The Saint – The Bunco Artists

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After the elderly Sophie Yarmouth (Mary Merrall) is cheated by two confidence tricksters, Simon – along with Mrs Yarmouth’s daughter Jean (Justine Lord) – decides to turn the tables and play the tricksters at their own game ….

We open in London’s glittering West End.  The scene-setting stock footage tells us that Phyllis Calvert, Marius Goring and Elizabeth Sheppard are playing in Menage A Trois whilst next door David Tomlinson is appearing in Boeing Boeing.

Simon is cooling his heels by the stage door, waiting for Jean to appear.  She’s delayed, which allows the Stage Door Keeper (played by Meadows White) to wax lyrical (“all the world’s a stage”, etc).  He also has one of the most arch deliveries of “why, you’re the famous Simon Templar” seen in the series to date.

She’s worth waiting for though (Justine Lord is a vision in white).  Jean’s a not terribly successful actress, but she’s hopeful that her big break is just around the corner.  I love her breathless précis of the exciting new role she’s hoping to snag.  “I go insane in act two, I yell and scream and carry on. And then in the end I put three bullets in my husband’s heart”.

But whilst Simon is squiring Jean around town, what of her mother?  She lives in a picturesque English village and is a big wheel at the Netherdon Parish Church.  She’s approached by a pleasant young American woman, Amelia Wade (Louise King), who tells her that the church is in line to receive a handsome donation from a mysterious American foundation (which would allow them to meet their restoration target).

This seems too good to be true – and alarm bells really start to ring when Amelia tells Sophie that she actually needs to see the money they’ve collected so far for the church restoration (records and receipts aren’t acceptable – only sight of the actual cash will do).  Of course, we’ve already got a good idea about what might happen, since Simon’s primed us in the pre-credits sequence about con artists.

But it seems as if Simon won’t be needed as Mr Henderson (Peter Dyneley), from the International Detective Agency in New York turns up, hot on Amelia’s heels.  Hurrah!  Along with the local copper, Charlie Lewis (Victor Platt), they ask Sophie to play along – if they can catch Amelia in the act, actually attempting to steal the cash, then she’ll be bang to rights.  But of course, Henderson isn’t what he seems either (he and Amelia – or Joyce, as she’s really called – are husband and wife confidence tricksters) so poor Sophie finds herself conned, good and proper.

The con is done very neatly – it’s not quite Hustle, but it’s still an effective set piece.  What’s especially entertaining is how Henderson explains to a rapt Charlie and Sophie exactly how “Amelia” carried out the switch (a case with a false bottom) only for him to then pull the same trick.  Dyneley and King make for an effective double act.  This was Dyneley’s second of three Saint appearances (it’s certainly a better role than his first, The Careful Terrorist).  American-born King made a string of appearances in British series during this period (her final credit was in 1964).  Her character is allowed a little twinge of conscience – after all, conning an old lady out of six thousand pounds (what will happen to the church roof now?) is a bit mean.

It doesn’t take Simon too long to work out that they’re actually called Mr and Mrs Richard Eade and have made their way to the South of France.  They can’t be terribly good criminals if they leave such an obvious trail ….

So the Saint and Jean set off for France and after the usual orgy of stock footage, Simon adopts the role of a friendly Texan and impresses Eade by flashing his cash about.  I’ve commented before about Moore’s interesting range of accents, and this is another good example.  Although as before, I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be deliberately bad or not.  What’s certain is that Moore’s comic timing is put to good effect during these scenes (I like his bootlace tie as well).  But Simon’s not the only one with a silly accent as Jean’s gone all French.  Like Moore, Lord plays the comic scenes well.

There’s some familiar faces lurking about in the background. André Maranne makes his second and final Saint appearance. It’s not a terribly interesting role (hotel barman) but he does get a few lines.  John Standing plays a Gendarme whilst an uncredited Ingrid Pitt can be seen lounging by the hotel pool.

Charteris’ original tale appeared in the short-story collection, Thanks to the Saint (1957).  A fair bit of retooling went on during the first half of the adaptation (in the short story, Mrs Yarmouth believed she was handing over the money in order to make her nephew a film star) but the second half (Simon turns the tables with a sting revolving around a valueless necklace) was pretty much the same.

This change of emphasis – from film stardom to church welfare – allows Simon to make an amusingly impassioned speech after he and the Gendarme (Standing) run the crooks to ground.  “All over Netherdon parish, old people, widows, children, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, ordinary people, contributed their pennies and their shillings to the Netherdon Church restoration fund and these parasites stole it”.  Standing gets to react in a suitably shocked manner (“oh no”).

A lovely comic episode where everyone’s on fine form.  Roger Moore, of course, was made for this sort of role whilst Justine Lord is also very watchable.  Hard to see how this one could have been any better – five halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Careful Terrorist

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The Saint’s in New York.  He bumps into an old friend, Lester Boyd (Gary Cockrell), who later launches a blistering television attack against Nat Grendell (Peter Dyneley).  Lester accuses union big-wig Grendell of numerous counts of corruption and promises to lay all the facts before the audience during his next broadcast.  But before he can do this, Lester is killed in a bomb attack.  Simon, convinced that Grendell was responsible, vows to pick up where Lester left off.

It’s a shame that Lester didn’t pre-record his programme, that would have saved everybody a great deal of trouble ….

The Saint seems to be resident in New York (or at the least, has his own apartment).  He’s not alone though, as he has the assistance of Hoppy (Percy Herbert).  Hoppy Uniatiz popped up a fair few times during Charteris’ original stories, but like most of the book regulars (apart from Inspector Teal) he didn’t become a fixture throughout the series.  A slight pity, but it’s possible that Hoppy’s dumbness might have become grating over time.  Having said that, I do like Hoppy’s delight that Simon, following in the footsteps of Lester, might become a television star.  “Another Jack Benny. Another Bob Hope. Another Mr Jelly Wobbly. Hey, he’s a big old fat guy who does a kid’s show”!

Although Simon begins by declaring that Lester is wrong to believe that the pen is always mightier than the sword, since the police are convinced that he’s going to extract violent revenge against Grendell, the Saint is forced to try and defeat his nemesis without any overt display of force.  Grendell is under no such restrictions though and elects to use a loose cannon called Herman Uberlasch (David Kossoff) to finish off Simon.

Grendell may be depicted as a union boss, but this is never a factor in the story (he could just as easily be a politician or a businessman).  Peter Dyneley’s pretty solid, although his entourage offers slightly more vivid character pickings.  Dorinda Stevens is good value as the brassy Verna, his sharp-tonged moll, whilst David Kossoff is ever so slightly deranged as the bomber.  Grendell and Uberlasch are clearly men of limited imaginations since they decide to blow up Lester with a bomb and later elect to dispose of Simon with …. wait for it, two bombs!

If the story is rather slight, then Roger Moore is once again working overtime to make bricks out of straw.  Simon’s confrontation with Grendell sparkles, thanks to the Saint’s passionate oratory.   “You are a parasite and an extortionist.  You’ve had dozens of men beaten up by your hired thugs, just because they attempted to vote you out and get a decent, honest union boss in your place”.  I also love the way he insouciantly blows smoke into Grendell’s face!

Sally Bazely has a small, but key, role as Lester’s girlfriend, Jenny Hallam.  She elects to deal with Grendell in her own way – taking a potshot at him – but of course she’s unsuccessful (had her aim been better then the story would have ended somewhat prematurely).  As it is, Simon’s able to deal with Grendell quite neatly – as he later tells Sally, the man was hoist with his own petard.

Maybe the most memorable part of The Careful Terrorist is Simon’s closing television announcement.  He uses it to reassure the public that Grendell was an isolated rotten apple, stating that all the other union bosses up and down the country are fine upstanding men who are only interested in furthering the interests of their members.  This was obviously slotted in by an anxious production team, worried that the American viewing public might be upset by the episode-long attack on the probity of their public servants (today, people wouldn’t probably bat an eyelid at revelations of corruption).

This clumsy ending is a slight problem (and the rest of the story isn’t terribly compelling either) but with Roger Moore pulling out all the stops, I’m happy to add an extra half point to this one – leaving The Careful Terrorist with a respectable three and a half halos out of five.

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Ivanhoe – Simply Media DVD Review

The year is 1194.  Sir William of Ivanhoe (Eric Flynn) has returned home to England following the disastrous Third Crusade in Palestine.  Ivanhoe’s father, Cedric (Peter Dyneley), one of the few remaining Saxon nobles in an England now dominated by the Normans, has broken off relations with his son due to Ivanhoe’s support for King Richard.

The young Ivanhoe doesn’t seem too disheartened by this familial disapproval though, as he has scores to settle – most notably with Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert (Anthony Bate), a member of the Knights Templar.  They will not only clash on the tournament field but also off it and two desirable young women – the Lady Rowena (Clare Jenkins) and Rebecca (Vivian Brooks) – will both have parts to play in their bitter feud.

Meanwhile, King Richard and Prince John find themselves locked in a grim battle for control of the English throne ….

Published in 1820 across three volumes, Ivanhoe – A Romance has proven to be one of Sir Walter Scott’s most enduring works.  Its mixture of Medieval derring-do and romance is an intoxicating one, with numerous film and television adaptations serving as a testament to the timelessness of the story.

Possibly one of the most notable things about Ivanhoe is how Scott’s novel helped to solidify the modern myth of Robin Hood.  Robin (referred to as Locksley for most of the serial) appears throughout and his characterisation here – a freedom fighter first, an outlaw second – chimes with how we view Robin today (the Robin Hood of the earlier ballads was a much less likeable and noble chap).

Scott wasn’t the first writer to set the struggles of Robin Hood during the reign of Richard I, but this story undeniably helped to create the template which many in the future would emulate.  Certain aspects of the Robin Hood myth are established here – most notably the way that Robin splits the arrow of his challenger during a test of skill.  It’s also interesting how subsequent writers took aspects of Ivanhoe’s character – his return to England from the Crusades, for example – and grafted them onto Robin.

The opening episode wastes no time in creating a sense of place and time. With the rightful King of England, Richard, believed to be languishing in a foreign jail, his brother John sees an opportunity to sieze power. The downtrodden Saxons find themselves suffering under the rule of the Normans, whilst Sir Brian casts a baleful shadow over proceedings.

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Anthony Bate

Right from his first appearance, Anthony Bate impresses as Sir Brian. Although Bate tended to play establishment types and professional men, he throws himself into this role – a black-hearted villain, albeit one with his own code of honour – with gusto.  Eric Flynn, as Ivanhoe, is perfectly cast as the square-jawed hero. Whilst it’s true that Bate, as befits a baddy, has the more interesting role to play, Flynn has a boyish charm which suits the character.

Ivanhoe’s first acknowledged appearance is held back until the end of the opening instalment (although it’s rather obvious that the mysterious hooded pilgrim who makes several enigmatic comments throughout the episode is Ivanhoe). That he and Sir Brian (bitter rivals from the Holy Land) happen to run into each other at the castle of Ivanhoe’s estranged father is something of a coincidence ….

Clare Jenkins, as Rowena, makes for a very appealing herione (coincidentally she and Flynn had appeared together a few years earlier in the Doctor Who story The Wheel In Space). Rowena and Ivanhoe are in love but he has a challenger for Rowena’s affections, the arrogant de Bracy (David Brizley), a Norman lord.

Rebecca (Vivian Brooks), daughter of the despised Jewish moneylender Isaac of York (John Franklyn-Robbins), is somewhat taken with Ivanhoe (she nurses him back to health after Sir Brian gains the upper hand during Prince John’s tourney) but she’s doomed to be unsuccessful as Ivanhoe only has eyes for Rowena.  Sir Brian later attempts to woo Rebecca, but she shuns his advances.

Ivanhoe was Vivian Brooks’ third and final television job (following appearances in Thirty Minute Theatre and Z Cars).  It’s a slight mystery why she didn’t go on to have a longer career as she’s really rather good here, especially when she and Bate cross verbal swords. Brooks may have been very inexperienced compared to Bate, but she more than holds her own during the scenes where Sir Brian and Rebecca warily circle each other.  Vivian Brooks certainly has the meatier of the two main female roles (Clare Jenkins’ Rowena doesn’t have a great deal to do except pine for Ivanhoe).

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Although Vivian Brooks only racked up a handful of credits, most of the other main roles were filled by very familiar faces.  That Ivanhoe was directed by David Maloney should be fairly obvious by taking a quick glance at the cast list.  The likes of Graham Weston, John Franklyn-Robbins, Tim Preece, Michael Napier Brown, Bernard Horsfall, Noel Coleman and Hugh Walters had already appeared or would later appear in other productions directed by Maloney.  David Maloney, like many other directors, tended to use a “rep” of actors – dependable people he knew would deliver the performances required.

The strength in depth of the cast is one of the reasons why this serial works as well as it does.  Tim Preece entertains as the capacious and vain Prince John, Hugh Walters is pleasingly off-kilter as Cedric’s fool Wamba, Bernard Horsfall is suitably imposing as the Black Knight, John Franklyn-Robbins impresses as the persecuted Isaac and Noel Coleman is characterically strong as Fitzsurse, one of John’s advisors.  Clive Graham, as Locksley, also offers a vivid performance and it’s always a pleasure to see Michael Craze, here as one of Lockley’s men (Thomas).

Graham Weston, clearly one of David Maloney’s favourite actors (apart from Ivanhoe, Maloney cast him in two Doctor Who stories – The War Games and Planet of Evil), gets a chance to display his skills with a quarterstaff when his character – Ivanhoe’s loyal servant, Gurth – tangles with the outlaws. It’s not a badly directed sequence, although like all fight scenes taped in the studio it pretty much had to be done in a single take (had it been shot on film then it could have been edited much more tightly).

Graham Weston

With Ivanhoe injured and insensible during the middle part of the serial, other characters move to the forefront of the action. Bernard Horsfall’s mysterious Black Knight (a vision in blond wig and beard) has an entertaining tustle with Barry Linehan’s disolute Friar. The Friar, living the life of a hermit deep within the forest, may claim to exist on a diet of peas and water but the truth is rather different!

When Ivanhoe, Cedric, Isaac, Rebecca and Rowena are captured by a group of Norman knights led by Sir Brian, they find themselves the prisoners of Godfrey Front de Boeuf (Francis de Wolff). Godfrey has usurped Ivanhoe’s lands and now seeks his death in order to secure his position. de Wolff cackles with evil intent (like Peter Dyneley he’s somewhat of a stranger to subtlety).

Rebecca is later denounced as a witch by the leader of the Templars – angered by Sir Brian’s infatuation with her – and is sentenced to death. She claims the right of trial by combat and nominates Ivanhoe to be her champion. And with Sir Brian in the opposite corner it seems that the final reckoning between them is now at hand ….

Although the Classic Serials had just moved into colour, this ten part adaptation (broadcast during January, February and March 1970) maintained the same production model from the black and white days.  Therefore the bulk of each episode was recorded on videotape in the studio, with film inserts used to open out the narrative.  Whilst this means that it isn’t as glossy or filmic as some of the later television versions, the quality of the performances are more than adequate compensation for the occasional production shortcomings (such as the unconvincing beards and the way some battles largely take place off screen).

Although some of the turns are rather on the ripe side (there are times when it’s impossible not to be reminded of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) there are subtler pleasures to be found elsewhere – Anthony Bate, for example, is excellent throughout. Overall, this is a strong and faithful adaptation of a sprawling epic and certainly deserves a place in your collection.

Ivanhoe is released by Simply Media on the 18th of September 2017.  The RRP is £19.99 and it can be ordered directly from Simply here.

Eric Flynn