Return of the Saint – The Diplomat’s Daughter

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When Simon observes a beautiful young woman, Marie de la Garde (Lynn Dalby), in distress he has to intervene.  She tells him that her brother, Pierre (Murray Head), has fallen into bad company and that they are forcing him to courier drugs to England (his father is the French ambassador and has diplomatic immunity, which is the reason why Pierre is so useful to them).

The opening seems to be a direct crib from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  We see Simon driving down a deserted road, minding his own business, when he’s overtaken at high speed by an attractive young woman in a red sports car.

Marie’s been marked for death by the villainous Shriber (Karl Held) because she offered to pay Pierre’s gambling debts (Shriber, of course, knows that Pierre is much more useful to them as a drugs mule).

Unlike many of the foreign episodes, this one features British actors putting on accents of varying credibility (although there’s a later twist with this).  Lynn Dalby, best known as the long-suffering partner of Budgie Bird in Budgie, is appealing as Marie (who is a more complex character than she first appears to be) whilst Murray (One Night In Bangkok) Head has the more thankless role of Pierre.

Michael Pertwee’s script is well tailored to Ian Ogilvy’s talents.  Simon seems to have a little more spark and verbal byplay in this one (referring to the villains as the “ungodly” brings to mind the literary Saint).  It would have been nice if all the episodes had featured a similar level of characterisation – rather too often Ogilvy wasn’t called upon to be anything more than a conventional leading man.  His comic timing is used to good effect here though.

The twist in the tail – Marie isn’t Pierre’s brother (they’re boyfriend and girlfriend) and is keen to acquire the drugs herself – poses more questions than it answers.  The whole plan seems to have been organised in order to smuggle the drugs in Simon’s car – but that makes very little sense.  Were the attempts Shriber made on Marie’s life simply mocked up for Simon’s benefit?  If so, it seems an incredibly over-elaborate scheme.  The slightly strange scripting means that The Diplomat’s Daughter rates three halos out of five.

Had ROTS returned for a second series, according to Ian Ogilvy it would have been much more of a British-based series.  That would have been interesting and if the scripting had been a little tighter then it could well have become a classic.  At it was, ROTS was probably made at the wrong time, being the last of the ITC adventure series meant it seemed a little out of place in the late 1970’s (when harder-edged fare such as The Sweeney and The Professionals were on offer).  But overall it’s a very solid series – helmed by experienced hands, both in front of and behind the camera.

It may be predictable at times, but as Ogilvy once said it was simply an adventure series and designed to entertain.  Which it certainly does, making it a pleasure to revisit.

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