Borne out of the series Department S, Jason King was a character ahead of his time. A top secret super spy genius/author who lived out the adventures of his fictional creation, Mark Caine. A man of action and a lover of ladies, Jason King was the dandy super hero of the swinging 1960’s. But the intrigue doesn’t end there. Not just a quirky action television character, Jason King is also one of the first post-modern self-aware fictional characters… read on to find out more.
Jason King was played by Peter Wyngarde, a familiar face to UK TV viewers in the 1960’s. An established character actor from The Avengers, The Saint, The Champions and of course The Prisoner, Wyngarde came into his own when he landed the part of the foppish Jason King in the ITV series Department S. Developed by Dr Who and Avengers writer Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman, Department S was typical of the outlandish action programs of the era. A member of a trio of special agents working within Interpol, Jason King served alongside two other agents solving cases deemed too ‘baffling’ for the traditional intelligence agency. A member of a trio, Wyngarde really stole the show… or did Jason King steal the show?
In any case, after 28 episodes he eared his own spin-off program in which he tried to sell his Mark Caine short stories to publishers. Throughout the program, viewers were privy to the fantastic interpretations of King’s prose, the scenes acted out as a stand-alone story-within-a-story. A mind-blowingly post-modern series, I wonder what viewers of today would make of it!
A master sleuth and lover of danger, Jason King dashed across the screens for a scant 26 episodes yet his impact was so strong that he is revered as an icon of the 1960’s. Revered and lusted after by housewives across the sceptered isle and beyond, Wyngarde crossed the line between fact and fiction as his persona at times closely resembled that of his TV character. A worldwide success, he brashly released an album of naughty songs, chief amongst them a ditty simply entitled Rape. Eat that, punk rockers.
An inspiration to comic book creators, John Byrne closely based his characterization of the X-Men villain Mastermind on the celebrity, even to the point of revealing the character’s real name to be Jason Wyngarde. Later, Grant Morrison was deeply influenced by the writer/fictional character/TV personality riddle which he played out through the character of King Mob, a member of the Invisibles who was based closely on Morrison himself. As if that were not enough, another Invisibles character Mister Six is a dead ringer for Wyngarde’s Jason King persona.
Those who missed out on Wyngarde’s hey-day may recall him as the masked villain from Flash Gordon or the 1984 Doctor Who episode Planet of Fire. Mike Meyers based his creation Austin Powers on Jason King’s exploits and over-the-top camp behavior, but make no mistake, Wyngarde is the real deal… or is it King who is the real deal?