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Obituary: Peter Wyngarde

Peter Wyngarde. Photo: Wikimedia/Allan Warren Peter Wyngarde. Photo: Wikimedia/Allan Warren

Success in Department S and Jason King brought Peter Wyngarde fame in the early 1970s but cost him a later career on television. Typecast as the flamboyant, womanising novelist and sleuth Jason King, his later small-screen career amounted to little more than a handful of guest spots.

Wyngarde’s own background was itself the stuff of fantasy, the actor deliberately obfuscating his past to create confusion about his date of birth, family name and much else. Increasingly enamoured of the rakish, bed-hopping dandy persona he had created, he found himself wrong-footed by a shift towards what he dismissed as “all that naturalistic stuff”.

The son of a diplomat, much of his early life was spent in Asia. He fled from Singapore to the UK when the Japanese army invaded in 1941 and claimed to have later read law at Oxford. He trained at RADA briefly before finding work in regional repertory companies, making his debut at the Buxton Playhouse in 1946.

Without the mannerisms that would define his later career, he showed considerable early promise, The Stage noting his “outstanding performance [of] power and vitality” as Jonah in Nathan Shaham’s They’ll Arrive Tomorrow at the Irving Palace Theatre in 1952.

His theatre profile continued to rise, appearing alongside Peggy Ashcroft and Joan Plowright in Brecht’s The Goodwoman of Szechwan at the New Theatre, Oxford (1956), with Vivien Leigh (whom he claimed to have had an affair) and Claire Bloom in Jean Giraudoux’s Duel of Angels at the Apollo Theatre (1958, transferring with it to Broadway in 1960) and taking the title role in Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and directing Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night for the Bristol Old Vic in 1959.

The same year, he attracted attention on television with “a stunningly brilliant performance” in Julien Green’s American Civil War-era South, and as a “flashing-eyed, dashing” Petruchio in a broadcast of the Bristol Old Vic’s The Taming of the Shrew.

In 1964, he played Oberon to Anna Massey’s Titania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) on TV and shared the stage with Margaret Rutherford in Jean Anouilh’s Time Remembered at the New Theatre, Bromley.

He was seen in the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ The Two-Character Play at the Hampstead Theatre (1967) and an adaptation of Chekhov’s novel The Duel at the Duke of York’s Theatre (1968).

He made several visits to Austria, South Africa and Australia, where he appeared in the premiere of Simon Gray’s Butley in 1971.

Returning home, he was the eponymous Siamese royal in The King and I for 260 performances at the Adelphi Theatre. Later West End appearances included Marcelle Maurette’s Anastasia (Cambridge Theatre, 1976), Michael Sloan’s Underground (Prince of Wales Theatre, 1983) and William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (Mermaid Theatre, 1990).

Other notable television credits included Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities, 1957), Rupert of Hentzau (1964), The Avengers (1966-67) and Doctor Who (1984), while on film he memorably played the masked Klytus in Flash Gordon (1980).

He was married to the actor Dorinda Stevens and had a long-term relationship with the actor Alan Bates. In 1975, he was found guilty of gross indecency after an incident in a public toilet and was declared bankrupt in 1982.

Peter Wyngarde was born Cyril Louis Goldbert on August 23, 1927 (some sources claim 1926 and 1928) and died on January 15.

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