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Peter Wyngarde, Doctor Who and Department S actor, dies at 90

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Jan 18, 2018, 6:01 PM EST (Updated)

Peter Wyngarde, the actor best known for his roles in Department S, Jason King, Doctor Who, and Flash Gordon, has died at the age of 90, reports the BBC. In addition to his iconic onscreen roles, Wyngarde had one of the most contested origin stories of any actor. No one can quite agree on his birth name, his parents' nationalities, and their careers. Based on his IMDB page, he was born Cyril Louis Goldbert to a British father (an employee of the British Diplomatic Service) and French mother at an aunt's home in Marseille on Aug. 23, 1933. He was the nephew of famed French director Louis Jouvet. 

He arrived in the United Kingdom in the mid-1940s and began his career in West End theater productions, where he found much success in plays like Noël Coward's Present Laughter and Bertold Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan. In 1956, he screen-tested for a role in Robert Rossen's historical epic Alexander the Great with Richard Burton. Wyngarde played Pausanias, but when he found out his role had been cut to near non-existence, he bitterly left Hollywood and returned to the stage in England.

In the 1960s, he had various guest cameos on The Avengers, The Saint, The Baron, The Champions, and I Spy as well as a non-speaking role in the gothic horror film The Innocents. He became a major British superstar in 1969 when he was cast as Jason King in the spy-fi series Department S. A product of the spy craze at the height of the Cold War, it told the stories of an elite group within Interpol that took on impossible cases. The leader was Wyngarde's King, a well-dressed dilettante dandy/mystery writer who would catch the bad guys by placing himself in the shoes of his fictional protagonist Mark Caine. Department S only ran for 28 episodes between 1969 and 1970, but it spawned the spinoff of Jason King from 1971 to 1972. 

"I decided Jason King was going to be an extension of me," Wyngarde said during an interview with The Guardian in 1993. "I was not going to have a superimposed personality... 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."

As it so happens, Wyngarde's flamboyant style of dress in the show was cited by Mike Myers as the inspiration for the clothes worn by Austin Powers in Myers' superspy spoof films. Moreover, the X-Men character of Mastermind was retroactively modeled after the actor by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who gave him the name of Jason Wyngarde in the early '80s. This was due to the fact that Peter Wyngarde influenced the creation of the Hellfire Club which made its first appearance in Uncanny X-Men, a comic run in which Mastermind played a big part. When creating the villainous group, Claremont and Byrne were inspired by the 1966 episode of The Avengers, "A Touch of Brimstone," in which Wyngarde guest-starred as The Honorable John Cleverly Cartney, leader of an 18th-century organization called The Hellfire Club whose members dressed in period costumes and partook in orgy-like rituals. 

In 1980's Flash Gordon, he played Klytus, the head of the Ming's (Max von Sydow) secret police who wears a metal mask on his face. 1984 brought him to Doctor Who for the four-parter "Planet of Fire" as the devout religious leader Timanov from the planet of Sarn. Up to 1994, he had other appearances in Fox Mystery TheaterThe Two RonniesThe Comic Strip Presents..., and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Fans, directors, writers, and producers all took to Twitter to express their sadness at Wyngarde's passing. 

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