BBC Radio 4, 18-22 December 2012
My memories of Modesty Blaise date back to the early Eighties,
when the old London Evening News stopped publishing, and my father started to buy the Evening Standard instead.
Peter O'Donnell's strip-cartoons featured scantily-clad young women - of which Modesty was a prime example - some dastardly
villains and a great deal of intricate plotting. Modesty Blaise was also filmed in 1966 in a deliberately fragmented
style (director Joseph Losey was obviously under the impression that this kind of approach was suitable for the so-called
'Swinging Sixties'), but Monica Vitti was never my idea of Modesty; she resembled rather an ersatz Sophia Loren without the
Kate McAll's 15-Minute Drama version conjured up a world
of heroes and villains, fast cars and rapid changes of location. Aurally speaking, it was very reminiscent
of Radio 4's sequence of George Smiley adaptations, broadast during 2011 - even though the tone remained relentlessly
light-hearted. Although our heroine (Daphne Alexander) was faced with an apparently endless sequence of hair-raising
situations, we knew that she would emerge unscathed; and unlike Smiley, she retained a basic faith in
her deductive and physical abilities. She might have been a sex symbol, but she was also resourceful.
Modesty surrounded herself with a gallery of eccentrics, ranging from the aristocratic
Sir Gerald (Alun Armstront), to the low-life Steve Collier (Geoffrey Streatfeild), whose role - as sidekick, amanuensis and
general factotum - bore strong resemblances to that of Snowy in Dick Barton. Ranged against her were a positive
gallery of hissable villains: as Simon Delicata, Sam Dale thoroughly enjoyed himself. The story zipped along at
breakneck speed, interspersed with suitably manic music (no credits were provided, alas).
As a fan of spy/ detective thrillers, especially those with the stylistic tongue
firmly planted in the cheek (Paul Temple is another good example), I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Hopefully
this will be the first of many glimpses of Modesty.