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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Returning to London with The Saint

Saint or Stooge?  Templar or traveler?
Adventurer or Ad-libber?
Wise, or merely weary (and jet-lagged)?
You decide.

In The Saint episode “The Paper Chase,” Simon Templar walks across Westminster Bridge.  Against a dull, gray sky, Westminster Palace, also known as the Houses of Parliament, rises in the distance.  As he walks down the steps to the Victoria Embankment, we hear him intone: “London, Five a.m., Westminster.  The Embankment, a boulevard or a bedroom, depending on how Fate dealt its hand.  For those of us who are not asleep it is a time to love, pray, hate, argue, cheat, sometimes even kill.”  He walks past a man sleeping on a park bench, covered in newspapers, and pauses to stare out upon the Thames.  Already, boats ply the dark waters.  Nearby, two men argue.  Although he does not yet know it, he will soon become embroiled with those two men, when a member of British Intelligence begs him to travel to Germany to secure information one of them carries.

The Saint came before my time.  Growing up in America, I did not notice all the books written by Leslie Charteris in my library.  I did not watch reruns on the TV.  If the comic strips made their way to American newspapers, I did not notice.  When the movie version of “The Saint,” starring Val Kilmer, appeared in theaters in 1997, I knew nothing of the character’s rich fictional heritage.

Discovering this old TV series has been a joy.  Everyday, Family Network plays an episode.  Some were shot in Black and White, some in Color.  Much of the scenery grows familiar after awhile, as studio interiors and exteriors are redressed to match the current story.  Many of the same actors reappear, playing different characters.  Only the Saint remains unique, mysterious.  What is he?  Who is he?  Why do the authorities constantly suspect him of wrongdoing, yet rely on his assistance in bringing criminals to justice?  How does he manage to live such a lavish lifestyle, have so many friends, and drop anything on a moment’s notice for a person in need?  Played by Roger Moore, who would later take over the role of James Bond, Simon Templar seems a better man than the more famous secret agent.  Watching him as The Saint, I understand why I liked Roger Moore so well as Bond.  Perhaps some of the Saint rubbed off on him.  Roger Moore was certainly aware of how young people idolized Bond, and always fought to soften the rough edges of Ian Fleming's hero.  Unlike Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig, his James Bond never gloated when vanquishing an enemy.  He never smiled while others died.

The British call these dolphins.
Don't ask me why.

“The Paper Chase” comes as something of a surprise.  Although it would return to some of those familiar sets, the episode offers us a few new production locations.  Simon Templar boards a train, and like James Bond, soon engages in a fight-to-the-death as he travels to Germany.  But my favorite moment of all is the beginning, when he steps off Westminster Bridge and onto the Victoria Embankment.  For I have been there too.  At the time, my thoughts might have been on Doctor Who and Monty Python, but I walked those same steps, passed those same light posts, and watched the boats traveling the same river.  When next I return to England, and visit London, I shall return to that place so immortalized by the TV shows I love.  I may not be dressed in a tuxedo, and I may not be drafted by British Intelligence for an important mission, but my visit there will still be rich with meaning. 

Perhaps this time I’ll even ride the London Eye, the famous ferris wheel erected to celebrate the Millennium.  That’s probably the only thing Simon Templar couldn’t have done back in 1960s London.  But only because it did not then exist.

Dragon Dave

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