Return of the Saint – The Poppy Chain


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


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

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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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