Return of the Saint – The Judas Game

judas

When I was a child, I was always disappointed that the animated stick-figure who appeared in the opening credits wasn’t the one who had the adventures (Ian Ogilvy was obviously a rather poor substitute!)  Time is a great healer though and I’m now reconciled to the fact that Ogilvy is the star of the show, rather than the stick-man.

ROTS was the last gasp for the ITC adventure series.  It follows their other 1970’s shows such as The Persuaders! and The Zoo Gang in having the luxury of foreign location shooting (something their 1960’s counterparts had to do without) and it’s easily the strongest series in this genre since The Persuaders!  Although it’s rather variable in quality (like many of the ITC series) at best it’s a cracking little show that’s still very enjoyable today.  I’m going to take a look at the early episodes and blog a brief, capsule review of each – as well as awarding them a mark out of five.

Simon Templar’s holiday in Italy is brought to an abrupt end, courtesy of MI6.  Led by Dame Edith (Mona Bruce), they want Simon to undertake a dangerous rescue mission.  They seem sure he’ll agree, since the kidnapped woman is an old flame of Simon’s – Sarah Morell (Judy Geeson).

Sarah has been kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries who wish to use her knowledge of counter-intelligence to train their terrorists to operate even more effectively.  Simon reluctantly agrees and with the aid of Vlora (Olga Karlatos) manage to infiltrate the heavily guarded fortress.  But a surprise awaits the Saint …..

The Judas Game has a slightly stodgy opening.  Rather obvious dubbing (a trait of many ITC series) is a little distracting in the early scenes (it’s very obvious with Mona Bruce, for example).  But once Simon snorkels his way to the island, things pick up – especially when he runs into the lovely Vlora.  Whist Judy Geeson might be the nominal female lead, Olga Karlatos has more screen time and she and Ian Ogilvy make a very effective team.  She’s remarkably easy on the eye too, especially when dressed in uniform!

Olga Karlatos
Olga Karlatos

If bad dubbing is always an intermittent problem with ITC series, then day-for-night filming is the other regular irritant.  It’s bizarre that even a series like ROTS, which enjoyed extensive overseas shooting, couldn’t afford to film at night.  Instead, a filter is placed over the camera to give the impression that it’s night-time, although the blazing sky is a dead-giveaway.  Alas, this rather saps the tension out of Simon and Vlora’s escape from the beach.

Happily, they infiltrate the fortress during the day-time and Simon is easily able to rescue Sarah.  Suspension of disbelief is required here – as he single-handedly has to make his way past numerous guards and then has to carry the unconscious Sarah back to Vlora and the van.  Why is Sarah unconscious?  When they meet, she tells him that she wasn’t kidnapped – she defected.

At this point, there’s an interesting edit.  We cut away from them and what appears to be a punch is heard.  When we cut back, Sarah is unconscious and the clear inference is that Simon’s knocked her out.  It’s a slightly clumsy edit, so it might be that after the scene was shot it was felt it wasn’t a good idea to show Simon hitting a woman (even though it’s obvious what’s happened).  I also love the way they make their escape, with Simon blowing up the fortress gate with a rocket launcher!  It’s pure James Bond.

Sarah and Vlora don’t get on, mainly because Vlora regards her as a traitor and wants to shoot her.  When the guards catch up with them, Simon seems to be of the same opinion.  “It’s quite simple Major, she’s insane. Now why don’t you just treat her as a mad dog and put a bullet through her head?”

There’s a further twist to the tale though (as well as the reveal that one of the MI6 agents is a traitor).  Overall, this is a strong episode and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as the first to air in the UK.  It’s got action, foreign filming and two attractive female co-stars for Ian Ogilvy to tangle with.  The bad-guys don’t make much of an impression, but all in all this rates four halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – The Nightmare Man

nightmare

Simon, together with the beautiful Gayle (Kathryn Lee Scott), is enjoying a weekend in Paris.  On the way back to their hotel room, he’s distracted by a series of screams from a nearby room.  The occupant is an Italian woman who tells Simon that she’s had a nightmare which foretold her husband’s death.

In her dream, they’re both riding in an open-top carriage in London (by her description, it’s clear that they’re travelling through Parliament Square).  She then hysterically tells Simon that during the journey her husband is shot dead.  Amongst the details she remembers is that the assassin has very blonde, almost white, hair.  When Simon learns that her husband is Dr Bernardo de Vallesi, Italy’s new ambassador to Britain (who is due to travel to the UK shortly) it appears that there may be some truth in her strange story.

The Nightmare Man is an odd one.  At first it seems that Mrs de Vallesi’s nightmare is simply a clumsy way of ensuring that the Saint takes an interest in the story.  But when Simon meets Dr de Vallesi, he’s introduced to his wife (who isn’t the woman from the hotel room) so the plot thickens.  But the main problem with the story is that all the action takes part in the last ten minutes or so and it’s a long slog to get there.

The real reason for the presence of the assassin is frankly bonkers and makes no sense at all.  It’s been organised by Colonel Ramon Perez (John Bennett).  He’s a bitter and vengeful man who lives for one reason only – to make the man responsible for his downfall pay.  That man, of course, is Simon Templar (but why he chose this plan is anybody’s guess).

Another problem with the story is the choice of Joss Ackland as the assassin, Gunther.  Ackland is an actor of many qualities, but this part doesn’t play to his strengths.  Gunther’s a cruel and psychotic man, but there’s never any sense of menace from Ackland.  The tone is set from his opening appearance – it’s hard to fear a man with such an obvious wig and flapping flared trousers!

There’s some other unlikely casting too – the diminutive Welsh actor Roy Evans as a supplier of guns and Stanley Lebor as a mercenary.  Although in Lebor’s case, this may be because now he’s probably best known for the Richard Briers sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles (back in the seventies he did play his fair share of heavies).

His encounter with the Saint is rather amusing.  He’s holding court in what’s supposed to be a rather rough pub (in which Simon is obviously meant to stand out).  In fact, it doesn’t really look too threatening at all – social realism was never a strong point of Return of the Saint.

Some nice location shooting in London apart, there’s not much to recommend in this one.  Two and a half halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – Duel in Venice

duel

When the daughter of one of his oldest friends is kidnapped in Venice, the Saint faces a desperate race against time.  Linda (Cathryn Harrison) has been abducted by Jed Blackett (Maurice Colbourne).  Blackett and Simon have crossed paths before – five years ago in Mozambique.

Ever since, Blackett has been waiting for the opportunity to exact his revenge and Linda finds herself the unfortunate bait in his trap.  Simon has just six hours to find the girl, but luckily for him he has assistance from an attractive gondolier called Claudia (Carole Andre) …

Ian Ogilvy’s favourite episode, it’s clear that the star of Duel in Venice is the city itself.  Had it been set in London it would have been a decent runaround but nothing special.  The gorgeous sights and sounds of Venice make all the difference.

It’s a pity that the storyline bears some similarities with the previously transmitted episode The Nightmare Man (an adversary from the Saint’s past is out for revenge) but that’s down to the vagaries of scheduling I guess.  And the problem of dubbing raises its head again – everybody (especially Maurice Colbourne) sounds like they’re dubbed for large parts of the episode.

Colbourne has a nice line in hysterical giggling and portrays Blackett as a completely deranged character.  It’s by no means a subtle performance, but since his screen time is quite limited (he mainly just pops up every now and again to taunt Simon) it’s not really a problem.  Cathryn Harrison has little to do except react to Blackett’s villainy with wide-eyed fear – such as when he fits her with an acoustic necklace (any loud sound would cause it to instantly tighten, killing her instantly).

So the bulk of the story is a two-hander with Simon and Claudia.  Carole Andre gives a lovely performance as the headstrong, argumentative Claudia and it’s her local knowledge which helps the Saint to eventually track Blackett down.

We never find out exactly how Simon and Blackett originally met.  Since Blackett is a mercenary and he claims that Simon left him for dead, the inference is that they were both fighting on the same side in some war.  It seems an uncharacteristic thing for the Saint to have done, but there’s another moment in the story which does hint at a darker side to Simon Templar.

Early on, Simon approaches Guido (Enzo Fiermonte) for assistance.  He’s a man of great knowledge and power (presumably a local gangster) but is initially reluctant to help, until Simon (with the aid of a gun) persuades him.  When the Saint threatens to put a hole in his head, it’s possible to believe that he’s bluffing – but he might not be.

It’s easy to believe that Leslie Charteris’ Saint would have been prepared to shoot, since the literary Saint was a much more amoral, violent character (when transferred to television, the Saint was greatly watered down).  This (and the reference to Mozambique) helps to imply that the relaxed, affable playboy that Simon Templar appears to be may not the whole picture.

Helped by the location, Duel in Venice scores four halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – One Black September

black

Abdul Hakim (Garrick Hagon) is a leading member of the Black September terrorist group.  It’s rumoured that he’s in London and is being pursed by his own people.  The Israelis are also desperate to pick him up and interrogate him (Hakim knows the names of all the top operatives in the organisation).

Simon Templar, due to his knowledge of London, is regarded by the Israelis as the ideal man to partner their leading counter-terrorist officer in a race against time to track Hakim down before his former friends find him.  Simon is initially reluctant, but when he learns that the officer is an attractive young woman (Prunella Gee playing Captain Leila Sabin) he becomes much more interested …..

One Black September is a slightly uneasy mix of real world politics and the usual escapist fare of an ITC adventure series.  For a modern audience, their name might not be instantly recognisable, but in 1978 they would have been very familiar.   Just six years earlier, Black September killed eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer during the Munich Olympics.  During the early to mid seventies they also carried out numerous other attacks (and copycat activities were also attributed to them) which ensured that their name often featured in the headlines.

It’s the decision to use a real terrorist organisation that ensures One Black September has a slightly off-key feel, which is reflected in the attitudes of Simon and Leila.  Simon is his usual relaxed, flippant self whereas Leila is humourless and completely focused on the mission.

Matters come to a head later on, when Simon tells her she’s forgotten that she’s a woman (mainly because she seems to have no interest in sleeping with him!)  Leila counters this by telling Simon that her entire family were murdered by terrorists, so until Hakim is captured she cannot afford to let her concentration slip for even a moment.  Immediately prior to this, both Simon and the camera spend a little time ogling her shapely bottom as she bends over a map of London.  Both this, and Simon’s unsubtle efforts to romance her, mean that this is very much of product of its time.

Dodgy politics (both political and sexual) aside, this is a decent run-around.  Hakim’s former colleagues are led by Masrouf (Stephen Grief) and Rahaman (Nadim Sawalha).  Like everybody else, they’re lightly sketched characters, so the actors have to put the meat onto the bones (Grief is particularly effective with this).

Eventually Simon is able to pick Hakim up – but Leila is captured by Masrouf and the others.  Masrouf suggests a trade, which the Israelis strongly resist, but Simon gets his way.  In real life, of course, it’s impossible to imagine they would have acceded so readily to Simon’s request (he threatens to expose their illegal capture of Hakim, but it’s doubtful whether that would have really worried them).

Naturally, the Saint is able to extract Leila and keep Hakim – and in exchange for a plane ticket out of the UK Hakim gives the Israelis the names they need.  Leila bemoans that fact that a man like Hakim, responsible for countless murders, is simply going to get away.  But Simon has seen Rahaman in the airport terminal and makes no attempt to raise the alarm.

It’s another example of the Saint’s ruthless nature, which comes to the fore occasionally.  He knows that Black September will execute Hakim and is content to stand by and let it happen.  It’s a powerful moment and would have worked very well as the final scene (alas, a more conventional tag scene is added – with Simon and Leila heading off on holiday).

Although it’s not perfect, One Black September still rates three halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – The Village That Sold Its Soul

village

Simon is travelling through a remote area of Italy when he witnesses a murder – he sees a woman thrown off a cliff by two men.  When Simon reaches her, she’s mortally injured but manages to tell him to “warn Vincenzo” before she dies.

Father Vincenzo (Tony Calvin) is the priest of the local village, Santa Maria.  When Simon makes his way there, he discovers that Father Vincenzo is away and that nobody else is interested in offering assistance (including the police).  There’s a sinister menace that seems to hang over the town.  What is the secret that binds everybody together and how is it connected to the patrone of the village, Prince Lorenzo Castracano (Maurice Denham)?

As with Duel in Venice, part of the success of the The Village that Sold Its Soul is down to the location. Filming took place mostly in Sermoneta, a hill town in the province of Latina.  Thanks to its twisting streets, it was a location that offered director Leslie Norman plenty of scope for interesting and atmospheric shots.

It’s also an unusual episode since Simon has to mostly operate on his own.  Often, he’s paired up with an attractive female and can also count on official or semi-official help from his friends in high places.  But as Santa Maria is an isolated village there’s no help for him to call on.  There is an attractive female, Sophia Castracano (Katia Christine), but she’s a relatively minor character.

It’s a solid production, although there are a few mis-steps.  The body thrown off the cliff in the pre-credits sequence is clearly a dummy and later we see Simon desperately running away from an out-of-control cart.  But even if it had hit him, it’s difficult to imagine it causing him much of an injury!

The concept of a whole village that’s complicit in a series of murders is an intriguing one (although it maybe owes something to The Avengers episode Murdersville).  Maurice Denham adds a touch of class as the Prince and it eventually becomes clear that he holds the key to the mystery.

Because of the location and Maurice Denham, as well as a solid script from John Goldsmith, The Village That Sold Its Soul rates four halos out of five.

maurice denham
Maurice Denham

Return of the Saint – Assault Force

assault

Catching the bus at Heathrow, Simon notices that one of his fellow passengers is receiving unwelcome attention from several men.  And since the passenger is female and attractive, the Saint simply has to step in – he can never resist helping a damsel in distress.

Jeanette (Kate O’Mara) has information about Nodiam Mataya, the new strong-man of South-East Asia.  She plans to take it to the newspapers and expose Mataya’s appalling record of human rights (which include a group of nuns held captive and awaiting imminent execution).  Simon’s foreign office contact, Randolph Smith (Neil Stacey) is polite, but noncommittal.  He tells them that the British government is continuing to explore all diplomatic avenues, but that’s all they can do.

The Saint, however, is keen for more direct action.  A key member of Mataya’s government, Surinit, is due to land in the UK shortly.  Simon suggests to Jeanette that they kidnap him and offer to exchange him for the nuns.  Jeanette agrees and Simon assembles a crack force to carry out the plan.  But when Surinit disappears after the kidnap is successfully carried out, Simon bitterly realises that he’s been used …..

Assault Force sees the Saint team up with a group of mercenaries and it’s a departure from the episodes we’ve seen so far (where Simon is either operating on his own, or with limited help).  Here, he’s the leader of a well-drilled gang who abduct Surinit with military precision.  It’s the planning and the actual raid which forms the heart of the episode, and the realisation that Surinit is actually a good guy (and the one man who can expose Mataya’s crimes) drives the story onwards to its conclusion.

Kate O’Mara is suitably histrionic as the damsel in distress, whilst Carolle Rousseau (as Colonel Dibha) is rather alluring as a woman who appears to be on the side of the angels but turns out to be working for Mataya.  Although to be honest, this probably isn’t a great shock since she does give off a rather “evil” vibe in all of her scenes!

Elsewhere, we see the Saint recruit some colourful characters, such as O’Hara (Bryan Marshall) and Morgan (Norman Bird).  Marshall sports a broad Irish accent which occasionally crosses over into parody, but he’s still convincing as a resourceful mercenary.  Bird provides some welcome comic relief as the bookish Morgan.

Although everything is resolved in the end quite neatly (too neatly, you may say) there’s still a slightly discordant note struck which implies that the new status quo may not last forever.  Simon rescues Surinit, who returns to his country as leader after Mataya’s downfall.  Colonel Dibha seems unconcerned though, as she tells Simon that Surinit is a weak man (who clearly won’t last long in the bitter and dangerous world of South-East Asian politics)

The plot is driven by coincidences which means that it’s probably best not to examine it too deeply (although that’s not going to stop me!)  Surinit arrives in the UK to testify at a Human Rights Commission in order to expose Mataya’s crimes.  It seems obvious that Mataya’s people would try and silence him (but they don’t seem to have had any plans to do so).  Instead, rather fortunately they were able to learn of Simon’s plan to kidnap him and took advantage of this.  But had Simon not run into Jeannete at the airport by chance then nothing would have happened.  If Mataya’s men simply needed to silence Surinit why didn’t they, say, put a bomb on the plane?

Minor plot quibbles apart, the “caper” feel of the episode makes it a break from the norm and earns it three and a half halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – Yesterday’s Hero

yesterday's hero

Several years ago, Simon Templar, Roy Gates (Ian Hendry) and Diskett (Tony Vogel) were part of an unofficial mission in Aden.  Mid-way through the mission something went wrong and Gates was captured by the Yemenis.  Simon and Diskett weren’t aware of this though – they thought he was dead.

But Gates was alive and, having lost an arm during the fighting, languished in an Arab prison until he was bought by the Bader-Meinhoff gang of terrorists (who wanted his expertise to train their people).  Gates was initially reluctant, but he finally realised that any life was better than the life he currently had.

Eventually he was caught by the Germans and ended up in prison there.  He’s shortly due to be released and Simon pays him a visit to caution him not to directly approach his young son Michael (Matthew Ryan) before his ex-wife Sandy (Annette Andre) has had a chance to talk to him (as Michael has grown up believing that his father is dead).

But Gates is a bitter and vengeful man and once released he’ll be set on a course of revenge.  Which will inevitably bring him into direct conflict with the Saint …..

This is a bleak and atypical Return of the Saint story.  The usual humour and byplay is pretty much absent and it’s also notable that there’s few “good” characters featured.  Gates does have his compassionate side (especially when we see him spend time with his son) but it’s obvious that his various imprisonments have warped his judgement.

Normally, you’d expect the character of the ex-wife to be written in a sympathetic way, but that’s not the case here.  Simon tells her that “in your own way, you’re as crippled and bitter as Roy is.  And that’s a pity.”

It eventually becomes clear that Gates is targeting Cleaver (Gerald Flood) who ran the Aden operation and betrayed Gates.  Cleaver (now an arms dealer) is yet another unsympathetic character (which robs his death of some of its impact).  Prior to this, we see him demonstrating some weapons to the military – although the stock footage is so grainy it’s not terribly convincing,

At the centre of the episode is Ian Hendry.  In another unusual move, he dominates the action whilst the Saint has to react to events and remains, until the end, a few steps behind.  There’s an undeniable sense of melancholy hanging over the whole episode – partly because of the script, but it’s also down to Hendry’s performance (and the reading that anybody familiar with his personal life will bring to the viewing).

Yesterday’s Hero is an uncomfortable summation of Ian Hendry’s life and career.  In the early sixties, as the star of The Avengers, he seemed to have a glittering career ahead of him, but various factors (most notably a dependance on alcohol) ensured that whilst he remained a familiar presence in films and television, he never attained the heights he should have done (and he also died rather prematurely, aged just 53 in 1984).

The following comments from Annette Andre (as quoted in the book Send in the Clowns: The Yo-Yo Life of Ian Hendry by Gabriel Hershman) about her work with Hendry on this episode tend to bear these observations out.

I didn’t have many scenes with him. In the morning he was fine. Then we broke for lunch and Ian went off on his own to the pub for lunch. When we went to get him later to take him to the location for filming he was falling down drunk. We managed to get him into the car and into the make-up room and then he walked out and did it.

There was an unhappiness to him. I never really experienced Ian being unpleasant – I was fine with him and he really liked me – but I could see that when I was trying to get him out of the pub that he could get difficult. He didn’t want to eat. I sensed a deep hurt, a sense of dissatisfaction that affected his whole career. He looked older than his age, he’d lost his hair and was on a downhill spin.

This real-life unhappiness is very much mirrored in his portrayal of Roy Gates, which means that the lines between fantasy and reality become somewhat blurred.  There’s a point later in the episode where Gates breaks into Simon’s flat and is clearly drunk – it’s an uncomfortable thought that there may not have been any acting involved.

But although this knowledge does make Yesterday’s Hero a rather hard watch at times, Hendry is always solid and professional – so whatever turmoil he felt off-screen, he still commands the frame when the camera is rolling.  Thanks to his performance, this rates four halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – The Poppy Chain

poppy

The episode opens with Simon Templar and Sandy Platt (Jenny Hanley) desperately racing across London to try and reach Sandy’s sister, Jane.  But they’re too late – when they get to her flat she’s dead (killed by an impure batch of heroin).

Sandy is naturally distraught, but her father, General Platt (Laurence Naismith), is even more so.  An old-school, but now retired, soldier, he vows to find and kill the pushers.  But he only serves to drive them underground.  So it falls to the Saint to risk his life by travelling to to Carmague region of France as he attempts to destroy the business at its source.

The Poppy Chain certainly has an arresting opening as Simon and Sandy discover Jane’s lifeless body.  It gives the episode a harder-edged feel than many of the others in the series.  Laurence Naismith’s pig-headed General Platt drives the action in the first half or so of the episode (with Simon trailing behind somewhat).  This plotline has the advantage of enabling the General to do all the spadework, but then allowing Simon to step in when things get really dangerous.

Along the way, the General tracks down the pusher who sold the drugs to his daughter.  A well-spoken, well-dressed man known as the Gent (Christopher Timothy).  He doesn’t get to kill him though, as the Gent’s wife intervenes (with a heavy object which knocks the General out).  It’s possibly just as well, since Simon tells the recuperating General that the pusher was just small fry – if you’re going to bring down the operation, then you need to aim for the head.

The Saint does this by posing as a member of the London connection, Rickman, and travels to France to meet the men responsible for supplying the raw drugs.  A change of location helps to keep the interest up and the different locale is quite interesting, as it’s probably not what might have been expected.  Scorbesi (Gregoire Anslan) and his son Dominic (Jonathan Burn) run the operation, but Scorbesi is an apparently friendly, gregarious chap and the patriarch of a village that appears to be happy and prosperous.  The fact that their idyllic lifestyle is founded on drug money is, no doubt intentionally, jarring.

Scorbesi’s realisation that he knew the General back in WW2, when Scorbesi was a Partisan, is a coincidence that’s possibly a little hard to take – especially since this revelation doesn’t really further the plot in any way.  Notwithstanding this, Anslan is good as the cheerful Scorbesi, although Burn is less impressive as his son.  I’m not quite sure why, it’s just a slightly off-key performance.

The best part of the second half of the episode is Simon’s infiltration of Scorbesi’s setup – although it’s rather bizarre that he takes no backup with him.  So it’s lucky that when the General learns about Simon’s efforts he makes the trip over and comes to the rescue.  It’s hard to believe that the Saint didn’t think that drafting in some younger assistance might have been a good idea, but this moment does allow the General a chance to prove that he’s not entirely over the hill.

I also like Ogilvy’s cockney accent when he’s pretending to be Rickman.  He makes a very effective criminal!

It’s a solid episode and rates three and a half halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – The Arrangement

arrangement

When Lady Greer Stevens (Carolyn Seymour) and Sheila Northcott (Sarah Douglas) share a drink on a flight back to the UK they discover they have something in common.  Both are trapped in unhappy marriages and Greer suggests that each of them should kill the others husband.  Sheila idly agrees, not realising that Greer is quite serious and also quite mad.

Greer fulfills her side of the bargain by killing Guy Northcott (Michael Medwin) and now expects Sheila to murder Sir Trevor Stevens (Donald Pickering).  Fortunately for Sheila, she has the Saint on her side …..

The Arrangement is essentially a rewrite of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train (later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock).  Strangers on a Plane, as it were.  Carolyn Seymour is mesermerising as the completely unhinged Lady Greer Stevens.  We get an early example of her disregard for others when she trips up a rather loud American at the airport (he’d been annoying her on the plane).  Simon’s there to tend to him, although given that the man had just fallen a long way down an escalator it seems rather reckless for the Saint to roughly drag him away!

Sir Trevor Stevens is an influential politician, but it’s clear that he’s not satisfying his wife’s needs, despite her (somewhat half-hearted) claims to the contrary.  An interesting moment occurs when their servant Nina (Vikki Richards) announces that Greer’s bath is ready.  Greer mentions suggestively that Nina might like to scrub her back and this – together with a zoom into Nina’s expectant face and a shot of Sir Trevor looking disgusted – broadly hints that there’s more to this mistress/servant relationship than meets the eye.  Given that ROTS was a pre-watershed series it’s not surprising this is never explicitly spelt out – but the inference is clear enough.

Seymour’s mad-as-a-hatter turn is highly entertaining and by far the best thing about the story.  The second best thing is the Survivors mini-reunion, as Ian McCullough has a small role as Inspector Stone.  Seymour and McCullough only exchange a few words but it’s nice to see them together again.

As Greer Stevens is such a vivid character, Sarah Douglas’ Sheila Northcott can’t help but seem rather pallid when the two are put side by side.  Sheila is the typical sort of Saint heroine, utterly dependent on Simon to get her out of trouble.  And she’s not the only one in danger, as later on Greer kidnaps Sheila’s sister Aileen (Jane Hayden).

Aileen is younger than Sheila and quite a different sort of character.  Nina drugs Aileen’s drink when the pair of them are at a new-wave/punk club.  It’s not the first time that ROTS has dabbled with the underbelly of modern Britain and like the previous examples it doesn’t feel totally convincing.  Although the band are vaguely shouty, the club still seems rather sedate and well-behaved.  Later, we see Aileen kept captive and docile (she’s been pumped full of drugs).  Again, this is something that sits somewhat uneasily alongside the series’ more usual escapist atmosphere.

The ending might be a little predictable (and obviously shot in the studio) but The Arrangement easily rates four halos out of five.

Return of the Saint – The Armageddon Alternative

arm 01

Simon is abducted by a masked man and driven to an unknown location.  He’s shown an atomic bomb and the man tells him (via pre-recorded taped messages) that unless his demands are met the bomb will be detonated in the heart of London.

The mystery man’s demands are quite simple – he wants Lynn Jackson (Anouska Hempel) to be guillotined in public.  He gives Simon and the authorities until early evening to accede to his request – and in order to prove he’s serious, a conventional explosion will be set off every hour, on the hour ….

The Armageddon Alternative is a somewhat flawed story and the flaws are apparent from the pre-credits sequence.  Why does the masked man never speak?  The logical answer is that he’s a member of a team and the taped messages were recorded by somebody else.  Alas, logic has rather taken a holiday in this episode.

Simon later explains that the voice was recorded in order to disguise it (otherwise he would have instantly known who it was).  But that makes no sense – as soon as we hear the tape it’s obviously George Cole putting a funny voice on.  And when we see Fred (George Cole) a few minutes later it hardly takes a nuclear scientist to put two and two together.

Fred looks after the cars in Simon’s block of flats and is clearly the last person in the world you’d assume would be in possession of an atom bomb or have the skill to use it.  The mid episode reveal that he’s responsible should be a shocking twist – but it’s no surprise at all.  This possibly isn’t the fault of Terence Feeley’s teleplay though.  He would no doubt have assumed that director Leslie Norman (father of Barry) would be able to effectively disguise Cole’s voice.

What is a mystery is why Fred should want a gorgeous young woman like Lynn executed.  Although when it’s revealed that her father, Professor Loder (Frank Gatliff), is the Government’s chief psychiatric vetting officer, things begin to fall into place.  It seems obvious that someone who Loder filed a negative report against has decided to take the most drastic of revenge.

A likely suspect is Parkinson (Gordon Gostelow).  He turns out to be innocent, but takes a perverse delight in stringing Simon and the police along.  It’s a nice cameo from Gostelow who plays unhinged very well.  Indeed, the cast here is very strong – George Cole is his usual dependable self, whilst Anouska Hempel is also very watchable.  True, she’s not the strongest-drawn female character that ROTS has ever offered us, but Hempel manages to make something out of nothing.

Although laughs are thin on the ground, there was one (although I’m not sure whether it was intentional).  When Simon is kidnapped, he asks the man a question and amazingly the next thing on the tape is an answer to the question!  This is either an incredibly sloppy piece of scripting or a good joke.  It does rather bring to mind the Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as a barber who has an uncontrollable fear of cutting hair though.

Great cast, but as the identity of the bomber is blown before we see the opening credits I can only give it two and a half halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Imprudent Professor

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Professor Edmund Bartlett (Bill Simpson) is a philanthropic scientist who wishes to share his new invention (synthetic petrol) with the world.  But his daughter Emma (Susan Penhaligon) is concerned for his safety.  She’s well aware that certain countries and interest groups would be very interested in her father’s discovery and could be inclined to use force to extract the information from him.

Emma hires Simon to keep an eye on him, much to the disgust of Boothroyd (Anthony Steel), the local representative of the British government.  Posing as a disgruntled ex-colleague of the Professor, Simon strikes up a friendship with the alluring, but deadly, Samantha (Catherine Schell).  Samantha works for Genius Inc, an organisation who sells geniuses to the highest bidders.

When the Professor disappears, Simon faces a race against the time before Bartlett is spirited out of the country and lost forever.

After a couple of London-based episodes, The Imprudent Professor is literally a breath of fresh air.  Filmed in and around Nice, it certainly uses the location to its maximum advantage.  And as well as the gorgeous visuals, there’s a sparkle about Terence Feeley’s teleplay that means it’s a definite cut above the norm.

Unlike Feeley’s previous script, The Armageddon Alternative, there’s an intriguing hook in the pre-credits sequence.  Simon interrupts a speech from the Professor by claiming that Bartlett is a fraud and he – Simon – is the true inventor of the synthetic petrol.  Since ROTS normally has fairly straightforward narratives, this is something of a jolt.

It doesn’t take long before the truth emerges though.  Simon’s decided that the best way to keep the Professor safe is to act as a judas goat and lure any people interested in his invention out into the open.  His tactics don’t meet with whole-hearted approval by everyone though, especially the Professor – who’s incredibly stubborn and unwilling to believe he’s in any danger.  Bill Simpson, best known for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, is (as might be expected) very Scottish.  He’s also quite an imposing figure and certainly makes an impression, even with his limited screen-time.

Susan Penhaligon (not even remotely Scottish) is suitably winsome as his daughter Emma.  Like many of the female roles in the series she’s only lightly sketched – but whenever she and Samantha meet there’s a nice tension between the pair of them.  This is because she clearly believes Samantha has designs on Simon (you can feel the waves of jealousy emanating from her!)

Ian Ogilvy looks like he’s having great fun and is certainly given plenty of good material.  When acting the part of the Professor’s disgruntled ex-employee he affects a Scottish accent (badly!) and wears a pair of glasses (obviously he thinks they make him look much more studious).  It’s also a nice touch that he uses the alias of Sebastian Tombs (a favourite of the literary Saint).

Simon gets to tangle with Samantha (some lovely comic moments between Ogilvy and Schell) and also crosses swords with Boothroyd of DI6.  His initial meeting with Boothroyd (the always classy Anthony Steel) is pure James Bond – we see Boothroyd relaxing by the poolside of a impressive looking house surrounded by a bevvy of gorgeous girls in bikinis.

Simon quips his way out the situation and at the same time is easily able to outwit some of DI6’s less able operatives, like Cartwright as played by Peter Childs.  If there was ever an episode of ROTS that could have been designed to showcase Ogilvy as a potential James Bond, then this was the one.

The plot may be a little routine (there’s a slight twist, although it’s not difficult to guess), but the location-work, guest-cast and the sheer spirit of the production help to make this one of the most enjoyable episodes of the series.  Four and a half halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Signal Stop

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Simon Templar and Janie Lennox (Ciaran Madden) are both passengers on a train bound for London.  When the train stops at a signal, Janie sees what she believes to be a murder taking place in a nearby warehouse.  Simon, who moments earlier was wishing that something would happen to break the monotony, is naturally intrigued.

The next day, Simon, Janie and the police travel to the building – but the body that Simon and Janie found earlier in the day is no longer there.  Inspector Grant (Frederick Jaeger) later tells Simon that since Janie has a history of psychiatric illness it’s probable her story was nothing more than a delusion.

Following on from the picture-postcard stylings of The Imprudent Professor, Signal Stop has a very different feel.  Most of the story takes place in dirty or run-down locations – an abandoned warehouse, a scrap-yard, etc which gives it something of a Sweeney/Professionals feel.

Just as The Arrangement owed more than a little to the novel Strangers on a Train, Signal Stop also seems to have been inspired by a crime classic.  In 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie, a character witness a murder from her vantage point on a train – but with no body she finds it impossible to convince the authorities and only her friend Miss Marple takes her seriously.

The notion of observing a murder from a train (and therefore being helpless to intervene) is a decent one – although it’s fair to say that this story is a little flawed.  The major problem is that it’s baffling why the body was simply not taken away before Simon and Janie turned up the next day to find it.  No body = no crime.

Instead, the murdered man is left on site for them to find.  Simon then drives Janie all the way back to his house before phoning the police and driving back.  Naturally enough, by the time he returns the body has vanished.  Since he has a phone in his car, why didn’t he call the police and wait for them at the warehouse?

But despite these rather serious plotholes, there’s still a very decent, and unusual, story here.  Ciaran Madden impresses as the vulnerable Janie.  Unlike most of the other Saint heroines, she’s a flawed and damaged individual – although Simon’s faith in her never wavers.  It’s possible to argue that the script missed a trick by allowing the viewer to see the attack take place though.  Had this not happened, and we only had Janie’s word, it would have allowed the viewers to wonder if it maybe was just a figment of her imagination.

Ian Cullen is hardly stretched as one of the police officers, especially since he’d had a been a regular in Z Cars and could presumably have played this sort of part in his sleep.  Brian Glover, George Sweeney, Ralph Arliss, Heather Wright and Sabina Franklyn help to round out the cast.  Franklyn has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as a uniformed police officer who Simon effortlessly charms whilst Arliss makes a brief appearance as a hells-angel sort of biker.  Although as so often with ROTS, the biker gang never really exudes any sort of menace.

Frederick Jaeger’s rather good as Inspector Grant.  It’s the sort of part that seems at first to be fairly routine but by the conclusion of the episode he’s moved more into the forefront of the action.

Despite some flaws, Signal Stop rates a healthy three halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Roman Touch

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Michelle (Kim Goody) is deeply unhappy.  She may be an international singing star, with a string of hit records to her name, but she’s also worn out thanks to a grinding schedule of tours and recording sessions.  Michelle doesn’t even have the satisfaction of having made any money, due to the repressive contract she signed with her manager Bruno (Laurence Luckinbill).

Simon’s known her since she was a teenager and is anxious to help.  So he kidnaps her …..

The Roman Touch sees the return of the old-style Saint.  Although he kidnaps her with the best of intentions (he demands a ransom from Bruno of a million dollars, which is enough to pay Michelle the money she’s owed and also cover his expenses) it’s still an example of him operating on the wrong side of the law.  This is something of a rarity in ROTS, where he tended to be allied with the authorities more often than not.

Kim Goody, an actress with some musical talent, is perfect casting as Michelle.  Whilst her career in the music business is painted with broad brushstrokes (complete with a grasping manager) she still manages to give some solidity to her character.  Linda Thorson plays Diamond, her personal assistant.  At first she seems to be yet another person who is interested only in exploiting Michelle, but over time it becomes clear that she has her best interests at heart.

Simon’s attempts to help Michelle are hindered by the local Mafia, headed by Capo (Danielle Vargas).  The script is obviously written to present them as the villains of the piece – which is negated when Capo reveals that Michelle is his daughter and he’s been secretly keeping watch over her.  This is quite a neat reversal – as is the fact the somebody kidnaps Michelle again (with Simon unable to stop them).

Another foreign episode, the sunny visuals help the episode no end (had it taken place in rainy London it may not have been so effective).  But the basic problem is that there’s no particular tension since it’s obvious that Simon will rescue Michelle.  The question isn’t if he’ll do it, but how.  For a formula series like ROTS, predictability of events can be an issue and after an interesting setup things plays out pretty much as you might expect.

Nothing earth-shattering then, but solid enough.  The Roman Touch rates three halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Tower Bridge is Falling Down

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Jenny Stewart (Fiona Curzon) is concerned about her father Charlie (Sam Kydd), so she turns to the Saint for help.  Charlie has been having disagreements with his business partner Ray Dennis (John Woodvine).  The two of them built up a thriving building firm but Charlie is convinced that Dennis has conned him out of a substantial sum of money.

Dennis is a highly amoral figure and after a brief fight with Charlie he has no compunction in leaving him in a building scheduled for demolition.  And when Charlie’s lifeless body is recovered from the rubble Simon vows to exact the maximum amount of revenge on Dennis.  So he puts his plan into action – an elaborate con involving transporting Tower Bridge to America ……

Written by the creator of Minder, Leon Griffiths, Tower Bridge is Falling Down was his sole contribution to the series.  It’s basically Hustle, thirty years early, and it sees Simon posing as Sir Malcom Street, a top government official.  In order to hook Dennis effectively, first Simon contrives to lose ten thousand pounds to him at a rigged poker game.

And when the man he believes to be Sir Malcolm proves unable to settle his debt Dennis is slowly reeled into the con.  This involves his company being awarded the contract to demolish Tower Bridge (provided he can sweeten the deal by paying Sir Malcolm off).

All the familiar tricks from a normal episode of Hustle are present and correct.  For example, Sir Malcolm is a real person and the Saint brazenly takes over his office in order to meet with Dennis.  And as so often happens, the real Sir Malcolm returns just as the Saint is leaving (the two pass each other in the corridor).  Dennis is easy to con because, as seen in Hustle every week, he’s a greedy man.  Had he been honest then he wouldn’t have fallen for Simon’s ploy, but he sees the chance to make a quick and illegal profit and jumps at it.

It’s a pity that Leon Griffiths didn’t contribute any further scripts (although he would have been busy at the time setting up Minder).  John Woodvine is excellent as Ray Dennis.  Dennis’ lack of morality is clear right from the pre-credits sequence when he casually disposes of Charlie Stewart and although he isn’t the most complex of characters, Woodvine still manages to dominate proceedings whenever he’s on the screen.  A chilling moment occurs when he threatens to permanently disfigure Jenny if she doesn’t reveal Simon’s whereabouts.  It’s obvious from the parameters of the series that this is a threat which won’t be carried out, but Woodvine is intense enough to make you believe for just a few seconds that it might.

Alfie Bass, as Sammy, has a nice role as a con-man who works with Simon to rope Dennis in (he’s the sort of character that could easily have cropped up in Minder or indeed Hustle).  And although Simon’s involvement is down to Jenny, for once this is a very male-dominated episode and she only takes a minor role in proceedings.

It”s a pity that the con doesn’t play out to the end, since Dennis learns about Simon’s true identity.  This means there’s a more traditional conclusion (a punch up) followed by Ray Dennis’ arrest for murder.  Whether his confession about Charlie’s murder (secretly taped by Simon) would actually have stood up in court is a moot point, so it would have been more dramatically satisfying for him to have been conned.

Even allowing for this, thanks to John Woodvine and the unusual plot, Tower Bridge is Falling Down rates four halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Debt Collectors

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After Simon comes to the aid of a runaway horse ridden by Jeri Hanson (Mary Tamm), he finds himself embroiled in the murky world of espionage.  Jeri’s sister Christine (Diane Keen) was convicted of passing military secrets and is six years into a prison sentence.  But just one day before she’s due to be released on parole she escapes.

This was engineered by Sir Charles Medley (Geoffrey Keen) of the Ministry of Defence.  Jeri tells Simon she’s convinced her sister is innocent and it appears that Sir Charles arranged Christine’s prison-break in order to flush out a traitor in MI5.  But who can be trusted?  In the world of intelligence, things are not always as they appear to be …..

The Debt Collectors was written by George Markstein.  Given his background (script-editor/writer on series such as The Prisoner, Callan and Mr Palfrey of Westminster) it’s no surprise that he delivered a dense story set in the world of British Intelligence.

And after finding some of the previous episodes to be rather linear and straightforward, it’s a pleasure to have one where people’s motivations aren’t immediately obvious.  Things appear to open normally enough, with Simon coming to the rescue of an attractive young woman.  But she’s under surveillance and when Simon is later told not to speak to her again this only strengthens his interest.

By the time this aired, in December 1978, Mary Tamm was already more than half-way through her single season as Romana in Doctor Who.  Here, she seems to be the archetypal ROTS heroine – her function in the plot being little more than providing a decorative presence and also the excuse for the Saint to become involved in the story – but there’s a twist in the tale later.

Of more immediate interest is Diane Keen as Christine.  An actress who hardly seemed to be off the television screens in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, her first scene (behind prison bars) sees her playing a hard-bitten old lag.  This is rather a stretch for Keen and it’s no surprise that once she goes over the wall Christine becomes much more of a vulnerable character.

With the revelation that there could be a traitor in MI5, several possibilities present themselves.  There’s Sir Charles and also Simon’s MI5 contact Geoffrey Connaught (Anton Rodgers).  Geoffrey Keen, best known today for playing the Minster in the James Bond films, is perfect casting and Rodgers, later to carve a niche as a sit-com performer, shares some decent scenes with Ogilvy.

The story does have a few niggling plot-holes.  Why was Christine stuck in prison for six years before Sir Charles elected to use her to flush out the mole?  And since she was due to be released the following day why engineer a prison break?  If she’s on the run then presumably that makes her more of a target for the mole.  But since she doesn’t know his identity, Christine is ultimately something of a red-herring.

Whilst the looseness of the plot (which is a little surprising given Markstein’s background as a script-editor) is a slight irritation, there’s more than enough happening to negate these quibbles.  Apart from the already mentioned performers, the likes of Neil McCarthy (a familiar television face) and Bob Shearman (best-known for his regular role in The Sandbaggers) help to bolster an already impressive cast.

The Debt Collectors is a cut above the average ROTS script and rates four halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Collision Course: The Brave Goose

 

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Simon is indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, powerboat racing.   He has a strong competitor though – the boorish Oscar West (Edward Brayshaw).  Soon, Simon and West are way out in front and it seems inevitable that one of them will win.  But then Simon sees the other boat veer out of control and through his binoculars observes West struggling with his co-pilot.  Moments later, West’s boat explodes and both men die.

West’s widow, Annabel (Gayle Hunnicutt), is staggered to learn that West died apparently penniless.  This isn’t the case though – he was a rich man (thanks to a bullion robbery some eight years ago).  The problem is that his associates have recently been released from prison and are keen to collect their share – but they don’t believe that Annabel doesn’t know where the money is hidden …..

The first episode of a two-parter, The Brave Goose opens with a confrontation between Simon and West.  Edward Brayshaw only has a very limited amount of screen time, but it’s made very clear that he’s a wrong-un – he’s swigging from a bottle of champagne (before he’s won the race!) and is rather curt to the lovely Annabel.

As for the race itself, it’s a mix of real footage, stock footage and painfully obvious studio shots.  But even the James Bond films of the time used back projection of a similar quality, so ROTS is in good company.

When Annabel learns that the only thing she possesses of value, a yacht called the Brave Goose, is moored in the South of France, she heads off to find it.  It’s a remarkable coincidence that along the way she stops for a meal and runs into George Duchamp  (Stratford Johns).  Duchamp was one of West’s former partners.

He’s also a expert backgammon player and when Simon learns from Annabel’s housekeeper that her mistress has left the country and is playing backgammon with a fat Frenchmen he’s clearly worried.  Just as it’s something of a stretch to believe that Annabel would stop for a meal at the same place where Duchamp was eating, it’s equally implausible that Simon is rather perturbed to learn that Annabel was playing backgammon (even if he knew that one of the bullion robbers played the game).  Surely there’s more than one Frenchman who does so?

Johns exudes a sort of menace, but it is hard to shake the impression that it’s just Chief Inspector Barlow with a funny accent.  John Hallam (as one of the other gang members, Bernadotti) does have a certain presence, although he’s much more menacing once he loses his hat and guitar.  Bernadotti punches Annabel – a rare instance where a female character is attacked – and even though it’s edited, the moment is still unusual for ROTS, which had a very low violence count.

Gayle Hunnicutt was very game in this episode – she dodges a bull (although doubled for the most dangerous parts, she still had to do a great deal of running around) and she then becomes thoroughly disheveled after trudging through the swampland to escape Duchamp and Bernadotti.  But when she’s not covered in dirt, Hunnicutt is rather gorgeous and forms a strong partnership with Ogilvy.

The Brave Goose ends on a cliffhanger as Inspector Lebec (the ever-dependable Derren Nesbitt) arrests Simon and Annabel for murder.  We know they didn’t do it – and also that it won’t be long before they’re released – but it’s a strong hook to end on and it helps to give the episode a solid three and a half halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Collision Course: The Sixth Man

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It’s only a few minutes into this episode before Simon and Annabel are released by Inspector Lebec.  It’s almost as if their arrest was arranged simply to provide us with a decent cliffhanger …..

Who was the sixth man?  It’s now been established that six men were responsible for the gold robbery.  Oscar West was one, whilst the man who died in the boat accident with him, Bonaparte, was another.  We met three of the others in the previous episode – the baccarat-loving Frenchman Duchamps, the guitar-loving sadist Berndotti and the deaf, mute knifeman Pancho (Leon Lissek).

Because Simon knows so much about the robbery (he admits he was in the area at the time) there’s a lingering suspicion on Annabel’s part that he’s the sixth man.  But since this story aired fairly late in the run it’s hard to believe that the Saint could have been involved.

But it’s interesting that this two-parter was the first to go into production, so had it been transmitted early on then Simon’s guilt or innocence wouldn’t have been so clear cut.  There’s a nice edge to Ogilvy’s performance in this episode – so it’s a pity that for the majority of the episodes Simon is presented as a straightforwardly heroic figure (with little of the reckless zest of the early, literary Saint).

Simon and Annabel have located the Brave Goose and onboard is Captain Finnigan (Joe Lynch).  Finnigan is a drunken Irishman and Lynch’s comic performance is broad, but nonetheless quite amusing.

Also aboard are Duchamps, Berndotti and Pancho and they all head out to sea in search of the treasure.  Needless to say, there’s some tension among this mismatched party – the three crooks elect to throw Simon overboard at the first opportunity, but he manages to convince them that he could be of use (and also that he possibly may be the sixth man).

After the travelogue nature of episode one, this feels more enclosed since a good part of it takes place aboard the Brave Goose.  It still has a glossy feel though, helped by the location filming in France.

There’s a mystery to be solved – Pancho is murdered, but who was responsible?  Was it one of the people we’ve already seen or the mysterious sixth man or even somebody else?  The solution to the mystery is quite neat, although it’s probable that a sizeable part of the audience would have worked it out before Simon does.

Whilst the unconvincing accents sported by the likes of Stratford Johns, John Hallam and Derren Nesbitt are a little amusing (it’s understandable that the production team preferred to cast British actors, but you’d have thought they could have found the odd French-born thesp) it doesn’t detract too much.  A major plus is Gayle Hunnicutt, who is one of the more fleshed-out female leads in the series (helped in part by the length of the story).

The Sixth Man rates four halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Hot Run

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Simon is pretending to be a poor skier, purely so he can enjoy the attentions of the beautiful instructor Maria (Lorraine De Salle).  But just as things are hotting up on the slopes, the arrival of Maria’s brother Andre looks set to dash Simon’s plans.

Events then take a tragic turn – both Maria and Simon watch in horror as Andre is murdered (shot by a sniper in the trees).  He seemed to have lived a blameless life so who would have wanted to kill him?  One possible lead is an American called Diane Lang (Rula Lenska) who runs a ski display team.  As Simon investigates, he uncovers a plan to steal millions in bullion …..

We’re very much in James Bond territory here – indeed, the location of Cortina used in Hot Run would also feature in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only.  But the picturesque backdrop is very much the star, as it helps to lift what is, sadly, a rather humdrum story.

There are a few points of interest though.  This is another story where Ian Ogilvy has the chance to play the Saint as a morally dubious character.  Because he’s convinced that Diane killed Andre (and is also planning something else) he does his best to persuade her that he’s just as crooked as she is.  When she learns that he’s Simon Templar, she does comment that nobody ever knows which side he’s on.

Rula Lenska is, suitably, hard as ice – but her henchman are much less impressive and it’s their rather obvious villainous dialogue which does drag the story down.  It also doesn’t help that we have to travel quite a way into the episode before we learn Diane’s plan (and by then I have to confess my interest had waned somewhat).

Diane plans to rob a delivery of bullion by causing an avalanche (Simon is recruited to let off the explosion which causes it).  It seems to be an elaborate way to go about things, when they could have just as easily staged a car accident and flagged the lorry down.

Another strange piece of plotting is Andre’s murder.  Yes, it provides us with a very strong pre-credits hook, but it’s just bizarre.  We’re later told that Andre had second thoughts and wanted to pull out of the robbery – it’s understandable that Diane would want to silence him, but to do so in public?  Why not quietly kill him and then drop his body down one of the numerous ravines?  The snow would soon have covered him and he’d never have been found.

Take the picture-postcard images away and there’s not a lot else to recommend in Hot Run, so it only rates two halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – Murder Cartel

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After witnessing the attempted assassination of Sheikh Kemal (Marne Maitlaind) on television, Simon has a sense that he’s going to be involved, although he doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t have long to wait – shortly afterwards he receives a call from a senior man in American intelligence, Hendricks (Roger Brown).

Hendricks is convinced that Kemal will be targeted again and this time the hit will succeed, as an expert assassin called Brown (Sergio Doria) has been hired.  Hendricks is less concerned with Brown, he wants the organisation financing him – a shady murder cartel responsible for most of the major assassinations over the last five years.

Moments later Hendricks is murdered in front of Simon’s eyes and that makes things very personal for the Saint.  He assumes Brown’s identity and goes undercover to break the cartel.  There he runs into the beautiful but deadly Laura (Britt Ekland) …..

Shot on location in Rome, Murder Cartel, like all the foreign episodes of ROTS, certainly makes full use of the locale.  Back in the 1960’s, whenever Roger Moore’s Saint visited Rome it would be courtesy of back projection and filming at Elstree Studios.  There’s no substitute for the real thing though, as this episode shows.

An impressive moment occurs when an accident is staged with two taxis in one of Rome’s busy streets.  It’s probably not the sort of thing that could easily happen today (red tape and clearances would make it prohibitively difficult).  Although the illusion is slightly shattered just after the crash – we see quite a few people standing about watching from the pavement (clearly they had been there quite a while, enjoying observing the film crew at work!)

Ogilvy gets to don a pair of dark glasses as he pretends to be a ruthless assassin.  It’s the third story in a row where Simon pretends to be on the side of the baddies – pity these episodes couldn’t have been spread out throughout the run, lumped together they don’t work quite as well.

Britt Ekland is statuesque but wooden as the head of the murder cartel.  She’s given a brief speech to justify herself (it’s all to do with her father) although since she’s a fairly sketchily drawn character it doesn’t really help to flesh her out.

The main problem with Murder Cartel is that it’s difficult to get involved with the story.  Simon is upset about the death of Hendricks (an old friend, apparently) but as we’ve never seen him before his death doesn’t have any resonance.  The question of whether Kemal will die or not is another part of the plot which remains undeveloped – his screen-time is so limited (and we only hear him utter a few words throughout the whole episode) that it’s impossible to feel invested in his fate.

Having said that, the story chugs along quite agreeably, the locations look lovely and Ekland, whilst hardly the best actor in the world, is very easy on the eye.

So this rates three halos out of five.

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Return of the Saint – The Obono Affair

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President Obono (Thomas Baptiste) is the universally loathed leader of a minor African nation.  His visit to Britain has generated death threats and Simon is on hand to prevent one such attempted assassination.  Although the Saint receives Obono’s thanks he makes it quite clear that he was simply in the right place at the right time and has no desire to associate with him any further.

But when Obono’s son Joey (Paul Medford) is kidnapped, the President turns to Simon for help.  The Saint is initially reluctant, but eventually teams up with the President’s right hand man Colonel Dyson (Jack Hedley) to track the kidnappers down …..

President Obono is a pretty thinly-drawn caricature of Idi Amin, who at the time was the President of Uganda.  His fondness for outlandish military uniform (with plenty of medals) and an appalling record of human rights are just two similarities.  No attempt is made to present Obono as a likable or reasonable character and early on we see him berate his double (the man designed to draw the assassins bullet).   He tells Simon that “men like Jopo enjoy brutalisation. They know no other way of life.”

Simon’s distaste for the man is made plain from their initial meeting and his loathing also extends to Colonel Dyson.  Dyson is as much of a cliche as Obono is – a former British soldier who’s accepted blood money to train Obono’s army (we’re told that the army is the one of the main reasons why the country is broke).  Hedley, a veteran character actor probably best known for playing Colonel Preston in Colditz, is suitably solid and is easily one of the best things about the episode.

Thomas Baptiste’s performance is a little odd at times – it’s somewhat non-naturalistic.  I’m assuming this was intentional, an attempt to give Obono a larger-than-life persona.  Baptiste is rather better towards the end, once it’s known that the President is dying of natural causes.

Although there’s some decent actors cast at the kidnappers (including Derek Newark and Robert Gillespie) they act in a rather inept way, which means that there’s no particular threat from them.  Although Rose (Marie Lawrence) who we see looking after Joey does have an interesting backstory.  She was one of Obono’s former mistresses and still mourns the death of her child (presumably killed on Obono’s orders).

The first of two scripts by Michael Pertwee (The Diplomat’s Daughter was the other) there’s nothing subtle about The Obono Affair but it’s agreeable enough.  It has to be said though that the closing scene, where Simon persuades Obono to pardon all political prisoners in his country, feels uncomfortably pat.  One of the reasons why series like ROTS had trouble dealing with complex, real world issues was because there’s no easy solutions to difficult problems – and this scene demonstrates it.  Will everybody live happily ever after?  Probably not and it would have been better to acknowledge that.

Three and a half halos out of five for this one.

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