British actor Peter Wyngarde died January 15, aged 90. Genre work included The Innocents (1961), Night of the Eagle (1962), and Flash Gordon (1980). He was announced as a guest at last October’s Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester, but pulled out as he’d found a recent appearance at the MCM in London too exhausting.
The BBC calls him the cult TV star who inspired Austin Powers:
…In 1959, he starred in ITV’s South – which some have claimed was the first gay drama on British television.
Set during the US Civil War, it featured Wyngarde as a Polish army lieutenant Jan Wicziewsky, who must decide who he loves: Miss Regina, a plantation owner’s niece; or a tall, rugged officer called Eric MacClure.
Broadcast live at a time when homosexuality had not been decriminalised in the UK, the drama received scathing reviews in the press….
Unbeknownst to the general public, Wyngarde was himself gay and, after a brief marriage to actress Dorinda Stevens in the 1950s, and had a long-term relationship with the actor Alan Bates.
“I think you have to give Wyngarde a massive pat on the back in terms of the bravery in taking this role,” said BFI curator Simon McCallum when South was rediscovered five years ago.
The furore over the programme did not affect the actor’s career, and he guest-starred in a number of 1960s television shows including The Saint, The Prisoner and The Avengers before debuting Jason King in the spy drama Department S.
The character proved so popular that Wyngarde got a spin-off series, which made him a household name in the US and Australia.
King remained his best-known character, a globe-trotting playboy with an astonishing array of outfits. And it wasn’t just his sartorial extravagance that inspired Mike Myers to create Austin Powers: King even uttered the phrase “groovy, baby” in one episode.
“I decided Jason King was going to be an extension of me,” he once said. “I was inclined to be a bit of a dandy – I used to go to the tailor with my designs.”
[Thanks to Steve Green and Chip Hitchcock for the story.]