The Saint Overboard by Leslie Charteris, adapted by Neville Teller and Roger Danes

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The Saint Overboard by Leslie Charteris, dramatized by Neville Teller and Roger Danes (1995). Dir. Matthew Walters. Perf. Paul Rhys, Geoffrey Whitehead, Kim Thomson. BBC Radio 4 Extra 24-26 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 28 Mar. 2015.

For listeners of a certain age, The Saint is invariably identified with a debonair Roger Moore roaming the streets of Britain and Europe in a trademark white sports car, righting wrongs and throwing off his dialogue with the kind of insouciance that would later be used in the actor's Bond roles. For other listeners, perhaps more acquainted with the ins and outs of television history, "The Saint" will be fondly remembered in Ian Ogilvy's performance in the Seventies reboot, full of long hair and flared trousers. Film buffs would perhaps identify George Sanders (the epitome of Forties cool) or Hugh Sinclair with the role.

In this triple-bill of rip-roaring adaptations, director Matthew Walters situated the action in its original setting of the late Thirties and early Forties. Simon Templar (Paul Rhys) aided and abetted by his female companions (Patsy Kensit, Kim Thomson) foiled a series of complicated plots that could potentially destroy the world; in "The Saint Plays with Fire," for instance, a group of French fascists were conspiring to kill the President and install a puppet regime similar to that of Hitler's Germany. This decision was a good one: we understood how Templar functioned as a symbol of British patriotism and fair play at a time when such values were seriously under threat. Charteris's books were certainly escapist, but they were inspired by the political realities of that time. To give the adaptations a period feel, Walters introduced a series of Thirties and Forties recordings to link each sequence; they included songs such as "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Runnin' Wild," and "Has Anybody Seen my Gal," performed by stars of the time such as Jack Buchanan.

Stylistically speaking, Charteris's books lend themselves readily to radio adaptation. The plots move along at a great lick, with plenty of action and incident interspersed with Templar's wry comments on the action. The sound-effects personnel had great fun in these revivals with their recreation of a series of bare-knuckle fights, gunshots, screams of pain and hand-to-hand combat. The books also contain some lip-smackingly evil villains: Geoffrey Whitehead played all of them, using a variety of mittel-European accents. By contrast Rhys played Templar as an upstanding personality, using an accent redolent of the Forties in which "a" sounds were invariably pronounced as "e" (as in "beck" rather than "back" in the phrase "back door").

The adaptations might have been tongue-in-cheek, but there was a serious point to them. They evoked an unstable world in which friends were often indistinguishable from enemies. Hence the value of someone like Templar to the world; although he frequently worked against, rather than collaborating with the police force, his motives remained pure throughout.

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