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Spoken Word Artist Peter Wyngarde

On Saturday, when I couldn’t be at AWP, I consoled myself by attending the Music Box‘s 4th Science-Fiction Spectacular. (It turns out that John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974) is a wonderful little film—2001 by way of Dr. Strangelove.)

But then Sunday found me, just like Ming the Merciless, boooored once again, so I went back to scouring the internet for Klytus/Destro slash fiction clips from Flash Gordon:

While looking I came across a few tracks from an album I’d never heard of, Peter Wyngarde’s When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head (1970). Bring inquisitive myself, I pursued…

Peter Wyngarde, for those who don’t know (I’m a novice myself), before dazzling us as Max von Sydow’s gold-plated henchman General Klytus, was best known as Jason King, the hero of two late-60s/early-70s British spy shows, Department S and its spin-off, Jason King:

Wyngarde’s TV career came to an abrupt end when he was arrested for “gross indecency” (i.e., homosexuality) after being caught with a trucker in a public bathroom. [I don’t know the details of this particular case, but I imagine it’s as outrageous as when Wilde himself was charged (and thereby destroyed). Amazing how insane US and UK culture has been—and can still be—over homosexuality (not to mention sex in general).]

But in 1970, while Wyngarde was still at the height of his fame, he recorded that aforementioned album, When Sex Leers…. Which, judging from even the little that I’ve heard from it, is really something! (Click here for more information on the project.) Three of the tracks are up at YouTube, and I’m embedding them here for our mutual edification.

“Neville Thumbcatch” (a cover of a song by the British band The Attack):

“Hippie and the Skinhead”:


…Morrissey’s apparently a fan of the album (see three minutes into this clip):

Other fans (of Wyngarde, at least) include Mike Myers (who seems to have modeled more than a little of Austin Powers on Jason King), and Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the late-70s/early-80s creative team behind The Uncanny X-Men. They used the man as the basis for their character Jason Wyngarde, a persona of the villain Mastermind, who put a great deal of effort into trying to seduce Jean Grey:

Uncanny X-Men 132: “And Hellfire Is Their Name!” (April 1980). Written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin. Page 9 (detail).

Their model was partly Wyngarde’s turn as Jason King, but also his appearance in a 1966 episode of The Avengers, “A Touch of Brimstone,” where he portrayed “The Honorable John Cleverly Cartney,” the head of a modern-day incarnation of the actual Hellfire Club:

Apparently that episode proved notorious due to both Diana Rigg’s (supposedly self-designed) outfit:

… as well as a certain whipping scene (see 2:00–end):

Well, what I’m taking away from this weekend is that Peter Wyngarde is in fact immortal, and that General Klytus is in fact actually Jason King, former head of the Hellfire Club. When he fell through that trapdoor, he traveled through a wormhole and arrived at Mongo, where he applied what he learned about whips from Diana Rigg.

And it was probably his idea that Flash Gordon and Prince Barin should battle using whips…

His apparent death at the end of that scene (once again see five minutes in) must also be a fake-out. He just left for someplace else, and is living there still, teaching youngsters how to whip and to speak-sing perverse songs…

Long may he live!

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

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