Of all the ITC action series, ‘Department S’ is my favourite. It is helped immeasurably by introducing the immortal Jason King, of course, but it is also tautly scripted, superbly acted and well written.
The central idea, that Department S are brought in when Interpol are baffled, was a fairly familiar one, but this show did something with it, relishing in portraying bizarre cases with equally odd conclusions. Storylines included an airliner touching down without either passengers or crew, the assassination of a dummy, the murder of a man with a clown’s mask glued to his face, and an astronaut who appears on a busy London street and suffocates inside his suit before anyone can help him.
Jason King, the novelist playboy with a sad past, would be a memorable character under any circumstances, but the casting of Peter Wyngarde in the role is pure genius. It’s easy to like Jason King because he’s camp and silly and has fantastic hair but there’s more to him than that: yes, Wyngarde occasionally plays it for laughs, but he gives a nuanced, complex performance that transcends his moustache and trousers and shorty dressing gowns. He’s a marvellous creation and only Wyngarde could have made the character so interesting. He’s one of my heroes.