Sunday, 19 April 2009

It's the faith of love he's after

No piece about Peter Wyngarde would be complete without making references to Jason King and the actor’s fall from grace after his 1974 arrest for a public decency offence, so - there you go, my obligation is complete. Before he grew a Zapata moustache and became a short-term seventies superstar, however, Wyngarde gave a number of fine performances in some notable films, particularly in the under-rated ‘Night Of The Eagle’, the closest thing this country ever got to a Mario Bava film. Wyngarde also managed to terrify without saying a word in ‘The Innocents’, as the unquiet ghost of the evil, corrupting gamekeeper Peter Quint: his appearance behind Deborah Kerr in the hide and seek sequence is one of the most frightening and genuinely horrific things I have ever seen in thirty years of watching horror films.

Wyngarde would have no doubt enjoyed a longer and more illustrious film career if it had not been for the advent of the kitchen sink drama, which demanded, for a time at least, that British film stars be regional, proletarian, angry, and able to pass as a factory worker or borstal boy. The impeccable Wyngarde could never convince anyone that he cycled to work, so he stuck with TV (he had already played a bewildering range of small-screen roles, including Sidney Carton and Long John Silver), making notable appearances in ‘The Avengers’ (including the never to be forgotten S&M fest ‘Touch of Brimstone’ episode) and ‘The Prisoner’ (as the only Number Two that wore eyeliner) before landing a supporting role in ‘Department S’ that quickly became a star turn and a massively successful spin-off series.

Only an intermittent presence on our screens since the mid-70’s, Wyngarde maintains a dignified silence as to whether he sought to withdraw from the limelight, or had the limelight taken from him, but, either way, it seems a terrible shame that this fine actor and unique screen presence didn’t take (or get) more opportunities to entertain us over the last 35 years.

‘The Way I Cry Over You’ is an uncontroversial track from the great man’s controversial (& quickly withdrawn) 1970 LP ‘When Sex Leers It’s Inquisitive Head’, released as he approached the height of his fame. Wyngarde’s delivery is perfectly judged: fruity but never hammy, and, ultimately, rather moving…but then I am famously soft of the heart and head in these matters.

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