For a really long time now, Leslie Charteris’s The Saint has been one of those properties held onto by nostalgists. That’s fair; time marches on and nothing lasts forever, but it’s interesting to think about how once upon a time, Simon Templar was such a huge character, known by just about everybody. By the eighties, he wasn’t. I’d catch a glimpse or a reference here and there in Doctor Who Magazine in 1985-86 to there being a show, presumably British, called The Saint where a writer or actor whose names I recognized contributed, but I had no idea what it was. Eventually, I noticed it in the TV listings; it started appearing weeknights at 10 on WATL-36 – this was the show I mentioned last week – and once I finally stayed up late enough to try it out, I had the time of my life. This show was terrific!
Of course I expect everybody reading this nostalgic blog today knows that, but that was certainly not the case with my high school classmates. No matter, The Saint immediately moved up to number three on my list of favorite TV shows, right behind Who and The Avengers, despite nobody at any bookstore being able to find me a program guide with an episode list. The main thing keeping me from completely digging in to the six other ITC series available on WVEU that I mentioned in that link above was that most nights I trying to stay up late and watch this, and I had to do my homework sometime. WATL’s package was a strange one. It seemed to have been 95 hours – the 71 black-and-white Saint episodes and the 24 Return of the Saint installments.
So this evening, we gave a capsule introduction to the show and character to our kid. What did he need to know? Our hero is a gentleman adventurer and former master criminal, still notorious and still unable to stay out of trouble, played by Roger Moore, featured in ITC’s longest-running adventure program. It’s second only to The Avengers for number of episodes for an action-adventure hour of its day, it ran in syndication in just about every American market in the sixties before NBC picked up the color years and played them for three seasons on the network, and I’ve picked ten installments for our sample series. Did I pick them based on the guest stars rather than the plots? Probably!
And once again, our kid proved he can do it, given the right actor. “I think that’s Patrick Troughton,” he said, and my heart grew three sizes that day. Troughton joins some other recognizable British faces, including John Carson and Joby Blanshard, as playing Argentinians in this story. A modern program would probably not do that, but I was particularly impressed with Carson, who has to smooth-talk a truly gullible young American widow into helping him move some stolen gold out of the country. It’s a role that could have veered into stereotype very easily, and he didn’t let it.
Happily, the kid really enjoyed it. I worried that I may have picked a turkey, because I had forgotten that Templar hardly appears at all until about the midpoint, while the con gets moving. But there’s enough of an undercurrent of ugliness that it works. It’s only jaded and skeptical viewers who will spot Carson’s character as a baddie; the show presents him as an unlikely good guy being followed by some thugs. Then watching Templar put things together, while engaging in some great brawls, kept his attention very well. He was really pleased with the scheme to ship the gold out of the country in the romantic matron’s car: they’ve given her a solid gold bumper! We reminded him that he saw something a little similar in Freewheelers way back when, but that really was a while back, and he didn’t remember it that well. Maybe he’ll feel like revisiting it sometime. I’ll hint at it.