It was big news, back in 1972, when actor Roger Moore was chosen to replace Sean Connery as the new James Bond, Agent 007 in the Bond film series. My parents were big fans of the Bond films and they particularly loved Roger Moore’s Bond movies. It was through Roger Moore and James Bond that I came to know the legendary character called The Saint.
Author Leslie Charteris created the character of The Saint way back in 1928. Charteris chronicled the literary adventures of The Saint for decades. Simon Templar aka The Saint stared in black and white movies during the 1930s and 1940s. The Saint also starred in several radio shows, the most famous of which ran 1944 – 1951 and starred Vincent Price as Simon Templar. Eventually it was only natural for the undefeatable Saint to conquer TV.
I was too young to notice if my parents ever watched Roger Moore as The Saint when it was originally on TV from 1967 to 1969 in the USA (the show ran from 1962 to 1969 in Great Britain). But after all the publicity about Roger Moore becoming secret agent James Bond, I was suddenly introduced to The Saint.
Roger Moore had been a fan of The Saint books and had tried to buy the production rights himself. But author Leslie Charteris didn’t sell until 1961 and then he sold the rights to producer Robert Baker, who teamed up with Lew Grade of ITC Entertainment. Roger Moore was delighted to play the part of Simon Templar. Moore managed to become co-owner of the TV series when the show changed to color episodes in 1966. Moore even eventually produced nine episodes himself.
The Saint TV series starring Roger Moore started out as a pretty straightforward mystery series with many episodes adapted from books and stories by Leslie Charteris. As the series continued, there were more original stories and the show added more secret agent and fantasy style elements. Roger Moore played Simon Templar as a “suave, sophisticated Robin Hood-like adventurer” who often used the American alias of “Sebastian Tombs.” Moore was considered to be the perfect Simon Templar: he “brought a great deal of life and gentleman humor to the character.” Moore also brought his wardrobe. Most of the clothes Simon Templar wears in the show are Moore’s own personal wardrobe.
Roger Moore was offered the role of James Bond at least twice before they finally managed to entice him away from The Saint. After The Saint series ended, a few of the episodes were redone into feature films. “Vendetta For The Saint” and “The Fiction Makers” were released to theaters in Europe and TV in the US. These two movies were actually my first view of The Saint. I never saw any of the TV episodes until I recently discovered them on the internet. But I do remember watching “Vendetta For The Saint” and “The Fiction Makers” on TV. I enjoyed the movies at the time and “Vendetta” was my favorite of the two but it wasn’t until a few years later that The Saint character became a real favorite with me.
The Saint TV series was revived in 1978. Originally, the updated series was conceived as “The Son of The Saint” with actor Ian Ogilvy as “The Son” and Roger Moore making occasional appearances as “The Saint.” But that idea was dropped in favor of a straight forward update. Ian Ogilvy played Simon Templar as “an independently wealthy, somewhat mysterious ‘do-gooder.’ ” This new series only ran for one season but was still popular enough that actor Ian Ogilvy was considered as a possible replacement for Roger Moore when he left the James Bond movies, although Ogilvy ultimately didn’t get the part.
There were other differences between the new series Return of The Saint and the earlier series The Saint. Many episodes of the new series were actually filmed on location throughout Europe. None of the stories by author Leslie Charteris were adapted for Return of The Saint although several of the episodes were turned into novels that were credited to Charteris even though they were written by others. And a number of the original books were reprinted with covers featuring Ian Ogilvy’s likeness as The Saint. Author Leslie Charteris even had a brief walk-on role in one of the episodes.
One of the biggest differences between the two series is Simon Templar’s car. Jaguar had passed on the opportunity to supply a car for The Saint, to their regret, so now they jumped at the chance to supply a car for Return of The Saint. So the new Simon Templar got a new white car, a Jaguar XJ-S, although he did keep his license plate, “ST1.”
I remember Return of The Saint. And I certainly remember Ian Ogilvy. I had a big ole teenage crush on him. I loved his car, I loved his clothes, I loved the adventure, and I thought Ian was so “cool.”
Now the real question when looking at these two series, The Saint and Return of the Saint, is how well do these shows stand the test of time. Both were very popular in their day. I enjoyed what I saw of Roger Moore’s series and really loved Ian Ogilvy’s series back then.
Roger Moore’s The Saint series is pretty easily available for modern viewers. It’s available to buy or stream at certain select websites, DVDs of all six seasons are easily found, and most of the episodes from seasons five and six can be viewed for free on You Tube. Unfortunately, episodes of Return of the Saint are not so easy to find. A friend found several websites for me to check out but, while the show was listed, nothing was available. There is a DVD set but it, too, is hard to find. So all I was able to find to view of Return of The Saint was a few short clips on You Tube.
So after watching several clips from Return of The Saint and watching several full episodes of The Saint on You Tube I have to say I still enjoy both series. Ian Ogilvy still looks “cool” and my heart still pitter pats for him but Roger Moore was actually better than I remember from the two movies I saw back in the day. Roger Moore’s Simon is more laid back and suave and sophisticated. Ian Ogilvy’s Simon is still very sophisticated but he dresses and acts a bit more casually (at least in the short clips I saw).
But these two series are also very dated in many ways. Many of the female characters are very passive damsels in distress who cling to Simon Templar for help. It’s really ridiculous at times. One clip from Return of The Saint shows a hapless woman being tossed into the back seat of a vehicle. She’s not tied up or restrained in any way, the villain is not holding any weapon, and it takes him forever to get into the driver’s seat. He’s big and slow so why doesn’t she do anything? She could get out of the car on the other side and run or grab him around the neck from behind or just about anything but what she does which is just sit there doing nothing while the villain drives off with her. Many of the females in Roger Moore’s The Saint are even more passive. They just kind of float helplessly around waiting for Simon to do something. In one episode I watched, the damsel never really seemed in any real physical danger herself and when Simon is fighting the villain, and losing, she just stands around looking mildly alarmed. Of course, Simon won in the end and she congratulated him with a kiss and an implied affair but she didn’t do anything at all to help Simon when he was in trouble. Supposedly they would both be killed if Simon lost the fight so why didn’t she stop holding up the wall and go bash the villain in the head from behind when he was busy with Simon? Or just do anything? Now, to be fair, one of the damsels in one of the episodes I watched turned out to be the master criminal in disguise but she still never did anything but swan around and talk. Her sidekicks did all the actual work.
The pacing and editing of these two shows are also very dated for modern viewers. There is a lot of standing around and talking. When we do get action, the editing is often clunky, the pacing not really suspenseful by modern standards, and sometimes the actual payoff is left to the viewer because the show fades to black. For instance, in one episode of The Saint, Simon has a climatic fist fight with the bad guy. The fight itself isn’t too bad except, of course, for the damsel in distress standing around. During the fight, Simon and the villain are very near a pit in the floor holding the bad guy’s very hungry lion. Simon is losing and helpless on the ground when the idiot villain decides to step over Simon, stand on the very edge of the lion pit with his back to the pit, and raise a sword over his head before skewering Simon. Naturally, the idiot steps too far back and falls into the pit. Then he screams and it’s -cut!- fade to back. I wanted to see him get eaten by the lion. They could have at least given us a hungry lion roar. But no, it’s fade to black. In one of the clips for Return of The Saint, Ian Ogilvy’s Simon speeds up to a castle in his car. He and a friend get out and rush inside to search for the damsel in distress. The scene goes pretty much like this: car roars up, two men jump out, shot of them running up a gravely incline, a low, dark shot of Ogilvy rushing through a very cluttered room sort of hop-skipping around furniture, shot of the bad guy dragging the damsel to his vehicle and driving off, shot of Ogilvy rushing down the gravely incline and getting in his car and driving off in pursuit. Then Ogilvy chases the villain on a one lane road where he can not possibly get around and stop the bad guy. Oh the suspense! Watching the hero have to skip around furniture is not very exciting and how did he know to go back to his car to drive after the villain and what the devil happened to his friend?
Don’t get me wrong. I do still enjoy these shows. Both Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy are handsome and witty. The stories are mostly clever with a tongue in check humor. Some of the locations are pretty or interesting to see. It’s fun to see how very strange the styles of the time appear today. I love the short pre-credits sequence that sets up each show. I love how they always end with Simon getting his halo and I especially love those episodes where Roger Moore breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the viewers. And did I mention that Moore and Ogilvy are handsome? But the villains are often old stereotypes, the women are incredibly passive, and the pacing and editing are very different from what we are used to today.
But I still recommend both shows. Viewers can have fun debating which Simon Templar is the best: Roger Moore in The Saint or Ian Ogilvy in Return of The Saint.
One final tidbit: The Saint on TV is not yet finished. There is a brand new show waiting in the wings. This new possible series is titled simply The Saint and stars Adam Rayner and guest stars both Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy. So keep your eyes open for this one, Saint fans!