So the post I started was to the effect that my views had changed. When I started it I had obtained Return of the Saint again and found that I liked it, certainly more than I did the black and white series as an adult, and definitely more than I did as a child. This new post is to record that my fickle opinion has changed again. I went to Kidderminster today where there is a stall on the market on Saturdays which sells DVDs, by which I mean quality DVDs of the sort of shows you might read about here, and they had a set of the colour episodes of The Saint starring Roger Moore. In other words the ones I don’t remember seeing before.
Of course this is a blog and so I’ve started with me but I would like to pull back at this point to get a sense of the Saint’s chronology.
1928 – 1983: Saint books by Leslie Charteris, written with collaboration towards the end of this time.
1938 – 1962: Film adaptations of the books.
1940 – 1971: Various radio adaptations and newly-written stories for radio in Ireland, the US and South Africa.
1962 – 1969: The Saint TV series starring Roger Moore.
1978 – 1979: Return of the Saint.
I have been surprised to find there have been a few other film and TV adaptations of The Saint which I'm going to ignore for the sake of my own sanity. There have also been comic strips, novellas, a stage play...you get the picture, don't you, that this is a huge franchise which has extended for most of the twentieth century.
Until I started watching Return of The Saint I would have told you that the film adaptations were The Saint for me. This loyalty then transferred to Return of The Saint and has now moved to the colour 1960s TV show. This long preamble is simply to get to the point where I can think why.
For a start, what is Simon Templar? I don’t mean 'who', I'm trying to place him in the society of the time. I feel the 1970s series basically fails by depicting him as one of the European playboys of the time. My feeling is that that crowd were usually too well-connected for one of their number to live the kind of renegade life Templar does. While he does have various associates, being a maverick tends to militate against stable family life. I am particularly interested in the parallels with Robin Hood, and in fact Templar is frequently seen as a criminal.
As to whether he's a gentleman, I would have to say probably not! To use an Avengers parallel, he reminds me much more of Steed in the early series, than respectable later Steed. I also feel that Templar has changed slightly between the black and white and colour series (this is obviously only my own feeling). I feel in the monochrome series he has much more the feeling of an adventurer. If he reminds me of anyone, it would be the sort of people who went to the dying remnants of our colonies and treated it as an adventure: these were usually people who had been unable to settle in a more normal way of life. In the Hollywood movies (I've only seen a couple, and a long time ago, I feel he comes across as too respectable for his maverick character.
Conversely the colour 1960s series feels different and Templar himself feels more business-like. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be Danger Man, and it is only now I commit that thought to writing it strikes me that perhaps John Drake was a similar, possibly dodgy character to Templar. When I wrote about him before I was always aware that his job was literally dangerous in the sense that if he ever got into trouble his employers would deny all knowledge. I do wonder whether Templar's position is better than Drake's, because while Drake may have a pension plan, we have seen that getting to that point requires unquestioning obedience.
So perhaps the Saint gets a better deal in some ways (and worse in others) than a renegade with a contract. Ironically society’s attempts to contain men like Templar are only like what I am trying to do to him in this post – pigeonhole him. Perhaps the reason the various depictions of him differ is precisely that his whole nature can’t easily be grasped. But for my money (and let it be understood that this view is open to revision at short notice) the 1960s colour series is the best. Because...well, if I'm honest, because that is the Templar I would most like to be myself, and that’s part of the magic of television.
For the record the set I have is the Network DVD colour box set. I see that its 14 discs contain all 47 episodes and various film versions and lashings of extras, running to 2550 minutes. The set seems to retail around £35 – although mine was less because I bought it at market prices and it's missing the cardboard sleeve which would go around the boxes containing the discs which are boxed in twos. While I had been assuming that the black and white episodes were series one and the colour ones series 2, now that I have visited the Network DVD site I see that the colour episodes were series 3 and 4. No wonder Roger Moore got typecast as a gentleman adventurer!