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An interview with Peter Wyngarde

Cult Faction’s Brett Summers got the chance to interview Jason King himself Peter Wyngarde. We would like to thank Peter for taking the time to talk to us…

Q: You began your acting career in the theatre, including some early success at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham. What led to you wanting to tred the boards in the first place?

A: I got a love for the theatre whilst in Lung-Hau Civil Assembly Centre as a child. The inmates put plays on in the camp canteen and I’d often take part. I knew then it was what I wanted to do as a career.

Q: What was theatre life like at that time for a young actor?

A: I started out in rep, which was hard work but fun. I tried to move around as much as possible, from one company to the next to get as much experience as I could. I met a lot of wonderful people and learned much more than if I’d gone to acting school.

Q: In 1949 you got your first onscreen appearance in Dick Barton Strikes Back. What led you to explore life beyond the theatre?

A: The part just came up and I accepted. It didn’t pay much, and I think I only said two words. It really wasn’t much to write home about.

Q: How did your experience differ from theatre life?

A: As I say, there wasn’t too much to it. I was only there for a couple of hours, so I didn’t really get any sort of a feel for film making then.

Q: Many TV appearances followed including the role of John the Baptist in Jesus of Nazareth, what was it like making guest appearances in such a wide-birth of shows?

A: A lot of the parts I took were just to gain experience, as my first love was and always will be the theatre. I was really just a jobbing actor back then; just learning my trade. But, yes, it was nice to have such a large and varied number of parts to play.

Q: In 1956 you starred as Pausanias alongside Richard Burton in Alexander the Great, what was it like moving from small screen to big screen?

A: It was a huge step for me at the time, but I believe that it was probably a bit to early in my career to have made that step. I enjoyed the whole process, and became good mates with Richard Burton who taught me a great deal, but I didn’t think much of the finished product.

Q: What was it like being around the likes of Burton, Peter Cushing, Fredric March, Claire Bloom, Stanley Baker amongst others?

A: To be honest, I didn’t see too much of those people – only Richard. I only did the one scene with Fredric March, who was very helpful.

Q: Through the 1960’s you made a number of appearances on TV shows such as The Saint, The Baron, Sherlock Holmes, The Champions, The Troubleshooters, Love Story, I Spy and The Man In Room 17. What was it like to guest on such popular shows?

A: Yes, it was great fun guest-starring in those shows – especially the American series, ‘I, Spy’ and ‘Lucy in London’. Those people taught me much about the filming process. And of course, The Avengers and The Prisoner. Both Diana Rigg and Pat McGoohan were good friends, so I felt at home on the set. Although Roger (Moore) and I were not buddies – just colleagues, I got on with him really well. He was a hoot!

Q: How did you find your experience as Number Two in The Prisoner? Did Patrick McGoohan ever let you in on his vision of what the show was about?

A: I have great memories of both The Avengers and The Prisoner. I’m not sure that anyone apart from Pat knew exactly what was going on there, and of course, it was being shot both in Wales and in London, so I only got to see the final episode when it was on TV. I did all my scenes at MGM, and never got to see Portmeirion.

Q: Then in 1969 came Department S. How did you feel when first approached about the character of Jason King?

A: I think the story of how I came to get the part of Jason King – or Roger Cummerford as he was called then – has been told many times. I was in a play in the West End when I was approached by the producers. I really didn’t want to commit to a series, but they wore me down and I ended up signing on the dotted line. Actually, it was on a napkin in a restaurant.

The thing I liked most about it was that I was given so much freedom to develop the character; they sort of gave me carte blanche to do whatever I liked – within reason, of course.

Q: How did the group dynamic of Department S impact your portrayal of Jason King? Did you find you had to hold back at all?

A: I got on with Joel very well. He was a really nice guy and we were good mates. Rosemary, not so much. She believed herself to be the star of the show, and began pushing for more and more airtime. I think she really resented the fact that the Jason King character had become so popular.

Q: Any memories/stories from the Department S days?

A: Oh, I really don’t know. There was so many little things happened. I remember my wearing my father’s watch and chain which he’d left to me, and worrying that it might get damaged. The following morning, I found what I thought was a really cheap version in my dressing room to wear as a replacement. I walked out on set, holding the watch out in front of me with the chain – saying, “Jason King would NEVER wear this cheap Woolworths crap!” I then heard Monty Berman’s voice from the back of the set, saying: “That’s MY watch!” What an insult!

Q: When did you learn that Jason King would be getting his own series? How did that feel?

A: It was Lew Grade himself who told me that there’d be another series, which was to be called ‘The Adventures of Jason King’. I was a bit disappointed, of course, to be losing Joel, as we’d got on so well, but it gave us the opportunity to expand the character.

Q: Why did Jason King connect with so many people?

A: I really don’t know why Jason King connected with so many people. Perhaps if we’d know the secret, it would’ve suddenly disappeared. I just believe he was the right character at the right time. I guess he just brought some colour into people’s lives.

Q: The X-Men comic created that character Jason Wyngarde (who led The Hellfire Club) based on you. How did it feel to influence such a character?

A: Of course I was flattered when I heard that the people who created the X Men had based a character on me, but I really do know much about Sci-Fi and Fantasy stuff.

Q: How much of Jason King is Peter Wyngarde?

A: Given that I really created the character or Jason King, and did much to flesh him out, I suppose there’s an awful lot of me in him. I wore all my own clothes in the series – most of which I designed myself, and I wrote a lot of what he said.

Q: Following a successful return to the theatre you went back on the big screen in Flash Gordon. How did your involvement in that come about?

A: As far as ‘Flash Gordon’ is concerned, the part was offered to me via my agent. It sounded interesting to me, and I felt it would be a new challenge in projecting a character from behind a mask.

Q: Following Flash Gordon you made appearances in Doctor Who, The Two Ronnies, The Comic Strip presents… and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  What are your memories of those times?

A: I thoroughly enjoyed making all those series in the 1980’s: ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Two Ronnies’, ‘Sherlock Holes’ etc. Strangely enough, when I met Brian Blessed for the first time on the set of ‘Flash Gordon’, the first thing he said to me was that he’d remembered me playing Grunner in Sherlock Holmes in the 1960’s, so it was like I’d come full circle.

Q: What is Peter Wyngarde up to these days?

A: These days, I love to write and I’ve enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people at the conventions. I’m hoping that there could be some new stuff on the horizon, so fingers crossed for that.

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