My mum had a thing about Roger Moore – still does – and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me (though in a different way). I’ve talked elsewhere about The Persuaders!, and it’ll come as little surprise to regular readers that he was my favourite Bond. He’s done other movies I’ve loved as well, one of which introduced me to Wilbur Smith. But I first encountered him as…
Some episodes were repeated on ITV4 last year and I took the opportunity to record and watch most of them, usually while ironing or eating my lunch (yep, life in the fast lane!). There are several reasons why the series was distinctive. For a start, there’s its pedigree. Simon Templar was created by Leslie Charteris in the 1920s, and appeared in a range of novels and short stories. There’d also been a series of films made in the late 1930s and early 1940s, with three different actors playing the role. So, although for most people, Roger Moore’s series is the definitive interpretation, it was by no means the first.
I should add here that, once I was aware of the books, I devoured them. Charteris’s Templar was more of a criminal than the one I’d grown up with, but they were an entertaining read. The writing style is accessible and, although the character has a harder edge, there’s plenty of humour there.
As for the TV series itself, well, let’s start with a typical opening…
Let’s analyse what happened there.
Templar is a globe-trotter, so episodes often start with stock footage of some exotic (or not so exotic) part of the world, before switching to an interior in Elstree.
Then we have the voiceover. The earlier series had ST (any idea where the nickname came from yet?) breaking the fourth wall, but that was probably before my time. Both styles help set the scene but, more importantly, the viewers feel like they’re being included.
Monologue over, the action begins. Most of Templar’s adventures start because he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or possibly the right place at the right time), a device scriptwriters wouldn’t get away with these days.
What you also wouldn’t get away with is a lead character seemingly unfazed by someone waving a gun around. To be fair, the nonchalance shown here is not out of keeping with Charteris’s creation, but Templar still seems too relaxed and sure of himself considering he’s unarmed and very exposed.
These potential flaws are almost immediately eclipsed by someone saying they recognise the “famous” – or, just as often, “infamous” – Simon Templar. His notoriety is both a magnet for trouble and cause for any self-respecting villain to become wary. It’s a stereotype, but it’s effective. And then, just in case the audience has been considering taking it all seriously, he looks up at the halo.
This, of course, leads into the titles, with action in silhouette (probably very exciting in its day), then the appearance of the stick man created by Charteris (it was often used as a calling card in the books). The music is an arrangement of a theme composed by Charteris and, with his name displayed prominently, the author’s influence is felt throughout. Indeed, many episodes were based on original stories by him.
Moore was known for taking a light approach to his characters. He was never going to be another Connery, and the ground work for how he’d play 007 was laid in this series. A charming ladies’ man with a sense of humour, at ease in any situation, it was probably the longest screen test any actor has done for a role. Still, The Saint was different, and brought some movie glamour to the small screen.
The clip you saw there didn’t show any particularly familiar faces – unless you’re old enough (and as geeky as me) to remember Alan Lake – but I’d challenge anyone over the age of forty to watch an episode and not see an actor they recognised. And, surprisingly often, they’d show up repeatedly – Lois Maxwell (the Miss Moneypenny), for example, appeared twice, and Annette Andre (later in Randall and Hopkirk) had five parts. Oh, and Donald Sutherland turned up twice as well (I know!).
Aside from Moore himself, his co-star received a lot of attention – mainly from lovers of Corgi cars. His Volvo P1800 was very distinctive, especially with the ST1 number plate. Not sure it would’ve been as effective for tailing people as the series suggested, but who wants a dose of reality? Even today, if I see a P1800 I refer to it as The Saint’s car.
It’s a measure of the show’s popularity that, fifty years after the last episode was filmed, it’s still screened around the world. There have been attempts to make other series, the most successful of which was Return of the Saint (though even its success was limited).
There was also a movie made in the 1990s but it bore as much resemblance to the Charteris character as The Terminator does to Snow White.
Unusually, I’m not against a remake. But let’s hope anyone tempted to try again will look at the source material first. If nothing else, they’ll have a great read.