Friday, 26 January 2018

Jason King: If It's Got to Go It's Got to Go

The actor Peter Wyngarde died last week, and so this post is by way of a tribute. His life was one of extraordinary ups and downs, and Jason King was of course one of the incredible ups. It was also one of the most extraordinary TV series ever written. And Jason King (who of course debuted in Department S) was also one of the most extraordinary characters of TV history! My godmother rather shame-facedly told me that she had a raging crush on Jason King in the seventies before admitting that it was rather odd, really, as I collapsed in fits of laughter.
Now this is a series which very easily slots into my categories of cult TV. Jason King belongs to the continental sophistication school of TV, episodes being set in some of the major sophisticated foreign settings of the day. In fact this genre of cult TV doesn't really seem to relate to any other, except in that it belongs to the Unreal school of TV and is definitely escapist viewing by the very unreality of its nature.
Are there still things called health farms? I have a feeling they've probably all gone a bit feel-good and been rechristened as spas. In the bad old days, a health farm definitely wasn't intended to be enjoyable and that is thoroughly reflected in King's attitude to the one he goes to.
What I love most about Jason King is the complete 1970s setting. You literally couldn't reproduce anything so tasteless nowadays. The decor, the clothes, even the food, are all absolutely perfect, and bring back my youth to a T. I love the jokes about food in the health farm, such as the plate of seaweed, and later a plate containing a single prune! He even fantasises about eating a goldfish.
Another seventies thing is the way in which Jason King is portrayed as a sex symbol. Quite apart from my own godmother's reaction, the reaction from all the women as he enters the clinic (albeit as the only man) is practically orgasmic. King flirts with, well, pretty well every woman with whom he comes into contact. I realise that we were just out of the age of men dressing in the peacock look, but even for the seventies I wonder why King's clothes weren't seen as a little too dandyish to be masculine. Otherwise he acts the part of the sex symbol to perfection. A medallion hangs in his chest forest, and it is very clear that he is otherwise capable of having any woman - and he is clearly overjoyed at being the only man in a clinic full of women who only ever seem to wear bikinis! King is also surprisingly good in a fight, although in this one he makes the mistake of turning his back on Yootha Joyce who gives him an injection in the bum.
This is one of my favourite episodes of this show, and despite the exotic setting the plot is a jewel of a fairly standard detective plot. You could transplant this plot pretty much to any genre you like - it would make a good Agatha Christie, for example. It is clever to use such an apparently straightforward plot because it provides a contrast with the extraordinary figure of King himself, and makes the episode quite solid so that it doesn't run off into the realms of complete fantasy. On top of this solid plot is laid an element of pretend medicine - of course the clinic is a cover for something else, and of course the wonders of Medicine are used as part of the deception. Just exactly like the pseudo-medicine and psychology we see in The Prisoner, so we are on very familiar territory.
I am going to have to make my usual criticism that Sister Dreiker, who runs the clinic, is rather incredibly played by Yootha Joyce, and the doctor by John le Mesurier. I know that this isn't a dislike shared by everyone, and I'm not criticising that Peter Wyngarde is always rather Peter Wyngarde, but I just don't like these familiar faces. Felix Aylmer is another very familiar face. It is a personal criticism, but hey, this is my blog. A further criticism is of the Network DVD box set - the restoration is perhaps not as good as it could be. Some of their other sets have a much crisper picture, and I think there was one place where the sound was rather crackly.
So in short, seventies fest, solid detective plot, sophisticated settings, bikinis or hairy chests depending on what you're into, and there's something in this Jason King episode for everyone.

2 comments:

J.R. Clark said...

Austin Powers is 1/2 Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon) and 1/2 Jason King.

John said...

Thank you for commenting. I didn't know that, actually, I'd always assumed he was pure Jason King.