Charteris: “A Saint I Ain’t.”

[The following is from the Introduction to Ian Dickerson’s biography of Leslie Charteris: The Saint I Ain;t.]

[The following is from the Introduction to Ian Dickerson;s biography of Leslie Charteris: The Saint I Ain;t.]

I was lucky enough to know Leslie Charteris for the last few years of his life. He was in his eighties; I was still trying to escape my teenage years; an odd relationship really but one that, fuelled with a diet of long monthly lunches, frequent letters and weekly phone calls, quickly graduated from acquaintanceship to friendship. Early on in our friendship I vividly remember calling him on a Saturday evening, after every episode of the 1989 series of The Saint had aired, and hearing his brutally honest reaction to the films. I remember sitting in his study enjoying a post-prandial coffee as he answered my questions and told dirty jokes. And I remember my reaction when he asked me to help write a book…

For a long while after he died, I tried to figure it out. After all, he was a best-selling if retired author and I was nothing but a rather naïve teenage fan. Eventually I realized that what enabled the friendship was the vision, the shared vision. That may sound self-aggrandizing but read a Saint book and it won’t be long before you’re infected with it, a certain joie de vivre, a spirit of mischief and adventure and a desire to live life, really live life.          

I read my first Saint book when I was nine years old. I had just watched a TV show about a guy called Simon Templar and having noticed that my brother had a couple of books with the word ‘Saint’ in the title, quickly and permanently purloined them to see if they were much like the TV show I loved. They weren’t, they were much better.

I have no doubt that he would be both equally horrified and fascinated by this book.

I spent the next few years and most of my pocket money tracking down every Saint book I could lay my hands on. I was hooked. I read and reread those books throughout my formative years and they had a big effect on the way I saw the world. They still do. Don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t go around taking on the Ungodly and saving damsels in distress, but I did develop a Saintly sense of humour, a healthy disregard for most authority and a certain view of the world that corresponded quite closely with that held by Messrs Charteris and Templar.

I wasn’t the only one. A few years ago, when I was tasked with overseeing reprints of his books in both the UK and USA I recklessly suggested to the publishers that to help provide context for some pretty old books, we should get people to write some introductions, to explain what the Saint and Leslie Charteris meant to them and how it may have affected their lives.

And then I sat back and wondered just what the hell I had done; after all Amazon were going to reprint forty-nine of his books. Could I really find enough people willing to write an introduction? Well it turned out to be a far easier task than I first feared: a wide variety of people including writers, actors and producers all willingly contributed some truly fascinating pieces showing just how much the work of Leslie Charteris had affected them.

So having achieved one ambition I figured it was time to finish up another—tell Leslie’s story. Long ago, back when I was still working on becoming a teenager and long before the internet made such research a little easier, I had WOG. “Bill” Lofts and Derek Adley’s book, The Saint and Leslie Charteris out on permanent loan from my local library for nigh on a year. Although it’s as much a bibliography as a biography it gave me a tantalizing glimpse into the life of the bloke who’d written so many of the books I enjoyed. I always hoped that one day I’d get to read his story in detail.

After he died I spoke to many of his friends and they shared with me their memories and reminiscences. I was lucky: people told me their anecdotes, how they first met him, the fun times they had together, how he had made his mark on so many people’s lives. It was this that convinced me that a biography should be written.

But he was a very private person and never sanctioned any in-depth study of his life. He told Bill Lofts: “…what is interesting is either classified or scandalous. I either could not or would not help you with anything that should be printed for about 25 years after my funeral”[1].

In the 21st century, just over twenty-five years after his funeral, Leslie’s name is indelibly attached to that of his ‘modern day Robin Hood’, Simon Templar but there was more to Leslie’s literary acuity than the Saint alone. He was fluent in several languages, a passion that led him to write a guide book to learning Spanish, the English translation of a biography of famed matador Juan Belmonte and those forty French Saint adventures which have never been translated into English. He wrote true crime stories about crooked religious leaders, had a monthly column in the epicurean journal Gourmet magazine and devised a pictorial sign language which he called Paleneo, subsequently writing a book about it. And he was an early member of MENSA, whose requirement for membership is an IQ within the top 2 percent of the population.

I have no doubt that he would be both equally horrified and fascinated by this book. In the years I knew him—which were by and large a pre-internet era—he was amazed at the various facts, trivia and anecdotes I unearthed about his life, but he was also more than a little taken aback, for there were things he simply regarded as private. But over the years, as I discovered more and more about him, I realized that his was simply a story that should be told.

This then, is the biography of Leslie Charteris. The story of a gentleman, the story of an adventurer, the story of a genius, the story… of a Saint.

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