Crime thriller characters fall in and out of fashion. Simon Templar, aka The Saint, was a hero whose exploits were incredibly popular for 60 years. Here are ten facts about a character who is long overdue a comeback…
1/ These days Simon Templar is more familiar for his TV incarnations — Roger Moore being the most-obvious — but Leslie Charteris’s creation appeared in no less than 50 books, beginning in 1928 and continuing until 1983.
Templar was kind of a missing-link between the heroes of the 19th and 20th Centuries – part gentleman thief, part superspy, a kind of modern-day Robin Hood figure. As his surname suggests, he was on a crusade against injustice. But this lone-wolf was flexible. In some of the post-war novels written by Charteris there’s a suggestion he works with the American government. He also often indulged, like his near-contemporary 007, in a spot of assassination.
2/ The author Leslie Charteris was actually born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin in Singapore, and apparently changed his name to Charteris by picking it out of a telephone directory.
3/ He wrote his first Saint book when he was only 21. Called Meet The Tiger, it was a success when it was published, and inspired Charteris to turn the character into a series. But Charteris never liked it and often referred to the second book in the series, Enter The Saint, as real beginning of the series.
As well as the official 50 or so English-language books, there are a further forty or so Saint books that were published in French, and never translated into English.
4/ The Sign of the Saint, that iconic little stick figure with the halo over his head, appears in virtually every novel as Templar’s calling card, and was apparently designed by Charteris himself – when he was nine.
5/ The Saint In New York is considered the most-popular of the Templar novels. It marks the point where The Saint started using his passport with gusto, going global with his adventures. It also marked the point when the character took off in the US, branching out into film and radio.
6/ In the early books Templar had a girlfriend Patricia Holm who drifted in and
out of his stories, despite Templar’s weakness for the many lovely ladies who came his way. Holm conveniently disappeared after a while, and Charteris later suggested it was because she was pregnant.
There are also a number of recurring characters in The Saint books who helped or hindered him in his crusade against crime, such as Claude Eustace Teal and Rayt Marius. In the early stories Templar – the source of his wealth remained a mystery – had a man servant called Orace.
7/ In The Saint books, Templar drove a terrific car called an Hirondel, an eight-cylinder red and cream sedan which weighed in at 5,000lbs. The problem for film producers was that the Hirondel make was completely fictional. This mightily masculine car perhaps compensated up for one of the aliases Templar sometimes used — Sugarman Treacle.
8/ After 1963 Charteris began to put his name to books actually written by other authors, but overseen by him. The final book in the series Salvage For The Saint was published in 1983, and the character didn’t appear in print again until 1997.
9/ The Saint occasionally featured science-fiction elements. Bond had his SMERSH and his SPECTRE and Templar had, in one book, SWORD – or the Secret World Organisation For Retribution and Destruction. This evil organisation – which could perhaps use a touch of rebranding if it wants to remain secret – appeared in 1968’s The Saint And The Fiction Makers.
10/ Templar has been played by Moore, Ian Ogilvy, George Saunders, Vincent Price, Val Kilmer and many others, but has fallen off the radar where film and television is concerned. There have been numerous attempts to resurrect the character. But a pilot for a new series may actually have been made. Adam Rayner plays Templar, and for the first time the show features other characters from the books, including Patricia Holm, played by Eliza Dushka, her off Buffy.