Friday, November 17, 2017

The Famous Simon Templar: The Saint on Television

 (This post is part of the "It Takes a Thief" blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

The Sixties saw some of the most successful British television shows of all time These were shows that weren't just popular in the United Kingdom but also found success internationally and even in the highly competitive market in the United States. Among the most successful of the British shows of the Sixties was one centred on a literary character who had been around for over thirty years at the time. Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, was a con man and thief who only robbed from those who he felt truly deserved it: criminals, crooked politicians, corrupt businessmen, and so on. The Saint proved extremely popular, so much so that Leslie Charteris would not only write a number of books and short stories about the character, but the character would find success in many other media as well.

For those unfamiliar with The Saint, he was Simon Templar, which may or may not be his given name. It is never revealed why he was given the nickname The Saint, but it is known that he was given the nickname when he was only nineteen. As a thief and a con man, Simon Templar occasionally uses aliases, all of which use the initials S.T.  (Sullivan Titwillow, Sebastian Toombs, Sugarman Treacle, and so on). He also leaves a calling card wherever he has struck, bearing a stick figure with a halo. It is generally assumed that Simon Templar is British (his home is in London, after all), although he obviously spent a good deal of time in the United States given the number of his American friends and acquaintances. As to Simon Templar's modus operandi, he is essentially a modern day Robin Hood. He makes his living fleecing and stealing from those whom he calls "ungodly". When The Saint managed to extract a substantial amount from one of the ungodly, he would keep only a "ten percent collection fee" and either returned the money to its rightful owners or donated it to charity or did something else with it entirely.

The success of The Saint books and short stories would quite naturally lead to the character being adapted in other media. The Saint in New York (1938), starring Louis Hayward as Simon Templar, was based on the novel of the same name. It was successful enough that RKO made seven more Saint movies, the first five starring George Sanders and the last two starring Hugh Sinclair. Louis Hayward, who was unable to star in the RKO series, returned to the role of Simon Templar in The Saint's Return in 1953. The Saint would also see success on radio. Radio Éireann's Radio Athlone aired a Saint radio show in 1940. In 1945 both NBC and CBS would air their own radio shows based on The Saint. The most successful radio incarnation of The Saint would debut in 1947 and initially starred Vincent Price in the title role. Barry Sullivan also filled in a few times when Mr. Price was not available. This version would run on and off until 1951 on CBS, Mutual, and NBC. Eventually Tom Conway would take over the role of Simon Templar. There would also be a fairly successful Saint newspaper comic strip that ran from 1947 to 1961, as well various Saint comic books.

Given the success of The Saint in several different media, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a television adaption. In fact, in the Fifties Leslie Charteris would be approached more than once for the television rights to Simon Templar. The first occurred in 1951, when advertising firm Stockton, West, Burkhart, Inc. sought the rights to Saint short stories to be used on a proposed show Mystery Writer's Playhouse. Richard M. Dunn of Stockton, West, Burkhart, Inc. was the man sent to convince Leslie Charteris into letting them have the television rights to various short stories, but Mr. Dunn never made a definite offer and so Mr. Charteris never committed. It was the following year that Richard M. Dunn sought to adapt The Saint as its own television show. Nothing came of this either.

Over the years Leslie Charteris would be approached by others who wanted to make a TV show based on The Saint. In fact, in 1961 there would be two attempts at getting the television rights to The Saint alone. That year Harry Alan Towers, the producer now best known for his series of Fu Manchu movies starring Sir Christopher Lee, sought the rights to make a television series. Mr. Towers would not be successful. Others would be in getting a TV series based on The Saint on the air, namely producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman.

In 1948 Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman founded Tempean Films, a company that produced B-movies from comedies to horror movies. It was in 1961 that the two men founded a television production company, New World Productions. Fortunately for Messrs. Baker and Berman, they had an advantage over Harry Alan Towers in getting the television rights for The Saint. Quite simply, they were acquainted with director John Paddy Carstairs, who had directed the 1939 film The Saint in London and, more importantly, also happened to be friends with Lesile Charteris.

John Paddy Carstairs arranged a lunch where the two producers could meet Leslie Charteris. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman were able to convince the creator of The Saint to give them a three month option for a TV series. They offered the proposed TV series The Saint to Associated-Rediffusion (the ITV franchise that provided weekday programming for London), who turned it down due to the proposed series' projected budget of £15,000 per episode. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman then went to Lord Lew Grade of ITC, who bought the proposed series. It was then that they bought the television rights to The Saint from Leslie Charteris, with the condition that Mr. Charteris would have input on the show's scripts.

As to casting Simon Templar, it might be surprising to many that Sir Roger Moore was not the producers' first choice. The first actor they talked to was Patrick McGoohan, who had just finished the first series of the very popular show Danger Man. It soon became obvious that Mr. McGoohan was not suited to the role.  Quite simply, he objected to the character becoming involved with women, and also lacked the tongue in cheek sort of humour necessary for the show.

Of course, in the end it would be Sir Roger Moore who would be cast as Simon Templar on the TV series. Sir Roger Moore already had a impressive résumé on both sides of the Pond. He had starred in the British swashbuckler TV show Ivanhoe, which aired on both sides of the Atlantic. He had also appeared in the short-lived American TV series The Alaskans and played cousin Beau Maverick on the highly successful Western Maverick.  Having starred on Maverick, Sir Roger Moore had already proven that he had the necessary tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. What is more, he was already a fan of The Saint. He had earlier tried to get the television rights to The Saint on his own.

The Saint debuted on September 30 1962 in ITV regions except the Midlands and Northern in the United Kingdom. It proved very successful, so much so that it was second in popularity among male viewers only to wrestling.  Lord Lew Grade tried to sell The Saint to the American broadcast networks, only to be rebuffed by all three of them. Indeed, Mort Werner, then senior vice president for programming at NBC, commented after viewing two episodes of the show, "I have never seen so much crap in my life." Fortunately  events would unfold that would convince NBC to eventually change their minds about The Saint.

The American broadcast networks' rejection of The Saint would not keep the show off American television screens. Lord Lew Grade simply entered The Saint into syndication in the United States in 1963. It soon became the most popular TV show syndicated in the United States at the time. Perhaps amusingly, among the stations that picked up The Saint in syndication was NBC's flagship station, WNBC in New York City. WNBC aired The Saint at 11:15 PM on Sunday night following their nightly news. In that time slot The Saint proved phenomenally successful. The show would also prove successful on NBC's stations in Chicago and Los Angeles. What is more, the success of The Saint  was not isolated to NBC owned and operated stations.  The show was so successful on television stations throughout the U.S. that it would prove to be one of the most successful syndicated television shows of all time in the United States.

It was in 1965 that the TV show The Saint very nearly came to an end. After 71 episodes, nearly every one of Leslie Charteris's short stories had been adapted. What is more, Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman's contract with Leslie Charteris was set to expire.  Fortunately, The Saint would continue.  Producer Robert S. Baker and star Roger Moore then formed a new company, Bamore, to produce a new series of The Saint in colour. As to Monty Berman, Mr. Baker's partner on the first 71 episodes of The Saint, he went on to produce the short lived TV series The Baron.

It would be the show's move to colour, and probably its phenomenal success in syndication, that would finally interest NBC in the show. After having turned down the show rather harshly years earlier, NBC bought the first colour series of The Saint.

The Saint debuted on NBC on May 21 1967.  It went off the network in September 1967, only to return in February 1968 as a mid-season replacement. The Saint would leave NBC again in September 1968. It returned for one last time as a summer replacement in April 1969. In all NBC broadcast 32 of the 47 colour episodes of The Saint. The colour episodes were aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in black and white, as ITV would not made the transition to colour until late 1969.

It was in 1969, after 118 episodes of The Saint, that Roger Moore decided it was time to stop playing Simon Templar. The final episode of The Saint aired in the United Kingdom on ITV on February 9 1969. The Saint ended its run on NBC on September 12 1969. Reruns of The Saint have persisted in syndication in the United States ever since.

Simon Templar would not remain absent from television screens for long, although in his next TV incarnation he would not be played by Roger Moore. Return of The Saint was originally supposed to be Son of The Saint, with the show following the adventures of Simon Templar's son. Eventually this idea was dropped in favour of the show being about Simon Templar himself, although updated to the Seventies. While the show included Robert S. Baker as its executive producer,  as well as Lord Lew Grade as producers, there was absolutely no continuity between it and the Saint series of the Sixties. Return of The Saint debuted on ITV on September 10 1978 and ran until March 11 1979 for 24 episodes. Return of The Saint would be rerun in the Untied States as part of The CBS Late Movie. While it only lasted one series, Return of The Saint did revive interest in the Sixties version starring Sir Roger Moore.

Since then there have been three more attempts at a Saint TV series. In 1987 a pilot entitled The Saint in Manhattan, starring Andrew Clarke, was produced. Although it did not sell, it did air as part of CBS Summer Playhouse, an anthology series consisting of failed pilots. From 1989 to 1991 London Weekend Television aired six Saint television movies starring Simon Dutton as Simon Templar. The movies were The Saint: Fear in Fun Park, The Saint: The Big Bang, The Saint: The Software Murders, The Saint: The Brazilian Connection, The Saint: Wrong Number, and The Saint: The Blue Dulac. More recently, a failed pilot for a new series based on The Saint was made, starring Adam Rayner as Simon Templar.

In many episodes of the Sixties TV show The Saint starring Sir Roger Moore, Simon Templar differed only a little from many private eyes on other shows. That having been said, there were plenty of episodes in which he acted as the thief and con artist that only robbed the ungodly he had been in the earliest books and short stories. Perhaps the most notable instance of Simon Templar running a con game on the ungodly is one he ran on other con artists in the episode "The Bunco Artists". A husband and wife team of con artists con a church in a small English village out of money the church had saved for its restoration. Fortunately, the vicar's daughter happens to be friends with Simon Templar and alerts him to the two suspicious characters. The Saint then creates his own con game in order to get the church's money back from the con artists.

Of course, Simon Templar ran cons on more than just con artists. In "The Element of Doubt" Simon Templar matches wits with a corrupt defence attorney who does not mind that his clients are guilty and will do anything to get a verdict of "not guilty" for them. Simon Templar then  runs a con on the attorney's current client that certainly won't go well for the attorney. In "The Man Who Was Lucky", The Saint's target was a protection racket. While Simon Templar uses various confidence tricks throughout the series, he also sometimes resorts to outright breaking and entering. In "The Counterfeit Countess', in which Templar takes on counterfeiters, he breaks into one of the counterfeiter's offices and then opens a safe to find some bogus money.

Simon Templar was already a very influential character before the TV series starring Sir Roger Moore debuted. Arguably his influence would only grow even more after the TV show. Arguably the influence of The Saint can be seen in every show that centres on  individuals act as modern day Robin Hoods, using confidence games and sometime outright thievery to see that justice is served. In many ways such shows as Switch, Remington Steele, Hustle, and Leverage all owe something to Simon Templar. It is perhaps a mark of the show's success that after books, feature films, radio shows, a comic strip, comic books, and other television outings, that the Sixties version of The Saint not only remains in syndication, but remains the most familiar and popular incarnation of Simon Templar.

(Thanks to Ian Dickerson for corrections to and additional information for this article.)


6 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

I will have the theme song running through my head all day. Thanks (in a not sarcastic way).

Silver Screenings said...

I've only seen one TV episode of "The Saint", but I loved Roger Moore in the role. I think he was born to play that character.

Ian Dickerson said...

Nice piece but may I offer some corrections?

"The Saint proved extremely popular upon his debut in the novel Meet The Tiger in 1928"
Erm, no. Meet the Tiger was not all that popular. Leslie's next two books did not feature the Saint and he only returned to documenting Mr Templar's adventures prompted by the demands of The Thriller magazine and a certain degree of laziness. It was when those magazine stories were collected in to books that the Saint began to get really popular.

"The Saint would also see success on radio. Radio Éireann's Radio Athlone aired a Saint radio show in 1941"
Nope. 1940.

"Eventually Tom Conway would take over the role of Simon Templar and then Barry Sullivan."
Not quite. Barry Sullivan filled in for a couple of episodes when Price was unavailable.

"Mr. Towers would not be successful, primarily because producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman also wanted to make a TV series based on The Saint."
Nope. Mr Towers was not successful because he had some legal troubles at the time and there was no way Leslie was going to go in to business with him.

"The Saint debuted on October 4 1962 on ITV in the United Kingdom."
Nope. Aired September 30th in all ITV regions except ABC Midland and Northern.

" as well as Sir Roger Moore and Lord Lew Grade as producers"
Nope. Roger was not a producer on the show.

"Since then there have been two more attempts at a Saint TV series"
Three as the TV movie that was released last year was in fact a failed TV pilot.

"From 1989 to 1991 London Weekend Television made six Saint television movies starring Simon Dutton as Simon Templar"
Nope. LWT were one of several production companies involved. The overall producer was D. L Taffner Ltd.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for the corrections, Ian. I've already corrected the articles in the post. A writer is only as good as his sources, and, sadly, it seems like mine were somewhat flawed in this case!

Debra Vega said...

When I was little we lived in Spain. According to my mom, I loved the show and would run around saying, "El Santo! El Santo!" every time Roger Moore appeared on screen.

We recently watched the show again on Hulu. It still holds up really well, doesn't it?

I'm so glad you chose to cover it for the blogathon. Many thanks!

Brittaney said...

I love the film version starring Val Kilmer, but have never seen this TV series. It sounds right up my alley.