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Sunday, 13 September 2009

KEEPING THE FAITH - IAN DICKERSON INTERVIEW

Ian Dickerson became firm friends with Saint author, Leslie Charteris when, as a teenager he wrote to the Saint Club. He is pictured left with the late author and these days he is the honourery secretary of the club which, started by Leslie Charteris himself, is far from the typical fan club and does much charity work.

The Archive caught up with Ian on this Saint Weekend for a good old Q&A session.


TA: You have stated that, like myself, you came initially to know the character of The Saint via the TV series and that led you onto the original stories. I am very much the same and the first actual Saint I read was the Saint in New York and I was amazed to find how hard-boiled it was. What was your initial feelings on the books and stories?


ID:In some ways I was lucky, for the first Saint books I read were Getaway and Saint Errant which, whilst they don’t present the Saint at the extremes of his career, do present a different Saint in each book and are perhaps more in line with the Saint I was watching on TV at the time.

It was Getaway that really got me hooked. It’s a fun thrill-packed romp which has everything I ask of a good story; action, adventure, wit, bad guys, good guys, damsels in distress, jewels…

From there I acquired more Saint books as quickly as I could and most of them were initially from the early part of his career. So the Saint I was introduced to was the brighter buccaneer, the young adventurer, a modern day Robin Hood…it didn’t tally completely with what I’d seen on TV but I was old enough to grasp that television was an unreliable translator of literature. And for the teenage me, the adventures of the Saint were indeed literature.

I loved pretty much all the early stuff—The Brighter Buccaneer particularly got well read. For me that was the ideal Saint.


TA: Film, TV and radio - The Saint has cropped up on all these mediums. To your mind has any actor nailed the part as of yet?


ID: I have long believed that every Saint production—whether film, TV or radio—has been right for the time. Or at least a product of the times as much as a product of the original books. So whilst Roger was right for the 60s certainly with the benefit of hindsight and, well over 40 years, it looks quite dated. But that’s human nature as much as anything else. I thin

k there’s elements of each actor’s portrayal that really hit the nail on the head—even the likes of Andrew Clarke who at least had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.


TA: There are currently a lot of rumours about a new Saint TV series. Who would you like to see playing the role? The ideal Saint?


ID:It depends on the production. For a modern day Saint, well networks seem to want leading men to be in their forties so I think Dougray Scott would do a very good job.

Personally one day I’d like to see a period Saint show with a slightly younger Saint, someone like Ioan Gruf

fudd maybe.

The Saint that should have been was Pierce Brosnan, just after he finished with Remington Steele. He met Bob Baker and Roger Moore with a view to doing a period Saint film but unfortunately the financing fell through. I think he would have been a splendid Saint.


TA: I was a member of The Saint Club as a kid (in fact I'm going to join again this week just for the hell of it) as, I think, you were but then you became honorary secretary. How did this come about?


ID: I’

ve been a voraciouwatcherof television and res ader of books ever since I can remember. So when my 9 year old self, after a couple of weeks of watching Ian Ogilvy in Return of the Saint, discovered that my big brother had a couple of books by Leslie Charteris it seemed inevitable that they’d soon move to my bookshelves.

I read them literally from cover to cover and discovered that there were quite a few Saint books so set about collecting them.

A couple of years later, being at an age where joining organisations seems like a particularly good idea, I wrote off to the addr

ess in the back of one of the books intent on joining The Saint Club (we shall, for now charitably overlook the fact that said book was almost 20 years old and so the chances of that address being current were slim).

I was rather stunned a couple of weeks later to get a letter from Norman Turner, who was then running the Club. I joined and spent a few years being a rather passive member--reading the Christmas letter and buying the occasional bit of merchandise. Then two things happened; Norman Turner passed away, and ITV announced their plans for

the Simon Dutton series.

I wrote to the chap who’d taken over the Club – Alan Arnold – and suggested that with a new series on the horizon, the Club should issue a mor


e meaty newsletter and basically initiate a publicity campaign. Unbeknownst to me, Alan passed my letter on to Leslie Charteris, who promptly rang me up one evening. Once I'd picked myself up off the floor, we had a good chat and he said that Alan didn't want to run the Club anymore and asked me if I was interested in taking over. Needless to say, the answer was yes.

The Club was formed in 1936 by Leslie Charteris, who wanted a more constructive form of fan support for the Saint than your typical movie star fandom. Ever since then, we've raised money by selling subscriptions and exclusive merchandise to members. All profits that we make are donated to charity. For many years before the introduction of the NHS, the Club supported a “Saint” ward in a London hospital and then transferred its support to a Youth Centre in the East End of London. The Youth Centre does a rather splendid job of standing on its own two feet, so now we make donations in keeping with our Saintly philosophy usually to causes suggested by our Saints-In-Chief – Leslie's widow, Audrey, and daughter, Mrs. Patricia Charteris Higgins.

In terms of what we offer, well, we used to send all members a Christmas letter which would detail Saintly news and also the merchandise available. Some of them have slipped in recent years but I am just in the process of pulling one together to confirm details on the new Saint TV pilot to all our members.

And we still offer members a unique range of our own merchandise such as stationery, Christmas cards, books, pin badges etc.

We run a variety of web sites – www.lesliecharteris.com, www.ianogilvy.com, www.raymondaustin.com – have a page on Facebook and post on various sites around the net.


TA: So tell us a little something about your friendship with Leslie Charteris.


ID: At the end of that initial phone call Leslie invited me out to lunch and something clicked between a very na├»ve teenager and the best-selling author and his wife which resulted in subsequent numerous lunches and discussions appended by some very long weekly phone conversations. I’m lucky enough to consider his widow and daughter amongst my best friends to this day.

I vividly remember his comments about the Simon Dutton series when it aired—and there might be children reading so I can’t repeat them—as well as many sessions in the study at his bungalow in Surrey where we would discuss the book we worked on together, he would tell dirty jokes and I would ask him questions. Lots of questions.


TA: You selected the stories for the two current Saint Collections - why did you pick these particular stories?


ID: I’d initially wanted one volume to comprise the Rayt Marius tetralogy but Hodders decided they didn’t want to include any of the novels in the anthologies.

However they had agreed with my idea of getting some introductions to the books and once Sir Roger Moore had agreed to do one it seemed obvious that he should preface stories that reflected his Saint, which meant stories from the latter end of the Saint’s literary career.

When Ken Follett agreed to do another, well you couldn’t put out a book called “The Best of the Saint” and not include many of the early stories could you?

Fortunately should Hodders decide to carry on The Best of the Saint series, there’s plenty of stories left to choose from!


TA: Why do you think it is that The Saint has not enjoyed the massive success of James Bond when in many ways they are similar characters in fact it could be argued that the Saint is more versatile simply because he can work freelance?


ID: I think it partly depends on how you measure success. If it’s his recent track record you’re talking about then yes, undoubtedly Bond has done far better.

If it’s movies you’re talking about, again particularly recent ones, then Bond has done far better.

But look at entire careers and well, I’m not a Bond expert, but the Saint has a series of 90 original books to his name, 3 TV series (admittedly one or two of questionable quality, but two of which sold to over 70 countries), a comic strip that was syndicated in newspapers around the world for over a decade (yeah I know Bond had one of those too), 11 radio series, 15 films…

I’m not trying to make this into a pissing contest, but how do you want to measure success?

I think the Saint’s problem is that he is best suited to television, and recent TV versions have not done him justice for one reason or another and so have not become long lasting.

Of course there are obvious similarities between the character but it does depend on which of the multiple incarnations of either you want to compare but I like the point Leslie Charteris made, which is that Bond is very obviously a man of his time whereas Leslie always stated that the Saint was a man born out of his time.

And let me ask you a question; did Daniel Craig’s Bond smile at all during Quantum of Solace? Did he look like he was enjoying himself and having fun? See, I can’t answer that because I fell asleep during the film…


TA: I don't know anyone who smiled during QOS - But going back to the new, proposed,rumoured TV series - I know nothing is certain and that even if you do know anything from the inside that you couldn't divulge it. But what can you tell us? Anything at all?


ID: One reason it’s taken so long is because Bill MacDonald and Geoffrey Moore, who have been driving this forward for years now, want to do justice to the original character, to make sure that the Saint in the 21st century is someone that Saint fans will recognise and everyone will watch. They want to get it right.

So after much work and pain, you know what, I think they’re nearly there. I’m told there’s a new draft of the script due this week but the last version I saw had some wonderfully Saintly scenes in it, some great laugh-out-loud humor, and the Saint acting as, well, the Saint.

The emotional crux of the script is something Leslie hinted at throughout his writing and quite frankly, regardless of this being the Saint, this is just something I’d like to see on TV.


TA: For someone new to The Saint, what would be a good book to start with?


ID: Depends. If they favour novels then The Last Hero, Getaway or The Saint in New York. Or Prelude for War. If they’d rather something a little shorter then maybe Enter the Saint or The Holy Terror. And if they really want short stories then The Brighter Buccaneer or Boodle.


TA: You've stated elsewhere that you were brought up on the Ian Oglivy series - personally I found him too lightweight - but now that you know the entire canon do you still love the Oglivy series?


ID: Absolutely, though I’m sure a fair chunk of my love is due to the context in which I saw it. But I still maintain that, for the 1970s at least, he was the perfect Saint

The Tainted Archive thanks Ian Dickerson for his vaulable time on this Saint Weekend. Not since this interview was conducted several newspapers have reported that Dougray Scott has been cast as The Saint for a new Canadian produced pilot.


THE SAINT CLUB DETAILS: courtesy THE SAINT.ORG

Leslie Charteris on The Saint Club

When I was very young, and just beginning as a writer, any fan mail that I was lucky enough to get was an event, to be received with grateful excitement and unstintly answered.

Today the gratitude remains, but the expense of acknowledgement has soared like a space shot. The cost of a photograph, which is often asked for, has gone up like the cost of living. Even the price of postage on a simple autograph is today more than 30 times what it was when I received my first request for one.

In 1935, things were not yet as bad as that, but the influx of fan mail had happily become a serious fact of life, and the foreshadowings of inflationary spirals could already be discerned upon the wall. It was also revealed to me that a very high percentage of fans were no book buyers but library borrowers, and therefore that the rewards of corresponding with them were in no way reflected by my royalty statements. In the proverbial nutshell, I was paying quite a price for the flattering of my ego.

That was when the solution dawned, if movie stars could have fan clubs, why not a club for addicts of the Saint's adventures? But to suit my conscience, it would have to serve a really good purpose, and not be just an adoration society.

With that resolve, the Saint Club was swiftly launched. Every penny of profits from subscriptions and the sale of merchandise, from Club ties to Christmas cards, were passed on for a start, to the Invalid and Crippled Children's Hospital in East London, where for a time they supported a ward of eight beds. As my own contribution, autographed photos for sale to members were supplied by me at no cost to the Club. For snob value, there was the unpaid office of Patron Saint, first filled by the Marquis of Donegal.

When the hospitals were nationalised in 1948, our donations began to be funnelled to the Arbour Youth Centre, still in East London, and adjudged to be another thoroughly worthy cause. The post of Patron Saint is now filled by Lord John Oaksey. After more than 50 years, everything else goes on as before, with an expanded list of merchandise on offer (though at prices which we regretfully have to revise upwards from time to time, to keep realistic pace with our current costs).

As we head onwards in our seventh decade, I am hoping that the Club will keep on achieving more and more under the latest Honorary Secretariat, Ian Dickerson.

The Honorary Secretary Writes...

Leslie Charteris founded The Saint Club in 1936 with the aim of providing a constructive fan base for Saint devotees. Before the War it donated profits to a London hospital where, for several years, a 'Saint' ward was maintained. With the nationalisation of hospitals, profits were donated to the Arbour Youth Centre in Stepney, London where the Club maintains a small office to this day.

The Club also acts as a centre for fans interested in the adventures of Leslie Charteris and the work of Simon Templar and publishes an irregular and irreverent newsletter, The Epistle, which covers anything and everything to do with the Saint and Leslie Charteris. The club also offers its own range of merchandise that is regularly updated and includes ties, mugs, photographs and note-paper, and has an award winning web site on the Internet.

Since Leslie Charteris' death, the Club has recruited three new vice-presidents; Roger Moore, Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton have all pledged their support whilst Audrey and Patricia Charteris have been retained as Saints-in-Chief. But some things do not change. As we enter our seventh ecade the back of the membership card still mischievously proclaims that...

"The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other prisoners from contamination."

Saint Club Merchandise

Saint Club members are able to purchase items from the Saint Club Merchandise catalog (pdf), including autographed photos, club ties, and other Saintly items.

Membership Costs

£3.50 (or US$7) per year
£30.00 (or US$60) for life membership
The Epistle is available on a single issue basis. Please ask for details. Please make out US Dollar or British Pound cheques payable to 'The Saint Club' and send, along with return postage to:
NOTE: either a self-addressed stamped envelope or International Reply Coupon is required.

The Saint Club, PO Box 258, Romsey, Hants. SO51 6WY England.






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