Friday, January 19, 2018

The "JASON KING" Theme by Laurie Johnson

For many, Peter Wyngarde = Jason King. 

Wyngarde died a few days ago, perhaps at the age of 90. He liked to cloak himself in mystery, and that included his date of birth, his real name, and his sexuality. Up until his spate of arrests ("what's up with British gay celebrities and sex in men's rooms?") he got away with his image of being too dangerous for women. 

His problem with women, he declared back in the day, "is that they fall in love with Jason King and find I am really Dracula...very sadistic. There is a sadistic streak in me, but I think women quite like it. You have got to be tough with them, really tough and then they love you for 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 think I am sadistic is that men have a side that hates their mothers. Having so many women is a revenge against your mother."

As was typical of Wyngarde, that paragraph held truths and fantasies. The truth was sadistic gay affairs (notoriously one with Alan Bates). The fantasy, picked up by directors and producers, was that his severe knife-sharp nose, curled lip, lizard eyes and woman-hating stance did make for a figure that fascinated female viewers. The stage-trained actor didn't have much to do in "The Innocents," one of his early films, but as Peter Quint, his glare at a spinster (played by Deborah Kerr) was enough to make her wet and to chill her at the same time. 

Wyngarde would later star in "Burn Witch Burn," but seemed to prosper more in theater, and in guest roles on hip shows of the day including "The Prisoner" and "The Avengers." He appeared several times on the latter, either as a prig or a sadist. Many fans of the show will name "A Touch of Brimstone" (about "The Hellfire Club") as their favorite episode; the one in which he sought to dominate a leather-clad Emma Peel. PS, sharp-eyed Pythons might recognize Carol Cleveland, also in that episode!

Then came his starring role in "Department S" as Jason King, and the follow-up officially titled "Jason King." He insisted he was just like the show's flamboyant hero: ‘I decided Jason King was going to be an extension of me. I was not going to have a superimposed personality. I was inclined to be a bit of a dandy, used to go to the tailor with my designs. And my hair was long because I had been in this Chekhov play, The Duel, at the Duke of York’s….Jason King had champagne and strawberries for breakfast, just as I did myself. I drank myself to a standstill. When I think about it now, I am amazed I’m still here." 

In a way, it was amazing he made it out of his teens. Born (August 23-1927-January 15, 2018) to a Eurasian woman and a guy named Goldbert, the boy christened Cyril Louis Goldbert ended up living on his own in wartorn Shanghai, having some tense times waiting to get back to England. The teenager of World War 2 became a stage actor in the 50's, and a TV star in the late 60's and early 70's. He moved back to stage work with a successful revival of "The King and I" in 1973, still fascinating the ladies.

In 1975, after a few cautions the previous year by police willing to preserve his reputation, Wyngarde was arrested for "gross indecency" with a man in a Gloucester bus station men's room. The former sex symbol of espionage and decadence on screen was now aging and outed. Even so, he was such a forceful and charismatic presence, he didn't lack for work. Over the next ten years he made many films as well as stage work (notably with Raymond Burr in "Underground" (in Canada) and comedy (in a "Two Ronnies" Christmas show). 

He was semi-retired when the biography of Alan Bates appeared in 2007, exposing his long affair with the actor, and re-affirming that his mens room arrest was not a one-off gay experiment. Wyngarde retained his trademark walrus mustache into old age, and like John Huston in "Chinatown," presented himself as a dangerous-looking geezer. One of his last public appearances, in a wheelchair, was at a 50th Anniversary celebration of "The Prisoner" TV show. He was in good humor, had an evil glint in his eye, and was able to give a short speech to delighted fans. 

Yes, there's some odd spoken-word audio on Wyngarde, but below, the "Jason King" theme song by Mr. Laurie Johnson (who also composed "The Avengers" theme). No reason to be idiotic and write "Dig It" or "Get It" or "Cheers!" or "Enjoy." Downloading a song is not a big deal, is it? To pretend it is, is so uncool.

"JASON KING" theme - listen on line or download. No password crap, wait time or Russian malware


Brian Prebble said...

Wyngarde was certainly a curious character who certainly had genuine presence onscreen so can imagine he was pretty good onstage as well. Though not my fave episode, "The Hellfire Club" certainly is one of the most memorable episodes of "The Avengers" and the moment when Wyngarde unleashes "The Queen Of Sin"... well... by and far one of the most memorable moments in 60's TV history though I understand it was deemed too risque for the clods in British TV and they made edits to the whole sequence as they felt the whipping was taking kinkiness too far! Wasn't his character also surnamed McCartney in that?

We all know about his infamous solo album but I take my hat off to him for that as he assumed complete control and turned out something downright peculiar that went against the grain of celebrity albums. He always accused RCA of killing the album dead in it's tracks as he claimed the initial pressing sold out within a week, but RCA didn't bother to make any more pressings so ended up becoming a cult collectable par excellence... not that I think the world would had benefited from a second album!

Ill Folks said...

Wyngarde played John Cleverly Cartney on that Avengers episode. I remember him mostly called CARTNEY, so it's possible the John Cleverly part of it was just in the credits. I don't think he was actually introduced to anyone with the full name.

Brian Prebble said...

Duh... having a brainfart due to being rather busy! I happily stand corrected. Cartney it certainly was. Having said that, I'm sure that still wouldn't had gone amiss with Beatles fans!

Ill Folks said...

I don't think Cartney or McCartney was a familiar name till Paul arrived. "The Avengers" arrived in America in the glow of Beatlemania, Kinks and Eng-a-lin' Swings... and all that, so a lot of viewers must have heard "Cartney" and it seemed familiar...Carnaby or McCartney. Funny, I don't think Carol Cleveland's mentioned being in this iconic episode. Unless she resents being upstaged by Diana Rigg. You'd think she'd get tired of just talking about the Lumberjack sketch and being Naughty Zoot.

Brian Prebble said...

Cartney/McCartney was definitely an unusual name that stood out so Paul certainly put it on the map so I always felt its use in "The Avengers" was some kind of pop cultural nod - The Beatles were the kings, leading the way in popular music, and "The Avengers" was leading the way in television. And it was all thanks to AMERICA that that show transformed from the creaky shot as live on videotape affair to a full on film affair that really elevated the look and style transforming it into something special... that was thanks to American investment and boy will I forever remain thankful!

It's a few years since I last watched this episode so have to confess I had totally forgotten about Carol Cleveland's part in it, but Rigg, in THAT outfit... jeez who and what could possibly upstage that? Though she wouldn't admit it, I'm sure she does get bored of constantly being asked about Python, Python and Python given she had quite an active career in film, TV and modelling before they came along.

So, coming full circle, Peter Wyngarde may indeed be remembered by most for being Jason King but his role in this episode of "The Avengers" is what I remember him for because it was a bold, daring and memorable piece of TV history.