Invisible Ink: No 106 - Leslie Charteris
Sunday 15 January 2012
The creator of the quintessentially English stiff-upper-lipped hero, The Saint, was half-Chinese, born in Singapore in 1907.
His experiences working on a rubber plantation, in a tin mine, as a gold prospector, fairground carnie, bus driver, pearl fisher, bartender and professional bridge player gave him experiences he later used.
Changing his name from Bowyer-Yin to Charteris (chosen from a phone book), he introduced The Saint in his third novel, Meet – the Tiger! when he was 20, and went on to write nearly a hundred Saint adventures.
The Saint was Simon Templar, an unknown entity with no family or home who uses the names of Catholic saints as his false identities. Handsome and debonair, he is the world's greatest thief, but uses his powers against despots and villains. Nevertheless, the police are forever trying to put him behind bars. He leaves a calling card at the scenes of his crimes, comprising a stick figure with a halo. In the early books he battled white slavers, arms dealers and Nazis. Charteris also wrote the scripts for the globally syndicated Saint comic strips. On radio, Vincent Price played the character between 1947 and 1951.
Driven to succeed and make a name for himself, Charteris became one of the earliest members of Mensa, and invented a pictorial sign language called Paleneo. Travelling to Hollywood, he turned his hand to screenwriting and produced scripts for films such as Deanna Durbin's Lady on a Train (1945) and George Raft's Midnight Club (1933). However, he was excluded from permanent residency in the US because the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited immigration for people of "50 per cent or greater" Oriental blood.
Despite founding his own fan club for the Saint books, Charteris did grow tired of writing the stories and handed them over to the sci-fi writer Harry Harrison, editing a number of further volumes. If the Saint is remembered now, it's mainly for the TV series featuring frozen-faced Roger Moore (who occasionally broke the fourth wall to address viewers), and later The Return of the Saint starring Ian Ogilvy. The iconic theme music that was used on TV actually began in the 1930s in the RKO Saint films. Val Kilmer's portrayal in Phillip Noyce's 1997 film diverged from the books and was a flop.
It's a credit to the author's skills that a character who was little more than a cipher could become so frequently adapted. Perhaps, though, the time for adventurers has passed, as few of the books are now in print.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
- 4 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 5 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action