Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Saint Smashes Communist Menace!


I didn't watch the hugely successful TV series of The Saint, which all my contemporaries loved, aetat 5, (I hope I wasn't even then an intellectual snob) but I read one of or two of the books in my teens - they have a charm. How exotic Leslie Charles made Biarritz and Madrid sound, but they sounded utterly exotic anyway to me, who had never visited anywhere more interesting than the Low Countries and the Rhineland with my Mum and Dad. 
File:Leslie Charteris.jpg
Leslie Bowyer-Yin

Leslie Charteris was the pen-name of Leslie Bowyer-Yin, who was a half-white, half-Chinese boy from Singapore. He left King's after his first year, after selling his first book, which seems to me rather stylish. In his way, he was a great Cambridge man. How different a Kingsman from E.M. Forster or Salman Rushdie, but almost as good a writer as those two.

His death passed unremarked by most of the press but The Washington Post published an obituary which said:

Mr. Charteris shared many characteristics with his creation - both were rich, tall and handsome and lived a champagne lifestyle. 
While Templar, a sort of modern Robin Hood in a tuxedo, socked jaws, threw knives and sorted out the bad guys, his creator wrote books that made him into one of the most popular mystery novelists of modern times.

Like Raffles and Arsene Lupin, Simon Templar, 'The Saint', was a post-modern, a thief who was a hero. This was the beginning of the nihilistic age in which we now find ourselves bivouac-ed.

I can think of several English male friends for whom The Saint and James Bond were and are role models, though as far as I know they do not purloin jewels. They drive fast cars and chase young girlfriends. Eastern Europe, which still has not 'received' feminism, is a good stamping ground for them. I remember David Short, the publisher, saying that when he was a boy he thought that when he grew up life would be like The Saint, with girls dancing in cages in nightclubs but when he did grow up he found that feminism had happened and it wasn't like that. But in Eastern Europe, he said with gratitude, feminism had not happened and it was just like living in The Saint. I suppose he was right. 

Perhaps I should throw away my distaste for materialism and develop a champagne lifestyle, at least on occasion, but Simon Templar and James Bond were not my heroes. Steed was my childhood hero and Richard Hannay was another, but my greatest role model was Lord Macaulay, writing his letters in Albany or in his club. Scripts are written for us when we are very young and we follow them.


  1. See? The Saint could have shot that traitor with his gun but he didn't, he just pistol-whipped him. Why? Because the Saint believes in representative democracy and a pluralistic economy!

  2. I didn't know Leslie Charteris was a Kingsman, up to a point. Glad you are finding time to read Gibbon - I never have, nor Macaulay. Do you know A History of Histories by John Burrow? Lots of gobbets, and I enjoyed it very much. It made me aware that I wouldn't want to tackle Thomas Carlyle, who seemed practically unreadable. A.

  3. I finally read Carlyle in the mid 90s - he is good. I loved Macaulay so much when I discovered him aged 12 or so - I wanted to go to Oxford because you had to study Gibbon and Macaulay in yr first term but chose Cambridge because of the Tripos. I suspected twenty years before I read him that that Carlyle's jerky prose made him the English equivalent of Tacitus whom I also (shamefully) haven't read - in Latin or in English.