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The Saint all sinners wanted to be

  • Published at 01:50 pm May 28th, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:19 pm May 28th, 2017
The Saint all sinners wanted to be

For me and possibly many others, Sir Roger Moore invokes not just the image of a jet-setting super-spy, insouciantly ordering best Beluga and Dom Perignon while trouncing the opponent and getting the belle in the end.

Of course, for good reason, for millions around the world, he is remembered for playing the role of James Bond, the ultra-cool spy.

Well, this spy is a bit different; he is known by all the front-desk people in the best hotels of the world and has super expensive taste. Not the reflection of a real-life spy, one has to say.

Anyway, let’s come to that debate some other time.

As Moore passed away last week, I was taken back to the glorious days of black and white television when we used to wait with anticipation for the most thrilling adventure on the small screen: The Saint.

All throughout the 70s, The Saint, a television series chronicling the adventures of a dashing rogue, was our getaway into the world of suave espionage. Volvo 1800 with “ST 1” as the licence plate -- a car that we craved.

Bond in the West, the Saint in Bangladesh

When I got the news that Moore, my favourite actor and icon, had passed away, a slice of forgotten childhood flashed back: Soft breezy late evening, quiet roads, the whole family in front of the Philips black and white, awaiting Simon Templar.

In a time when, politically, the country was in turmoil, respite came from TV. This was mid-70s; Roger Moore had already done three Bond films, but here in Bangladesh, Moore was still “the Saint” simply because, in a very turbulent socio-political scenario, the latest foreign films stopped being imported.

The country had witnessed a devastating flood followed by famine in 1974 and within the collective social psyche, the prime concern was survival and ensuring a livelihood.

In such an unsettling state, the movie import business had to find cost-effective solutions. Hence, we had to be satisfied with films made in the 60s. Bond was still Sean Connery.

But on the small screen, Moore was already providing 007-like excitement, and, at no extra cost. I think we owe a lot to BTV because for those of us belonging to the first post-liberation generation, the state-run television was the only source of entertainment.

The Saint was immensely popular; in fact, in one Sheba Prokashoni bestseller, Choy Romancho, the detective in a story called “Shikari” utters the line: “Even if you are Simon Templar, you cannot trick me”

In a time of austerity, second-hand book stores did brisk business. The Saint novels by Leslie Charteris were the top picks along with James Hadley Chase.

BTV in colour and welcome Lord Brett Sinclair

Moore was made to play the upper crust English gentleman. But the reality is, he lost his cockney accent during a stint at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). In one interview, Michael Caine, who never totally lost his working-class accent, said that after his friend Roger came back from RADA, everyone was surprised by the change in his way of talking.

That’s exactly the reason why, in 1971, Roger paired up with American actor Tony Curtis for, in my opinion, the best television series of all times: The Persuaders.

The class of Roger in Lord Sinclair carried everything the British aristocracy represents: Charm, elegance, pride in heritage to counter the brash American, Danny Wilde, portrayed by Curtis who added piquancy with his typical Bronx cheekiness, brash approach, and the subtle sarcasm directed at his friend, Sinclair.

A titled Englishman and a self-made American millionaire -- the pairing was perfect, the series, sublime. This show came to Bangladesh in 1980 just as BTV stepped into colour.

Bangladesh was changing, albeit slowly, and by 1984, there was talk that Live and Let Die, the first Roger Moore starring Bond film

By this time, Roger Moore had become famous as Bond with the film For Your Eyes Only hitting the European market; however, we were still happily lost in The Persuaders.

Bangladesh was changing, albeit slowly, and by 1984, there was talk that Live and Let Die, the first Roger Moore starring Bond film, would soon be screened at Modhumita Cinema Hall.

Moore takes Dhaka by storm (a decade too late)

They say, better late than never and that is perhaps the best line to describe Moore’s first Bond film on Dhaka screens. Live and Let Die had very few gadgets but the small one, the magnetic lighter used by Moore to undo the back zipper of a lady, proved a crowd-puller.

And, it wasn’t totally implausible either.

Live and Let Die is perhaps a Bond film which made the character more of an adventurer rather than a secret agent. Voodoo magic, enchanting Jane Seymour as a clairvoyant, snakes, Roger Moore’s mischievous grin, and of course New York in the 70s -- the film proved to be a smash hit.

“Names are for tombstones, baby!” -- the line became a catch-phrase of sorts.

In about two years, all the other Moore films came to Bangladesh with The Spy Who Loved Me running for more than three months at a stretch. Modhumita made a rule of having Roger Moore Bond week during Ramadan in the 80s.

The VCR arrives, 007 comes to the small screen

The arrival of the VCR changed the way we watched movies. Small rental shops sprung up everywhere. Though in the early 80s, the price of the VCR was well beyond Tk100,000, the VCP democratised home entertainment.

In 1984, all video cassette rental shops had these films on the top chart: Rambo, Commando, Octopussy, Lone Wolf Mcquade, American Ninja, and The Spy Who Loved Me.

Soon, another Moore film became a local hit. This was Wild Geese, made in 1978 starring not only Roger Moore but Richard Burton, Stewart Granger, and Richard Harris. At one point, this film, about a group of mercenaries betrayed and stranded in Africa, eclipsed the 007 flicks in demand.

The VCR gave us the chance to compare the Bonds and honestly speaking, my vote was and still is, for Moore.

After all, it’s a role not to be taken seriously at all and Roger did just that, made fun while he saved the world and took the girl home -- escapism in all sense of the word.

As the actor passes away, we think of all those mischief-topped fun that he gave us; but whatever role he played, the halo of the Saint was always there -- he was the Saint that all sinners like us wanted to be.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.

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