The Saint was without doubt, a 60s classic. So much so that ITC decided to bring it back in the 70s. Obviously Roger Moore was busy with Bond, so a replacement was found for the playboy crimefighter in Ian Ogilvy – and Return Of The Saint was born.
It should have been a marriage made in heaven – big budgets, great locations (thanks to that budget) and a great lead in Ian Ogilvy, who had previously starred in two of my favourite cult movies of the 60s – Witchfinder General and The Sorcerers. But it didn’t quite work out at the time – the reviews were mixed and the series ended before its intended time. Why isn’t clear – because Return Of The Saint was one of ITC’s most profitable shows ever, sold to numerous networks worldwide.
And perhaps history hasn’t been kind either. Think "Saint" and you’ll think Moore – but give the 70s take a chance, it’s not as bad as you might imagine.
Let’s take the negative first – this was made in 1978, a time when the grittiness of The Sweeney (and later The Professionals) was dominating TV. And this was where ROTS really missed the boat. ITC owner brought in US producer Anthony Spinner to oversee the series – with an eye on selling the show to the US. However, US shows were moving away from excessive violence – so Spinner took out the grit.
This left the heroic Templar looking a bit limp in truth. Ogilvy complained about it and UK audiences didn’t take to it. But 30 years later, we don’t have the same levels of violence on TV and it’s perhaps not as noticeable – though once you think about it, you do notice that everyone goes down after a single slap on the chops.
However, there are a good few positives to even things up. Ian Ogilvy is a natural in the role (and you do wonder what he would have been like as Bond if Moore has left when he should have), the settings of 70s London and the more glamourous parts of Europe are impressive, Templar drives a Jaguar XJ-S (one of my favourite cars), there’s a great theme tune, it’s rammed full of big-name special guests and the plotlines are well-written (if a little dated to modern-day eyes).
And indeed, if you’re going to buy the series, this is the one to get. Every episode (including the feature length The Saint and the Brave Goose) and packed full of extras from galleries and scripts through to PDFs of The Return Of The Saint annuals.
Return Of The Saint was the last big-budget show that ITC produced – and in a way it does seem very much out of its era, probably more like the ITC output of late 60s/early 70s than the crimefighting TV of the late 70s. If you want a gritty drama, buy The Sweeney box. If you want some playboy heroics in glamourous locations, this is certainly worth considering.
Extras on the DVD:
PDFs of The Return Of The Saint annuals
Episodic image galleries
Unseen raw footage of the title sequence
Feature-length episode – The Saint and the Brave Goose