag recently that the band where in the progress of recording a new song entitled, ‘The Return of Jason King’, which they not only plan to include in their ever-expanding live set, but intend to release it on CD exclusively via the Hellfire Club.
He explains: “We’re just about to acquire a recordable CD machine, and are planning to press around 40 copies of the disc, each of which will feature PETER’s gracious image on the sleeve and the song as the main track. If we do so, we’d like to make them available exclusively through the Society, and will release another single elsewhere for the time being”.
With their almost legendary dislike for modern attitudes in films, music and fashion, Lord Fred and the gang decided to invite PETER to join them on stage at the Indigo Club in London’s Soho last year but, unfortunately, the great man wasn’t able to make it due to prior commitments.
“What we wanted,” Freddie explains, “was to pretend that the amplifier had broken down mid-performance by switching it off. After faking some considerable concern, someone would then have the bright idea of calling ‘Department S’. After reaching them on our mobile, cue ‘Jason King’ theme, and on would swagger PETER, saying: ‘It’s not switched on, old chap!’ sadly, he wasn’t available on that night, so we’ll just have to keep trying and maybe, one day, our dream will come true!”
Freddie says that the fascination with Jason King is evident throughout the whole band. “But is mostly instigated by me. When a new member joins, they are initiated by having to watch videos of ‘Department S’ and ‘Jason King’”
Sounds like bliss!
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/