Peter Wyngarde

Peter Paul Wyngarde (born Cyril Goldbert,[1] 23 or 28 August 1927[disputed ] – 15 January 2018)[2] was a British actor best known for playing the character Jason King, a bestselling novelist turned sleuth, in two television series: Department S (1969–70) and Jason King (1971–72). His flamboyant dress sense and stylish performances led to success, and he was considered a style icon in Britain and elsewhere in the early 1970s; Mike Myers credited Wyngarde with inspiring the character Austin Powers.[3]

Peter Wyngarde
Peter Wyngarde Allan Warren.jpg
Wyngarde in 1976, by Allan Warren
Cyril Goldbert[1]

(1927-08-23)23 August 1927
Died15 January 2018(2018-01-15) (aged 90)
London, England
OccupationActor (film, TV and theatre)
Spouse(s)Dorinda Stevens (6 March 1951 - 24 June 1956) ( divorced)

Background and early lifeEdit

Peter Wyngarde's birth name, Cyril Goldbert, was confirmed when details of his estate were published in The London Gazette on 2 May 2019.[1][4] His full name may have been Cyril Louis Goldbert,[5][6] but facts about his life are difficult to confirm and verify. Wyngarde appears to have fabricated a false biography when he changed his name, including a later year of birth, a father with a different name, profession and ethnic background, and a false education history. The Guardian said in March 2020 that "his life story is shrouded in mystery".[7]

According to his own account,[8][9][10] he was born on 23 August 1933 to a French mother and a British father at an aunt's home in Marseille, France.[11] A 1956 Straits Times article about his mother gives Marseille as his birthplace.[12] He claimed to be a maternal nephew of French actor-director Louis Jouvet.[13]

Public records indicate a different place and year of birth. On immigration documents related to two trips to the United States in 1960, Wyngarde stated his place of birth was Singapore,[14] although during a subsequent visit to Singapore in 1972 he denied having previously been there.[15] His birthday is usually given as 23 or 28 August, and different sources suggest birth years between 1924 and 1937, with 1927 being the most authoritative.[Note 1] In a 1993 interview Wyngarde claimed not to know his own age.[26] Reports of his death in January 2018 gave his age as 90, suggesting that he was born in 1927.[5]

Interviewed in 1973, Wyngarde said: "As a child it was difficult to differentiate sometimes between fact and fantasy."[5] He often spoke about his traumatic early life.[11]

Wyngarde always claimed that his father was an Englishman named Henry Wyngarde[25][27] who worked for the British Diplomatic Service in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and India, before becoming an importer-exporter of antique watches living in Eaton Square, London.[11][28] A biography published in 2020[29] states he was born on 28 August 1928 in Marseille, and names his father as a merchant seaman called Henry Goldbert. Goldbert was born in present-day Ukraine, and grew up in British Malaya, where he became a naturalised British citizen.[30][31][32] Wyngarde claimed that Goldbert was his stepfather, not his birth father.[27]

Peter Wyngarde's mother was Margherita or Marcheritta "Madge" Goldbert, née Ahin (1908–1992).[33] The Ahins were a Eurasian family living in Singapore, then part of British Malaya.[34] She and Henry Goldbert divorced in 1937 and she is said to have married Charles Léo Juvet,[35][36] although when she later married John ("Ian") MacAulay in Shanghai in 1947 her legal name is given as Marcheritta Goldbert.[37][38]

Wyngarde told an interviewer that after his parents' divorce his father took him to China "only months before war with China broke out" in the summer of 1937.[26] He spoke about living in Shanghai when the Japanese Army took over the Shanghai International Settlement on 8 December 1941.[11] Correspondence held in the UK's National Archives[39] shows that in 1942 Henry Goldbert's three children including 15-year-old Cyril were living in Shanghai and that efforts were being made by the UK's Ministry of War Transport, the Prisoners of War Department and various boarding schools to facilitate the children's repatriation to the UK, but that Cyril could not be accommodated because of his age.

In April 1943 he was interned in the Lunghua civilian internment camp.[40] In one interview in the 1970s, Wyngarde says that he was interned as an unaccompanied 5-year-old due to an administrative error,[41] but this appears to be age fabrication since records show that he was interned from age 15 to just before his 18th birthday. Author and fellow internee J.G. Ballard said that he and his family knew Goldbert in Shanghai during this time,[18][42] but in an interview late in his life, Wyngarde denied having known Ballard.[11][28] He began acting during his internment when he played all the characters in a version of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.[43]

Following the Surrender of Japan the internment camps were liberated in August 1945. Cyril Goldbert left Shanghai that autumn and travelled to the UK on the Cunard-White Star Line ship Arawa. Passenger records show that he travelled alone, aged 18, and arrived in Southampton on 14 December 1945.[32] A few months later, in 1946, he took his first professional acting roles.

His own account of his journey from Shanghai to England was different. He claimed to have been 12 years old when he arrived in England in December 1945, not 18 as the passenger manifest says, and that the ship arrived in Liverpool not Southampton, and that it was greeted by King George VI.[44] He claimed to have spent two years in a Swiss sanatorium recovering from his war experiences before attending schools in England, France and Switzerland.[45] He claimed that he studied in the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford for three months, before leaving to work in a London advertising agency for a while[27] before starting work as a professional actor.


Early acting careerEdit

Having changed his name from Cyril Goldbert to Peter Wyngarde on arrival in the UK, within a few months he began his professional acting career. He first appeared at the Buxton Playhouse in 1946,[5] and the following year in a production of Noël Coward's Present Laughter at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham.[43] He appeared with Alec Guinness in Hamlet in London in 1951, and with Siobhán McKenna in Saint Joan in 1954.[5] His theatre appearances included playing opposite Vivien Leigh in 1958, and as Cyrano de Bergerac at the Bristol Old Vic in 1959, which he considered a highlight of his career.[5]

After making his film debut in a brief, uncredited role as a soldier in Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), Wyngarde had more roles in feature films, television plays and television series guest appearances from the mid-1950s. One of these, a television adaptation of Julien Green's novel South (1959, originally Sud), in which Wyngarde featured in a lead role, is thought to be the earliest television play with an overtly homosexual theme.[46] He appeared as Long John Silver in an adaptation of The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1958),[5] and as Sir Roger Casement in an episode of Granada Television's On Trial series produced by Peter Wildeblood. He also featured in the title role of Rupert of Hentzau in 1964.[5]

Wyngarde's film work was not extensive, but gained attention.[17] He took the role of Pausanias opposite Richard Burton in the film Alexander the Great (1956), and appeared in the film The Siege of Sidney Street (1960) with Donald Sinden. In Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), he had brief unspeaking scenes as the leering Peter Quint with Deborah Kerr and Pamela Franklin. He followed this appearance as the lead in the occult thriller Night of the Eagle (US title: Burn Witch Burn, 1962), his only film appearance in a lead role.[5]

By the late 1960s, Wyngarde was guest starring in television series of the time, many of which were shown internationally, including The Avengers, The Saint, The Baron, The Champions and I Spy. He also appeared in The Prisoner ("Checkmate", 1967) as the authority figure called Number Two.[47] Wyngarde was also a guest star, playing himself as a Shakespearean actor in Lucy in London (1968), a prime-time TV special starring Lucille Ball.[48]

Popular success as Jason KingEdit

Wyngarde as Jason King

Wyngarde became a British household name through his starring role in the espionage series Department S (1969). His Jason King character, a novelist turned sleuth, was reputedly based on the author Ian Fleming.[43] King led a hedonistic lifestyle; he often got the girl but as she is about to kiss him manages to avoid it, much to the annoyance of co-actor Joel Fabiani. After that series ended, his character, the suave womaniser Jason King, was spun off into a new action espionage series entitled Jason King (1971), which ran for one season of 26 fifty-minute episodes.[49]

One obituary described Wyngarde as playing the role "in the manner of a cat walking on tiptoe, with an air of self-satisfaction", but that increasingly his acting became more mannered and he came to believe his own publicity. His director, Cyril Frankel, said: "It got to a point where he wouldn't accept direction."[5] Frankel also said: "He was a very fine actor, but unfortunately a difficult person."[3]

The series led Wyngarde to briefly become an international celebrity, being mobbed by female fans in Australia.[26] Carl Gresham, his promotional manager at this time said later that "During the '70s we had a contract to officially open over 30 Woolworths newly refurbished stores throughout the UK. Other than my friends and clients, Morecambe & Wise, Peter was the most requested and highest paid celebrity making personal appearances."[50]

In the role, he "became a style icon, with his droopy moustache, hair that looked like a bearskin hat and a wardrobe of wide-lapelled, three-piece suits, cravats and open-necked shirts in colours so bright they might hurt sensitive eyes."[3] In 1970, he was described as "Britain’s best-dressed male personality", and the following year it was reported that more babies were christened Jason that year than ever before.[5] Mike Myers later credited Wyngarde's dress sense with helping to inspire the character Austin Powers.[3]

He was the inspiration for the Marvel supervillain, Jason Wyngarde, who was a member of the Hellfire Club, inspired by the Avengers episode A Touch of Brimstone.

Later careerEdit

In 1974, Wyngarde played the lead role of the King of Siam in a stage revival of The King and I, initially with Sally Ann Howes as Anna, which ran for 260 performances at the Adelphi Theatre in London.[51]

In the late 1970s, he performed in the theatre in South Africa and Austria.[52] Also on stage he appeared in the thriller Underground with Raymond Burr and Marc Sinden (whose father Donald had worked with Wyngarde on The Siege of Sidney Street) at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto and at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London in 1983.[53]

Wyngarde played the masked character Klytus in the film Flash Gordon (1980) and Sir Robert Knight in the film Tank Malling (1989) with Ray Winstone. On TV he appeared in The Two Ronnies 1984 Christmas Special as Sir Guy.[54] Other TV appearances include Doctor Who (in the four-episode-story Planet of Fire, 1984), Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984), Bulman (1985), The Lenny Henry Show (1994) and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994).

After leaving a 1995 stage production of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari due to a throat infection while still in previews,[55] Wyngarde mostly stopped acting except for occasional voice work.

Having given up stage acting, Wyngarde continued to appear in public at Memorabilia and other events celebrating his screen performances.[56][57]

He appeared as a guest of Simon Dee in the Channel 4 one-off revival of his chat show Dee Time in 2003.

Screenwriter Mark Millar says that when casting his 2004 film Layer Cake, the director Matthew Vaughn wanted Wyngarde for a role, but was told that he had died.[58]

In 2007, he participated in recording extras for a box-set of The Prisoner, including a mock interview segment titled "The Pink Prisoner".[59]

Having ascertained that Peter Wyngarde was alive after wrongly being told in 2004 that he had died, director Matthew Vaughn requested him again in 2011 for X-Men: First Class but was again wrongly advised that Wyngarde had died.[58]

In January 2014, he narrated an episode of the BBC Four Timeshift documentary strand How to Be Sherlock Holmes: The Many Faces of a Master Detective.[60] In It was Alright in the 1960s, a 2015 documentary series for Channel 4, Wyngarde expressed his unease at having had to don blackface to play a Turk in The Saint, but said he had done it only in the hope that a theatre director might pick him to play Othello.[61]


In 1970, Wyngarde recorded an album released by RCA Victor entitled simply Peter Wyngarde, featuring a single, "La Ronde De L'Amour"/"The Way I Cry Over You". The album is a collection of spoken-word musical arrangements produced by Vic Smith and Hubert Thomas Valverde. Wyngarde claimed that: "It sold out in next to no time... but RCA point-blankly refused to press any more. I was fuming, as I'd been given a three-album contract with the company, who promised to release one LP every 12 months. The excuse was that production was being moved... They told me that everything would have to go on the back burner, but I just believe that they got cold feet".[62] A promo single of the track "Rape" (entitled "Peter Wyngarde Commits Rape") was also issued in 1970.[63]

In 1998, the album was reissued on CD by RPM Records, re-titled When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head.[64] The album is now usually treated as a curiosity because of its unusual spoken-word style and the controversial subject matter of some of the tracks.[65][66][67]

Personal lifeEdit

In his twenties Wyngarde was married to the actress Dorinda Stevens.[52] They married on 6 March 1951 and lived at 9 Holland Park, Kensington, separating after three years.[68][69][70] By November 1955 Stevens is described in a TV Times profile as "a bachelor girl, sharing a mews flat near Portland Place, London, with Cassio, her wire-haired terrier".[71] According to IMDB, Wyngarde and Stevens were divorced on 24 June 1956.[69] Interviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1972, Wyngarde said his biggest regret was that he "married far too young", adding: "It lasted three years and the last year was pretty hell. However, one just goes on learning from one's mistakes doesn't one?"[70]

From 1956 to 1958, Wyngarde was living with Ruby Talbot in London.[72] He also called Vivien Leigh "the love of my life".[73]

From the mid-1950s, Wyngarde owned a country house called Conifer Tree in the village of Kilndown, near Cranbrook in Kent. The actress Dame Edith Evans was a neighbour.[74]

In the late 1950s he moved to a flat in number 1 Earls Terrace off Kensington High Street in London. He would live in the same building for the rest of his life. He shared a flat there for some years with fellow actor Alan Bates;[75] and according to some sources this was a romantic relationship.[46][52][76] It was always assumed within the acting community that Wyngarde was gay[citation needed] and while the nickname 'Petunia Winegum' is often quoted[47][76][77] it may have originated in a comedy sketch rather than being a genuine nickname.[3]

In July 1974, Jeremy Dallas-Cope, a 23-year-old described as Wyngarde's former "male secretary and personal assistant", was found guilty at his trial at the Old Bailey and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, for forging nearly £3,000 worth of cheques from the actor's bank account. Upon the fraud scheme being discovered Dallas-Cope persuaded his flatmate Anthony O'Donoghue, a male model, "to attempt suicide and take the blame". O'Donoghue was found by police when close to death, and was sentenced to 15 months, after also being found guilty.[78]

Public attention was drawn to Wyngarde's personal life in September 1975 when he was fined £75 (under his probable real name, Cyril Louis Goldbert) for gross indecency with a crane driver in public toilets in Gloucester bus station.[79] This followed a similar arrest in the toilets at Kennedy Gardens in Birmingham the previous year, which resulted in a caution.[47][80][81][82]

He told an interviewer in 1993 that he was an alcoholic and that at the height of his fame "I drank myself to a standstill ... I am amazed I am still here", but that he stopped drinking in the early 1980s.[26] He was declared bankrupt in 1982[83] and again in 1988.[84] An obituary reported that he lived partly on social security benefits.[5]

Morrissey writes in his 2013 autobiography about visiting Wyngarde at home in Earls Terrace:

[His flat is] an Edwardian warren of clerical ferocity – a tornado of books and papers and swelling pyramids of typescripts, half-finished, half-begun. His voice is still of great clarity and sound, his eyes unchanged since that period known as his prime. But he is no longer on stage or television. Film generally tells us that people of Peter’s age don’t actually exist, or, if they do, they are hopelessly infirm and in the way of the main storyline. He sits before me as one who knew his duty and did it, beyond all praise, alive in the cinema of the mind.[85]

A Peter Wyngarde appreciation society, The Hellfire Club, was founded in 1992 with the actor's support,[86] with members receiving its quarterly magazine by post.[87] It went online in 2000,[86] and maintains a regularly updated blog.[88] The organiser of his appreciation society took Wyngarde's surname after his death[89] and in 2020 she published a biography of him claiming to draw on personal knowledge.

Death and legacyEdit

His agent and manager reported that Wyngarde was admitted to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London in October 2017 with an unspecified illness.[90] He died on 15 January 2018.[2][5][91] His death is not listed on the General Register Office for England and Wales Death Index 1989-2019.[92]

An auction of 250 items from his estate took place on 26 March 2020.[93] All items sold, and the auction fetched over £35,000.[94] His trophy for "best dressed personality of 1970" reached the highest selling price with a winning bid of £2,200.[7]

Partial filmographyEdit

Selected television appearancesEdit


  1. ^ Immigration records from his arrival in the UK in 1945 indicate he was 18 years old at the time, with a birth year of 1927. Wyngarde was first listed on the UK electoral roll in 1948 which also suggests 1927 as his year of birth, as only those aged 21 and over were included on the electoral roll at that time.[16][17] Almost all media reports of Wyngarde's death and obituaries in 2018 gave his age as 90, with a birth year of 1927. Separately, in January 1950 the Essex Newsman-Herald said Wyngarde was 25, suggesting a birth year of 1924 or 1925. J. G. Ballard writes in his autobiography Miracles of Life that Cyril Goldbert, "the future Peter Wyngarde ... was four years older than me..."[18] As Ballard was born in November 1930, this would indicate, presuming Ballard's accuracy, that Cyril Goldbert was born in or around 1926. Records compiled in Shanghai in 1943 say Cyril Goldbert was born in 1928.[19][6][10] The passenger list for a 1960 trip to the USA, landing cards for two separate trips that year, and presumably his passport at that time all say he was born in 1929.[14][20] A Straits Times article in September 1956 gave his age as 26, suggesting a 1930 birthdate.[12] The web site of his appreciation society has stated three different birth dates: originally it was 23 August 1933,[21] and this was the date used by BAFTA in the obituary at its 2018 awards.[22] After his death the birth year was amended to 28 August 1937, citing a Jersey passport,[23][24] then in April 2019 it was amended again to 28 August 1928.[25]


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    Age: 18
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    Port of Arrival: Southampton, England
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