Return of the Saint

Return of the Saint

1979 - United Kingdom

Nine years after the halo had faded from above Roger Moore's head in the last episode of The Saint, producer Bob Baker approached ITV chief, Lew Grade, and suggested that the time was right for Simon Templar to return to the small screen. Grade's reaction was; 'okay, now find me an actor to play The Saint.' Baker already had an actor in mind, and Ian Ogilvy was signed to do six series. Only one was ever made. 

Ian Ogilvy was under no illusions when he took over the role of Simon Templar that he was following in the footsteps of one of the most charismatic actors to have appeared on our screens throughout the 1960s. The original series was still playing and drawing respectable ratings around the world. Comparisons would inevitably be drawn. However, there were very few actors who were better suited in the 1970s than Ogilvy to play the part of Simon Templar and make it their own. Ogilvy was in his mid-thirties; good-looking with a distinct upper crust Britishness about him that suited the part. Physically he was not dissimilar to Roger Moore even if he lacked Roger's charisma. In Bob Baker's opinion he was a better actor than Roger Moore.

Originally, Ogilvy was to play the son of Simon Templar and the series was to be called The Son of the Saint, but that idea was quickly dropped. A deal was struck up between Baker, Lew Grade and the character's original creator Leslie Charteris. However, there was one more vital deal that needed to be struck first before the series was commissioned: The American deal. Years earlier Grade had said; "When you decide to do a production of major significance it's the quality and idea of the product that counts -not what it's going to cost. That you face afterwards." But in this case, for the type of budget that Grade was to lavish on the series it was vital that the series be sold to the USA. "No one but a fool makes television for the British market alone," said Grade. "Without the guarantee of an American outlet he will lose his shirt." In order to ensure success in the USA, Hollywood producer Anthony Spinner, who had worked on such hit American prime-time shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Cannon was bought in with the sole purpose of tailoring the series for the US market. As it turned out, this was a huge mistake.

American television was, at this time, turning away from excessive violence in direct contrast to British series' such as The Sweeney and Minder which had a much harder edge. Spinner demanded that scenes of violence be cut leaving Ogilvy to complain about the lack of realism on the series. "I'd hit them once and they'd fall over" he complained. "Just once I wanted to hit them with an iron bar or something." Clearly there was a conflict of interest behind the scenes leading Spinner to complain at that time to The Hollywood Reporter "I kept telling them, you can't have ten murders and five rapes in each episode. Sometimes they believe me and sometimes they don't. It depends on the day." Ogilvy is convinced that a watered down Saint at a time when British viewers were expecting grittier, tougher storylines did the series no favours at all. But he drew the line when Spinner wrote an episode about Simon Templar fighting vampires. He went straight to Leslie Charteris who put a stop to that particular episode once and for all.

The British press were less than enthralled with the series. "The show has been castrated to comply with what the American network deemed acceptable fodder, with the result that it was the worst of both worlds," reported The Daily Express. "The character of the new Saint has been as thinly drawn as his matchstick man trademark," wrote The Sun. However, in spite of the critical mauling the show got it didn't effect the ratings and viewers tuned in in their millions, and it became a massive hit. Not, it would seem, with Lew Grade. 73 countries bought The Return Of The Saint and it became one of ITC's most profitable shows of all time. Then Lew Grade cancelled it. That decision is still a mystery to Ian Ogilvy. "I'm pretty sure he didn't like me. I never met him." The Return Of The Saint was the last big budget production for ITC, the company that had been the byword for style and quality for almost three decades on British television. 

Return of The Saint is today more fondly remembered than it was ever received and Ian Ogilvy is still regarded as The Saint by the generation that grew up in the late 1970s and early 80s. The series has been released on DVD and is worthy of another viewing if only to witness the end of the era of the playboy adventurer. It is a piece of television history and a series of adventures that we are unlikely to see again.

Published on January 24th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (27 January 2007) for Television Heaven.

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