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The Robin Hood of Modern Crime

His creator described him as “a buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile.”  That creator was author Leslie Charteris, and the “buccaneer” in question was Simon Templar—a roguish ex-thief who had gone straight and now made it his mission to relieve the “ungodly” (those individuals he felt adhered to a moral code that couldn’t match his own) of their ill-gotten gains by redistributing that wealth among the less fortunate.  Templar was nicknamed “The Saint” (it might have been the smile, though it’s spelled out in his initials—S.T.) and was introduced in Charteris’ 1928 novel Meet the Tiger.  Radio audiences, however, started following Simon’s adventures over NBC Radio on this date in 1945 with the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint.

“He claims he’s a Robin Hood,” observed a victim in one of Charteris’ Saint short stories, “but to me he’s just a robber and a hood.”  In his early literary escapades, Simon Templar made short work of crooked politicians and other assorted miscreants, taking as compensation a modest ten percent (he must have been an agent before getting into his current line of work) and returning the rest to the injured parties (or donating the “boodle,” as he termed it, to worthy charities).  By the 1940s, Charteris had his hero working on behalf of the U.S. government, giving Nazis what-for.  The post-war Templar would see another transformation as he became more of a global adventurer.  There was a dark side to “The Saint,” as he was not above terminating an adversary if innocent lives would be saved in the bargain.  Leslie wrote both Saint novels and short stories/novellas until 1963. (A number of scribes penned additional books until the final one, Salvage for the Saint, was published in 1983).

Leslie Charteris, in addition to his novels and short stories, found work in the 1930s as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Among his contributions to the cinema were screenplays for such films as Midnight Club (1933), River Gang (1945), and Two Smart People (1946).  But as a hard-working Tinsel Town scribe, Charteris also persuaded one of the majors, RKO, to produce a film based on one of his Saint novels—which was released in 1938 as The Saint in New York (starring Louis Hayward as Templar).  A follow-up hit theatres in 1939, The Saint Strikes Back, with George Sanders as the titular thief…and Sanders would play Templar in four additional features.  Hugh Sinclair finished out the Saint franchise with The Saint’s Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger (both in 1941).

The silver screen success of The Saint played a major role in stoking interest in a radio version of Charteris’ sleuth.  It should be noted, however, that the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint on January 6, 1945 was Simon Templar’s American debut. Earlier radio incarnations featuring the character were heard in other countries, including a 1940 venture (heard on the BBC Forces Band) with character actor Terence de Marney.  Character great Edgar Barrier was the first performer to essay The Saint on American radio, in a thirteen-week series heard over NBC for Bromo Seltzer.  In June of that same year, Brian Aherne was elevated to “Sainthood” in a CBS series that served as a summer replacement for The Jack Carson Show. In this version, Louise Arthur was heard as Patricia Holm (Simon Templar’s love interest in Charteris’ early novels).  Charteris went on record with praise for Aherne’s interpretation of the character, opining that the actor “would have been just as good on film.”

The actor most old-time radio fans remember best as The Saint (mostly due to the unavailability of the Barrier and Aherne shows) is Vincent Price. He began playing Simon Templar on a sustained program that aired over CBS’ West Coast network for about a year beginning July 9, 1947.  After a year’s hiatus, Price returned on July 10, 1949 for Ford Motors on Mutual until May 28, 1950. The Adventures of the Saint then relocated to NBC two weeks later.  Vincent would play The Saint on this NBC incarnation until May 20, 1951 until Tom Conway took over the role. (Conway was the brother of George Sanders, who had portrayed Templar briefly in motion pictures.)  Actor Lawrence Dobkin was heard on the NBC Adventures of the Saint as a colorful cabbie named Louie, with many of “Radio Row’s” standout actors turning up in supporting roles (Lurene Tuttle, Harry Bartell, Peggy Webber, etc.).  On October 14, 1951, The Saint wrapped up his last American radio caper…although additional versions would later be broadcast in Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, and Norway (and over the BBC in 1995).

One of the most comprehensive histories of radio’s The Adventures of the Saint was written by Ian Dickerson: The Saint on the Radio.  It is a must-own reference, featuring fastidiously detailed episode guides for each of the American incarnations and two complete Saint scripts: “The High Fence” (the first episode featuring Brian Aherne, originally broadcast June 20, 1945) and “No Hiding Place” (11/20/50, with Vincent Price).  Radio Spirits has but a few copies of this book left…so strike while the iron is hot if you’re a fan.  You’ll also find a classic Saint adventure with Mr. Price (“The Horrible Hamburger,” 09/10/50) on our sleuthing compendium Great Radio Detectives.


  1. Scott Cowden says:

    I had no idea The Saint had such a storied history!!

    Thanks for this!

  2. Dario Witer says:

    Of course, most people know about the television version of this beloved series, starring Roger Moore, than this radio series.

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