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Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Re-reading Teenage Reading: The Saint

Leslie Charteris: The Brighter Buccaneer (2*)
 
A while ago, I mentioned some of the novels I acquired through a nineteen-sixties paperback books promotion. What would I make of them now, I wondered.  

One was a Saint book by Leslie Charteris. On television, The Saint was unmissable viewing for me and six million other Britons. Episodes were set in Rome, Paris or other exotic locations, and full of humour, adventure and glamour. Roger Moore as Simon Templar was sophistication personified: savoire-faire in an eyebrow. In Belgium, Hugo, my foreign-language-exchange partner, was a big fan, too. We shared the affliction of believing after every episode that we actually were Simon Templar. We were both going to have white Volvo P1800s when old enough. I taught myself to draw the haloed Saint stick-figure, although mine always looked a bit limp-wristed.

The television series led me to Saint books in the local library. They were a comparative disappointment. They still are. Written and set mostly in gloomy nineteen-thirties London, the fifteen short stories in The Brighter Buccaneer are about a Simon Templar who is not in any way a role model for teenage boys. He is an outright criminal. True, he has principles and always outsmarts his adversaries, but he will take jewellery from batty old dowagers and suitcases of banknotes from tricksters. If that was all right then stealing the odd ream of paper and bottle of milk from school must have been fine.

There are some slick plot devices, such as when, at a ball, about to be caught red-handed with the diamond from the hostess’s necklace, the Saint kisses a girl who speaks up for him, who then walks off with the diamond in her mouth. But, too often, I found Charteris’s long-winded, ironic style, rather irritating. Here is one of the shorter examples:
It is a notable fact, which might be made the subject of a profound philosophical discourse by anyone with time to spare for these recreations, that the characteristics which go to make a successful buccaneer are almost the same as those required by the detective whose job it is to catch him. (p19)

He is a good writer, but no Jane Austen. The above leads to a lengthy description of the required characteristics: infinite wit and resource, unlimited memory for every out-of-the-way fact, inductive speculation, infinite sympathy, an unstinted gift for weird and wonderful friendships, the list goes on. Simon Templar has them, of course. He must have been a Yorkshireman.

Charteris wrote Saint stories from 1928 to 1963. Later books were by others in his name. Perhaps, instead of a nineteen-thirties collection, I should have looked for one from the –fifties or early-sixties, some of which formed the basis of television episodes. This one does not encourage me much.


Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

32 comments:

  1. I read some of the Saint in the fifties when I was a teen, and found them pretty exciting at the time. But it was the kind of reading you forget as soon as finished. I never saw any tv episodes, maybe they appeared after I'd left the UK.

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    1. I didn't find the book reviewed here very exciting. Maybe yours was one of the later ones. I have just looked to see if the TV programmes are on YouTube and watched the introduction to this one which captures in the first two minutes how good they were: https://youtu.be/QB1ZB-MfI_E

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    2. Well, just watched the whole episode. Still very watchable. Interestingly, the female lead in it, Barbara Shelley, died just two days on 4th January 2021.

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  2. Of course I remember The Saint series on television but I never read any of the books. I wonder just how dated The Saint or John Steed of The Avengers would look now? Probably best not to look and live with one's recollections.

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    1. You are probably right. Here is a spoiler: next in my series is a James Bond book.

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  3. The opening scenes of The Saint television series were filmed on the Menai Straits. I often bored people telling them this when we travelled to catch the ferry from Holyhead.

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    1. Not all of them, surely? As responded to the first comment, I just looked at the beginning of an episode on YouTube and that starts at what purports to be IdleWild International Airport (now JFK).

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  4. I loved that show when I was a kid and I remember reading at least one book from the library too. I can't remember what I thought of it though.

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    1. I've just got sidetracked by the one on YouTube I mentioned in response to first comment.

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  5. I used to love The Saint on tv. It had never even occurred to me there was a book.

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  6. Drat. I now have the opening bars of that theme tune ringing in my head.

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  7. I think many people of a certain age read The Saint books in their early teens. I read the whole series when I was 12-13 and then, yup James Bond!

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    1. The Brighter Buccaneer is not the same book as I got from the promotion (that was The Saint Goes On written around the same time) but I probably read it aged 12-15. Like Debra, I couldn't remember any of it.

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  8. I remember watching the TV series when I was a teenager but I never read any of the books. Usually by the time a book or series of books makes it to television there are many changes not necessarily for the good. Maybe in this case the changes were for the good?

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    1. It seems that some of the better, or at least more modern Saint books were developed out of the TV scripts.

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  9. Yes, my eyes glazed over as I read the paragraph from page 19.

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    1. To me it awkwardly echoes Jane Austen's "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

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  10. I hadn't realized that the series was based on books of the same name. I really dug the series and thought Roger Moore made the perfect 'saint'.

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    1. He did. Absolutely brilliant. He was still in his thirties when he played the Saint. I enjoyed the episode I watched on YouTube yesterday and might look for more.

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  11. My mum read the Saint books. I recall reading one of hers on holiday and dissolving into laughter over one exchange ("'I've got an idea, boss.' 'Be kind to it ?Nobby? It's in a strange place.' ") - well I was only 12 or 13 at the time. It may even have been before the TV series.

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    1. Charteris churned out the books in quantity rather than quality. Dialogue wasn't a strong point, notwithstanding unintended ambiguities.

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  12. Interesting. I've always wondered about these books and why they're not more popular now (compared to say, Agatha Christie or Ian Fleming). I guess this explains it! I still love the TV show -- all the suave evening jackets and bejeweled women. That's the role that led to Moore's becoming Bond, I believe.

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    1. Roger Moore was in his prime and brilliant as The Saint. I always thought he was past it when he took over as Bond - when Spitting Image started to mock his acting ability as limited to the movement of one creaking eyebrow. I read somewhere that he was wanted sooner as Bond but he was busy with the Saint.

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  13. Charteris was extremely critical of most of the Saint TV series, with a few exceptions. He didn't seem able to grasp that TV is a different medium from novels and that certain adjustments often need to be made. He drove the producers up the wall with his constant comments to them about how they were ruining his hero. In one Saint episode, Templar actually pretends to be James Bond, and he played Bond in 1964, in a sketch on a TV show with Millicent Martin. (It's on YouTube.) I quite enjoyed the books, but it was probably the later ones I read. I've got the DVD boxed sets of the TV show and really enjoyed every episode when I re-watched them a year or two back.

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    1. Some of the TV programmes are on YouTube as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the one I watched - see response to first comment - and can see why I was such a fan. I agree, the TV Saint was as much Moore's creation as Charteris's. He was better as the Saint than as Bond in the small number of clips I've seen (haven't seen the films).

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    2. Do you have your own blog - your profile is not visible.

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    3. Yes, two - you're a member of one of them - Mild & Mellow Melancholy Musings.

      I enjoyed Roger's turn as Bond just as much as Connery's. Sean was great in the first three movies, but towards the end he was tired of the role - and the role was tired of him. He looked about 10 years older than he was in Diamonds Are Forever, and although Roger was 2 or 3 years older than Sean, in Live & Let Die he looked younger than his predecessor. So I enjoyed Both men's Bonds equally.

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    4. Apologies - would be easier to find if profile was visible and linked to the blogs.

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    5. My profile used to be visible, but I removed it because blogs I'd once followed and had deleted were still showing on it. I'll consider reinstating it. In the meantime, maybe add to your blog list for your convenience?

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    6. Already have. There is a setting on the 'Edit Profile' screen to switch blogs I follow on and off. I had same problem so I switched it off because of same issue.

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