As with The Saint television series it can be argued that Simon Templar isn’t a secret agent. That’s true, but even more so than it’s predecessor, The Return Of The Saint has many espionage episodes.
The blurbs from several episodes on the Umbrella DVD release read like this:
The Judas Game
British Intelligence send THE SAINT to rescue Selma Morell who has been kidnapped by the Albanian Secret Police…
One Black September
THE SAINT teams with a lovely Israeli agent to track down a defecting top member of the Black September terrorist movement….
An assassination attempt on a powerful oil sheik precipitates THE SAINT’s undercover work for the CIA.
You get the idea. By the mid seventies, international globe trotting wasn’t enough for The Saint. He had become more than a loveable rogue. He was a tool. Sometimes even a killer. With television shows like The Sweeney in England, and The Six Million Dollar Man in America, the Saint couldn’t remain an overgrown boy scout. The producers had the choice of toughening up The Saint, by showing his more criminal activities, or exaggerating his good deeds. The chose the latter. Ian Ogilvy was the man who replaced Roger Moore and the man who toughened up The Saint’s image.
For me, The Debt Collectors is one of the highlights of the Return Of The Saint series. It has all the elements we expect in a Saint story plus it has a few very interesting additions, which to a spy enthusiast give it an extra dimension.
The episode starts with Simon Templar (Ian Ogilvy) going for a leisurely horse ride. Another rider, Gerri Hanson (Mary Tamm) loses control of her horse and it gallops away. Naturally, Templar rides to the rescue, and reaching across at full gallop brings the horse under control. Afterwards he drives Gerri home. Inside, waiting for her is her blind father, Paul Hanson (Esmond Knight). He is impatiently waiting for the mail, because he is expecting a letter from his other daughter, Christine, who is studying in the USA. Here, Simon witnesses a strange event. Gerri picks up a bill from the pile of letters and reads it, improvised, as if it were a letter from her sister.
It seems that Gerri has been protecting her father from the truth. Christine isn’t in the USA. In fact she is in prison. She was sent there five years ago after being caught red handed passing on military secrets. Gerri, reading the fictitious letter says that Christine will be returning to the UK soon. In fact, this is because she is eligible for parole. She is due to be released on the next day.
But as with only twenty four hours till her release, Christine does the unthinkable – she breaks out of prison. Waiting on the other side of the wall is her boyfriend. He is an American racing car driver and just the man to spirit Christine away, before the authorities cordon off the area.
Meanwhile, The Saint himself is attracting a bit of unwanted attention. Two thugs who have been following Gerri, turn up on Templar’s doorstep. At gunpoint, they attempt to warn him against seeing Gerri anymore. Of course, the thugs threats do not dissuade Templar. The next time he sees Gerri, she engages him to help her find Christine.
There are two reasons why I particularly like this particular episode of The Return Of The Saint. The first is the plot. Sure, it starts out as another ‘knight in shining armour’ episode, with Templar coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress. But from these beginnings it moves quickly into ‘spy’ territory. The story revolves around a mole in M.I.5 who has been selling secrets, and many of the seemingly innocent events that occur, are in fact ploys to force the traitor to reveal himself.
The second reason why I like The Debt Collectors is that it stars Geoffrey Keen as Sir Charles Meadley, the head of M.I.5. Bond fans will recognise Keen as the character Frederick Gray (Minister Of Defense) from The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights. But it is not seeing a familiar face that makes it intriguing; it’s the dialogue between Sir Charles and Templar that give the story that extra punch. At the end of the episode, Sir Charles asks Templar to join M.I.5. Yep, The Saint is asked to become a professional spy. Needless to say, he turns down the offer. The Saint gives his reasons why he doesn’t want the job (I won’t reveal them here), but it is an interesting insight into Templar’s character and how he is different from the spies of the world.
The Debt Collectors is a good example of why I keep posting reviews of the adventures of Simon Templar; gentleman, thief, soldier of fortune. He may not be a spy himself (well, he had the chance), but his adventures certainly bring him into contact with some shady characters from the espionage community.