Peter Wyngarde – A Life Amongst Strangers by Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins

wyngarde

I’ve been a fan of Peter Wyngarde’s film and television work for a fair few years, but until now I didn’t really know a great deal about the man himself – apart from a series of oft-repeated tales (which no doubt grow more distorted every time they’re repeated).

Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins’ hefty tome (clocking in at over 500 pages) has been designed to rectiy this and although she’s obviously approached the book intent on righting perceived wrongs from various points in Wyngarde’s life, it still manages to paint a vivid picture of a charismatic, but often difficult, man.

Wyngarde-Hopkins first met Peter in the early nineties when she set up a fanzine dedicated to him. Over the years their bond grew closer as she became his assistant, companion and eventual soul mate. Drawing upon an impressive archive (letters, scripts, diaries, interviews) she’s been able to fashion a substantial biography where the subject is often able to chip in on the subject in hand.

His early years, as a prisoner of the Japanese in an interment camp in Shanghai, are vividly portrayed. There are lighter moments – organising theatrical entertainments – but also darker ones (the guards broke both his feet in order to discourage him from running about).  Wyngarde’s relationship with his parents – his mother looks to have been something of a flighty man-eater whilst he idolised his father (who died at sea in 1947) – is also touched upon.

Rather like his mother, Wyngarde enjoyed a healthy sex life (one of the things he’s – along his with acting – probably best known for). And as he attempted to establish a name for himself as an actor in post-war Britain, there were no shortage of opportunities for liasons.  Plus plenty of invitations which Wyngarde declined (from the likes of Noel Coward, Peggy Ashcroft and Bette Davis). It’s up to the reader to decide how much of this is credible – no doubt Wyngarde wasn’t above spinning a tall tale or two.

His years in provincial rep and his eventual emergence during the 1950’s as a familiar face on both the London stage and as an early television favourite are entertainingly sketched. The likes of Kenneth Williams and Orson Welles feature in some amusing anecdotes.

By the 1960’s Wyngarde was guesting in a number of cult television series which still endure to this day. Most notably The Avengers and the episode A Touch Of Brimstone, in which he played the Honorable John Cleverly Cartney, leader of a modern Hellfire Club. Wyngarde would later recall that Cartney’s whip cracking was very carefully choregraphed – one wrong move could have resulted in a serious injury for Diana Rigg.

His real ascent to cult fame would, of course, come with Department S and Jason King. Paid the princely sum of £336 for the first thirteen episodes (rising to £1,000 if the series continued past that point) Wyngarde seems to have earned the respect of many of the guest actors (Anthony Hopkins speaks warmly of his experience working with him on Department S) although it was a different story with his co-star Rosemary Nichols. More detail on this – or indeed production of both series – would have been welcome, as they’re dealt with rather quickly.

Two very different events during the seventies are still debated today by Wyngarde watchers. The first is his 1970 self-titled spoken word album, which included such memorable offerings as “Rape”. Judging by the eleven tracks not included in the final cut (including “Merry Sexmas”) it could have been a double album ….

A Life Amongst Strangers posits that RCA had hoped the album would be a flop, thereby allowing them to write it off as a tax loss. But unfortunately for them it turned out to be a success. That’s certainly an interesting spin on events.

In 1975 Wyngarde was fined £75 for committing an act of gross indecency in the public toilets at Gloucester Bus Station. Although he kept working, this dealt a devastating blow to both his career and public image from which he never really recovered.  Wyngarde-Hopkins remains convinced he was innocent (and that he was PERSECUTED! not prosecuted).  Throughout the book she’s also at pains to dismiss the numerous rumours concerning his sexuality – presenting Wyngarde as a firmly heterosexual character.

From the eighties onwards the work began to dry up, although there were still some notable credits, such as Flash Gordon (1980) and a guest role in a 1984 Doctor Who serial (Planet of Fire). Peter Davison would remember Wyngarde’s contribution to this story in his autobiography, although this still attracted Wyngarde-Hopkins’ ire (due to the fact he misspelt Wyngarde’s surname and omitted him from the index).

His final years, as his health began to falter, makes for bleak reading – although by the end you’re left in no doubt about just how much Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins loved him.

A Life Amongst Strangers offers a substantial portrait of Peter Wyngarde. As with all autobiographies and biographies the reader will have to decide just how accurate a portrait it is, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on detail.  Published by Austin Macauley, it’s well worth checking out.

16 thoughts on “Peter Wyngarde – A Life Amongst Strangers by Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins

  1. Very interesting. I do remember at the time he vehemently dismissed the speculation about his sexual orientation and that incident in Gloucester (which I always believed happened in Portsmouth where I’m from). But there have been other rumours of trists with Jeremy Brett and Alan Bates so it makes you wonder. Anyway I’ve just fallen into the trap everyone falls into when talking about Peter when clearly there was a lot more to him. Thanks

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  2. The author inserts herself far too often into this story. Basically a jumped up fan club typist, she portrays herself as his wife in all but name. And the way she talks about his blood relatives is disgraceful. By all means read this book, but do so with caution.

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  3. I’ve read this book and a lot of it is rewriting history. The author’s claim that Peter and Alan Bates were just good friends is ridiculous. She admits Bates was gay but Peter wasn’t despite the fact they lived in the same small flat for 10 years. Her excuses for the Gloucester Bus Station are hilarious. In the end he is declared a heterosexual but one who was a meterosexual! Part 2 of the book was written in the style of Stephen King and Barbara Cartland I found it incredibly creepy. My advice is avoid if you want the true story of Peter Wyngarde.

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  4. The first half of the book is a dull as ditchwater fangirl loveletter. The second is (barely) worthy of a Fantasy Island script. Avoid like coronavirus

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  5. This book is complete rewrite of history. The author has taken it upon herself to miss out lots of information regarding Peter’s personal relationships with other Actor’s, the apparent reason being that she cannot accept that the said relationships ever took place. I knew Peter personally for many years and having read the book was extremely disappointed that so much information was missed out (on purpose). This book is definitely not the definitive biography which everybody was promised, upon reading it, the tone is very much “revenge” on the authors part, avoid buying, you’ll be wasting your money, mine is going to the charity shop.

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  6. The persons responsible for the comments above – namely ‘Kenny Grice’ (real name, Jack Briggs), ‘Paul Metcalf’ and ‘John’ are all part of a mob of Trolls that have perused me for months and, in some cases, for years. As for Simon Milburn – a supposed long-term “friend” of Peter Wyngarde – no one who was genuinely close to Peter has ever heard of him. Certainly, he was conspicuous by his absence as his “friend” lay dying in hospital!

    Meanwhile, the “blood” family that have been behind much of the harassment and bullying I’ve suffered since Peter passed away, but who still consider themselves so badly done to, had never seen or spoken with their uncle for almost half a century. As with Mr Milburn, they were nowhere to be seen as Peter endured ill health for the better part of a decade – only crawling out of the woodwork when they learned what he’d left in his bank account. When they realised they couldn’t get at me by sending spiteful solicitors accusing me of theft – an arraignment they could not substantiate, they began a series of online hate campaigns which ignoramuses like ‘John’, ‘Paul Metcalf’ and ‘Kenny Grice’ couldn’t resist from joining in.

    Despite the bravado these individuals exhibit in their supposed ‘Critiques’, there is not one amongst them that is resolute enough to put his or her real name to it. I was therefor obliged to obtain a court order from the High Court to confirm who the faceless individuals hiding behind the usernames were. My solicitor and I are now in the process of building a case against all of those involved for libel and harassment, and the police are investigating them for their repeatedly sending me Malicious Communications via the Internet.

    There is not a single one of these people who could speak with any kind of authority about either Peter or myself. They did not know Peter – most of them never met him. The sum total of their knowledge has been gleaned from tabloid newspapers; the gaps are filled with mere conjecture. Their talk of “revenge” only proves how hypocritical these people are. All I am guilty of is holding a mirror up to them, so if they’re appalled by what they see, that’s hardly my fault. Ultimately, I was there for Peter, and I was the one he loved. No amount of fake maligning, fake-reviews bile-spitting will ever change that.

    Both I and those that contributed to my book stand by it 100%. Anyone who wishes to challenge its legitimacy in a court of law should do so.

    Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins (Not afraid to put my real name).

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  7. “Peter Wyngarde – A Life Among Strangers”: My thoughts by Annette Andre

    Firstly, I knew both Peter Wyngarde and Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins, and I’d like to say that these disgusting people and their fake reviews are appalling. Tina is a lovely, kind, giving lady who loved Peter dearly and he loved her. Those people who are continuing to harass and bully her are truly sickening and need to grow up.

    Here with my thoughts on the book: I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

    It’s been said that the unexamined life is not worth living, a wisdom Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins has taken to heart in writing her definitive life of actor Peter Wyngarde.

    In exhaustive and intimate reporting, Peter’s legion of fans around the world now have a unique

    treasury of his journey from internment by the Japanese during his early teens years during WW11, to his well-deserved fame as one of the most talented and popular actors of what has become known as ”The Golden Age of British Television.”

    I’m amazed that I never worked with Peter in any of the dozens of films, TV programmes and stage plays we each appeared in, but I’m grateful for the many laugh-filled hours we shared at his table in the Elstree commissary when he was shooting the “Department S” series and I “Randall and a Hopkirk (Deceased.)”

    I’m usually a fast reader but it took me quite a bit longer to finish this book than I’d anticipated, as there wasn’t a chapter that didn’t bring back a flood of memories of a time when a unique talent such as Peter’s was appreciated with due respect.In riveting, factual detail, “A Life Among Strangers” covers Peter’s long career, from early stage successes to his starring in “Department S,” ”Jason King,” and “Flash Gordon,” to his acclaimed theatre performance as Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew.” But for me, it was his harrowing presence as the ghost Peter Quint in the film “Turn of the Screw,” a performance that lasted only sixty seconds, but continues to exemplify his star quality.

    Perhaps no subject has had so devoted a biographer as Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins, whose decades-long relationship with Peter has given him the “life” he deserves, warts and all and produced a book that I truly can say deserves my five-star rating and a permanent place on your bookshelves.

    I can see Peter raising a glass to that.

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  8. I am with Ms Andre on this, and I’m truly shocked to see that website admins are still willing to afford this bunch a platform from which to hound and bully the author of this book. I had the misfortune to read some of the obscene garbage they’ve written about her on other websites and it made my stomach churn. When I myself attempted to defend the lady against them, like a pack of rabid wolves they immediately railed on me. I understand that others who have penned positive reviews of the book have suffered similarly.

    It is evident first and foremost, that these trolls are fearful to use their real names when posting these remarks and appraisals, which speaks volumes (the name ‘Kenny Grice’, for instance, has been taken from a person that is referred to several time in the book). Also, their vocabulary is clearly extremely limited as they invariably repeat the same threadbare mantra wherever they materialize. Secondly, they incessantly advocate that they themselves possess some inner knowledge of Wyngarde’s life and which they are doggedly unwilling to impart; for instance in their suggesting that the second half of the book is nought but a “fantasy”. If these guys are as clued up as they insist, why have they not openly challenged Ms Wyngarde-Hopkins (by open I mean, drop the online pseudonyms, cease with the foul and abusive language, and either confront the woman in a civilised manner or, alternatively, write a book of their own).

    My feeling is that there isn’t a man or woman amongst them that had ever met Peter Wyngarde, let alone been privy to his private life; a few well-chosen questions in their direction would almost certainly demonstrate that (I note that Ms Wyngarde-Hopkins herself has always been honest and open; never shying away from answering any inquiry).

    Well, here with a far more lucid critique of the book:-

    A SCHOLARLY WORK THAT SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT ABOUT THE MYSTERIOUS AND COMPELLING PETER WYNGARDE

    This book is a study in contradictions. It is a breezy, entertaining read and yet it is full of documentation and fact at an astounding level of detail. It is enormously long yet not intimidating. The first-time author does not shy away from the pain experienced by the subject of the book–there is no attempt to cover up the foibles of a complex man–and yet the entire work is suffused with an affection which never becomes cloying.

    It is a masterful study of a life lived to the full–through triumph and heartbreak and everything in between, Peter Wyngarde navigated a minefield of personal and professional obstacles that would have destroyed a dozen careers. He took shrapnel from a few, and these are studied in detail. His later years and decline are also unflinchingly included.

    This is like no other show-biz memoir I have ever read, because it has such a clear-headed drive to tell the truth, no matter how painful or embarrassing. This is a life–unvarnished, raw and powerful–and I can’t put the book down! What started as a fascination with Wyngarde’s voice as General Klytus in FLASH GORDON and later his work in DEPARTMENT S and JASON KING has brought me to want to learn more about the man behind the roles he played. If you are similarly inclined, or enjoy reading about the lives of those who bring many of our dreams to life on the stage, in film and in television I recommend this volume without reservation.

    James. J. McNaughton — Victoria Park, Dallas, Texas (Currently in lockdown with friends, Glasgow, Scotland)

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  9. I don’t know what Messrs “John”, “Kenny Grice”, “Paul Metcalf” and “Simon Milburn” have been reading but it’s certainly not the same book as I read! That said, I’m confident that if this biography had been bound in 950-grade platinum and blessed by the Pope, this ill-disposed mob of malcontents would have penned the same bitter and twisted appraisal that they’ve given here.

    Peter Wyngarde:- A Life Amongst Strangers is the best biography/memoir I’ve ever had the delight to study. The research that has gone into it is utterly phenomenal, and it’s honesty in painting Wyngarde as a living, breathing human being with all his flaws, is commendable. I believe that it is an invaluable contribution to the history of film, television and theatre that would not be out of place in any respected archive devoted to the arts. Apart from the bogus reviews by those named above, each of which has been spread liberally across the ‘net in identical language, this book has received 5-Stars across the board.

    It speaks volumes that in his Afterword, the highly respected actor and director Steven Berkoff, writes: “Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins has written a most remarkable biography of Peter Wyngarde; he really couldn’t have had a more devoted biographer, whose book is full of fascinating stories and anecdotes from his life and career. She has delved, researched, discovered, analysed, and championed a great actor, who was once recognised as one of the most exciting stage performers on the planet. Well done!” As a successful author himself, he should know! It certainly renders “Paul Metcalfs” derisory “dull as dishwater” jibe moot.

    In reference to “Kenny Grice’s” remarks about Wyngarde’s sexuality, one must ask why he is so obviously desperate for the actor to be gay? Might “Grice” himself be harbouring some kind of latent homosexuality of his own, hence his use of Ms Wyngarde-Hopkins as a target for his vitriol? Put plainly, had she managed to get what he so frantically desired, but failed to obtain? It would certainly explain the incessant outpourings of hate I’ve witnessed on various online forums.

    Incidentally, I didn’t notice anything at all in the book that could possibly constitute “revenge”, so it’s unclear as to what that comment is referring to specifically All I’m able to recall is a no-nonsense coverage of the facts. People really shouldn’t play the victim to circumstances they no doubt created in the first place.

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  10. I agree with Allen Frodsham. I haven’t a clue what these people are wittering on about either. Having read the book myself, in the case of Wyngarde’s “blood” family, I’d saythat the author was far more sinned against than sinning.

    As a writer myself, fiction is arguably the most difficult of disciplines, so to liken the second part of the book to a script from Fantasy Island implies that the author has an inordinately fertile mind to have filled a book of over 500 pages purely from her own imagination. And imagine the risk she’d be taking in quoting the likes of Steven Berkoff , Joel Fabiani and Sam J. Jones – all of whom, I understand, were close friends of Wyngarde’s, with each acknowledging Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins for what she professes to be. To quote Sam J. Jones from his foreword, “Tina’s life story of Peter is a must-read from the one who knew him best.” I would think that any sober-minded person would take the word of Jones, Berkoff and Fabiani over that of an internet troll.

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  11. In response to Kenny Grice’s (sic) statement that the memoir part of PETER WYNGARDE: A LIFE AMONGST STRANGERS is “creepy”. In my view, there’s nothing more disturbing than a fixated man spending month after month abusing a lone woman from behind a computer screen.

    Brilliant book by the way. Five stars.

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  12. I bought a copy of this biography on the recommendation of the Hollywood Reporter –that would be the Hollywood California, not Hollywood Worcestershire–and I’m so grateful to them that I did. Unfortunately, I was then ill-fated enough to read the reviews posted by the Gang of Four up top… When I finally stopped laughing I decided to, firstly, thank Archive Television Musings (one of my favourite blogs) for featuring this awesome book and, secondly, to add my own thoughts to the thread.

    It’s obviously escaped our friends, Mr Grice and Co. that in order to write a GENUINE assessment of a book you actually have to read AND understand it. Sadly, this quartet of naysayers appear to have done neither. I found PETER WYNGARDE—A LIFE AMONGST STRANGERS to be the absolute polar opposite to “dull” and the latter half, rather than being “creepy”, was both inspiring and extremely moving.

    There has been so much speculation and misinformation written about Peter Wyngarde over the years that some people have become so accustomed to it that they now refuse even to consider an alternative perspective. I found Ms Wyngarde-Hopkins depiction of the events in Gloucester back in ’75 to be impeccably researched–relying on Wyngarde’s own diary entries and on original court transcripts which were not available to newspapers at the time. Latterly, she both analysed and put forth a compelling, reasoned argument against the kind of Chinese Whispers-style reporting of events that has taken place over the ensuing years. This was in sharp contrast to ‘Kenny Grice’, who was only able to muster one word: “Ridiculous”. Its little wonder that he’s removed from his own website and each of the forums he’s visited, any means of response or enquiry—most probably because his wild theories and mindless arraignments wouldn’t stand up to even the most rudimentary examination. To my knowledge. Wyngarde never so much as hinted at being gay in any of his interviews or statements, so I’d be most interested to see the indisputable evidence that these detractors claim proves otherwise. I’ll wager my last dollar that none of them ever came within a 30-mile radius of the actor, which would explain why they are so keen to keep their real identities hidden. But while these people continue to insist that Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins is a liar, then it must follow that everyone who contributed to her book are liars too. I wonder how far they’d get in looking Steven Berkoff and Sam J Jones in the eye and calling THEM frauds? I don’t fancy their chances!

    On a more positive note, anyone who enjoys British film, theatre and television, regardless of being a fan of Peter Wyngarde or not, would not go amiss in reading this book, as it’s full of fascinating anecdotes, letters and narratives about many of the actors and directors that Wyngarde worked with over the years. It’s also a lesson in decency, love and loyalty that some people would do well to emulate rather than constantly spreading hate, derision and abuse.

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  13. Sarah Colby is absolutely right. To be able to write a genuine, considered appraisal of a book, one actually has to have read and understand it first. I’m almost certain that those responsible for the supposed critiques above have done neither. In fact, there’s little doubt in my mind that they’d all decided far in advance of its publication what they’d write.

    Troll, or ‘Shill Reviews’, are the unfortunate side of the Kindle revolution. Anyone intent on badmouthing a particular book or author on a worldwide platform such as Amazon, can do so by purchasing a Kindle version at very little cost, thereby giving themselves ‘Verified Purchaser’ status and additional influence in relation to the star rating system. I noticed that literally within a couple of hours of ‘Peter Wyngarde – A Life Amongst Strangers’ being published a Shill Review had appeared on Amazon. In view of the fact that the tome contains almost 550 pages, this would suggest that either the critic was an exceptionally fast reader, or that the review had been penned PRIOR to the book hitting the shops.

    In respect of the kind of bullying this particular author has received:- While every one of us is entitled to an opinion, it doesn’t make it fact, nor does it give us a free pass to harass or bully. Certainly in this instance, the road from moderate disbelief to rampant persecution has been an incredibly short walk. When one has to resort to such tactics, you’ve already lost. From what I’ve witnessed of their handiwork, i.e. the publication of Ms Wyngarde-Hopkins private papers (including medical records); the profane and abusive language; the obscene suggestions – these people are desperate indeed!

    Oh, and would someone PLEASE explain to ‘John’ what a memoir is.

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