Alias… The Saint!
20 Mar 2017 2 comments. tbs.pm/11454
In October 1962, audiences were introduced to a new character. He wore impeccable suits, he appeared the perfect gentleman, he liked women and fast cars. He travelled to numerous exotic locations and when he wasn’t throwing quips around, he spent his time throwing punches at the bad guys. There are two famous men who share these characteristics but the one who hit screens first was Simon Templar.
Nicknamed ‘the Saint’, the character’s roots are in a series of books written by Leslie Charteris. This was not the first version of Simon Templar to grace screens, with several film adaptations having been made during the 1940s. However, the popularity of Roger Moore’s portrayal meant The Saint would run for six series and today it remains the most well-known depiction of the character.
Travelling all over the world, Simon Templar became involved in a variety of circumstances. Sometimes a friend had called for help but more often than not he simply stumbled into a situation. The plots were varied, sometimes revolving around theft, kidnap and dodgy business dealings. Other episodes took on murder and the occasional Iron Curtain issue.
We are never in any doubt that our Saint is on the side of the righteous. The early series begin with Simon breaking the fourth wall to talk to us directly down the camera (later it becomes a voice over), giving us an introduction to the rest of the episode. We have been invited into Simon Templar’s world, a world more adventurous and fantastical than our own. From the beginning, it enables us to trust him as our guide and to buy into the fun. Each episode is exciting and tense. Following Simon’s introduction, there will be someone handy nearby to recognise the Saint and introduce him to us by crying out, “It’s the famous Simon Templar!” Cue halo. However an instalment is structured, it’s likely we will follow Simon as he unearths the truth, seduces a young lady, sneaks around, has a punch-up and catches the villains. In addition, there may also be a car chase or a shoot-out. But the Saint doesn’t routinely carry a gun and why should he? He can disarm someone with a distraction and judo-chop before chucking them across a table. Quickly smooth his hair back into place, straighten his cuffs and Simon Templar is ready to move on.
If the police are not already involved, Simon Templar himself usually makes his own decisions about justice and just how close to the line he can step. Sometimes the police are called, sometimes they are already involved, sometimes they aren’t deemed necessary. It does seem to depend on the situation. In earlier series, Templar repeatedly refers to criminals as ‘the ungodly’. This is not expanded upon and God isn’t really referenced outside of this either. It is simply used as a very matter-of-fact description, as if it’s the sole, perfect answer as to why someone has become such a villain. Despite his moniker, Simon Templar is not always all that saintly himself and there are numerous hints of an unlawful past. Indeed, Chief Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard is always sceptical of Templar, never quite convinced of this change of nature. The Saint isn’t against bending the rules with a bit of theft or breaking and entering in order to ensure the real bad guys can be caught. It feels a tad hypocritical therefore for the Saint to lump all criminals together – although he does make some exceptions.
Simon Templar has a weakness for young, pretty ladies and they for him too. Within two minutes his impeccable bouffant and gentlemanly patter has often charmed his way into a dinner date. To quote the man himself, Simon likes women who are, “old enough to have had a little experience and young enough to be interested in a little more”. Simon’s weakness extends even when a woman turns out to be one of the villains. She is not likely to be termed ‘ungodly’ and the Saint is inclined to let her off scot free, as it would seem good-looking young women can’t actually be all that bad. Simon will cover for her or let her disappear before anyone else shows up.
The beginning of each episode usually opens with a caption over the first shot, informing us where the action was taking place that week. It could be ‘ROME, ITALY’, ‘NEW YORK’, ‘GENEVA, SWITZERLAND’ or ‘LONDON, ENGLAND’. It made no difference for the cast and crew, who would rarely get to venture outside the grounds of Elstree Studios. Elstree’s grounds could double for anything from dockyards to country houses. Inside the studios themselves, after an establishing shot from stock, a painted backdrop and a few foreign accents were all that was needed to whisk the programme away to any number of far-flung places. The set dressing needed to take us abroad or to luxurious hotels can sometimes be seen, as we now sit watching on 40 inch high definition televisions. However, for its time The Saint had high production values. Overall, the techniques employed are impressive and highly successful. It enabled The Saint to stand out from other programmes and would eventually reap its own rewards.
The Saint has long been available on DVD, providing something that many original viewers wouldn’t have had: colour. From series five onwards, The Saint was made in colour, despite the fact that colour television had yet to arrive on UK screens. But The Saint, no doubt helped by money spent on it, had proved popular in the U.S. In order to continue benefitting from this potentially lucrative market, The Saint was deemed worth the extra expense of colour filming. Although this colour is a welcome addition, The Saint was made on film from the beginning and is another reason why it still looks so fantastic over fifty years later. It also surely makes the show long overdue a BluRay release because there is much to be highlighted.
A cast list for The Saint is often a glorious thing to look upon. With Simon Templar the sole regular character, there were a plethora of guest actors. Whilst some were already established, others would become well-known later. To name a few seems a shame for it means leaving out so many. Among the wonderful stars to shine with the Saint were: Shirley Eaton, Honor Blackman, Lois Maxwell, Warren Mitchell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Wyngarde, Kate O’Mara, Jean Marsh, Ronnie Corbett, Julian Glover, Geoffrey Palmer and Oliver Reed.
For its star, it was a springboard to even great things. Roger Moore had begun as a male model in the 1950s, getting into the then-prevalent Studio System in 1954 with a seven-year contract with MGM. The films from that studio were, however, a poor fit for him – and often just poor in their own right. He was released from his contract – fired, in other words – and switched to Warner Bros.
From there he fell into TV, as the lead in ITC’s Ivanhoe and then replacing James Garner in the Warner Bros series Maverick. Uncomfortable in the role, he was happy to jump ship – and return to the UK – for Lew Grade and the lead role on The Saint – a part he had long wished to play.
After The Saint finished, Moore tried to restart his movie career with little success and was grateful to be recalled to Elstree again by Grade – this time with a headline-grabbing salary of £1 million for 24 episodes of The Persuaders!
It was while he was making that derry-doing adventure serial that the role of James Bond 007 became vacant at Pinewood. His experience as the cool, suave Saint and the action-man Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders!, plus good reports from the otherwise troubled stage for the latter series, caused Cubby Broccoli to offer him the job, which he glad accepted once he knew for certain that Sean Connery had hung up his Walther PPK for good. Moore would stay with the film series until 1985, retiring as Bond at the age of 58.