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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00b9k9p
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.