Article by David Salter
In 1953 “Clubland Heroes”, by Richard Usborne was published. This seminal work – “A nostalgic study of some of the recurrent characters in the romantic fiction of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and Sapper” – has become the go-to reference work for anyone interested in English thrillers of the immediate pre First World War and inter-war period. It analyses with perception, erudition and humour, the key figures of the genre – Berry & Co., Jonathan Mansel, Richard Hannay, Sandy Arbuthnot, Bulldog Drummond and a few others.
Much has been made of Ian Fleming’s debt to these writers and James Bond’s descent from Bulldog Drummond has been noted. Indeed Fleming remarked that Bond was “Sapper from the waist up and Mickey Spillane below”. John Gardner in his follow-on Bond novel “Role of Honour” suggested that Bond’s boyhood bookshelves contained “the books of Dornford Yates” and it is well established that John Buchan was one of the young IF’s favourite authors.
The structure of Fleming’s Bond novels follows a pattern similar to that of the Clubland Heroes: sometimes a Prologue where we are introduced to the problem that, or villain who will dominate the story; a prosaic period in which the hero goes about his everyday life; emerging awareness of the villain and the threat he poses; aggressive confrontation by the hero; capture and jeopardy of the hero (and sometimes the heroine); escape, and destruction of the villain – or his evil project, if he is to survive for a follow-up.
The Clubland Heroes lived their privileged lives, usually with private incomes and servants, in London’s West End clubland, from whence they set out in expensive, high-powered motor cars to confront extraordinary, eccentric villains, often abroad, or in Buchan’s case in Scotland. All were members of clubs in St. James’s Street and Pall Mall. Well, I think we can see that Bond had inherited some characteristics from his forebears but there were important aspects in which he differed: James Bond was (upper) middle class; he had had a public-school education; he lived in a fashionable part of London; he had a servant; he smoked hand-made cigarettes and he had a ‘statement’ high-powered sports car.
But was he a ‘gentleman’?
Well superficially, but not so much when one gets down to detail. He was a salary-man who confronted his country’s enemies under orders – generally the Clubland Heroes were (or appeared to be) freelance amateurs who got involved for sport; Bond fought dirty as opposed to the CHs who stuck to the clean crack of a well-timed upper cut; his treatment of and attitude towards women would have appalled the CHs, although he was sometimes capable of great tenderness. And, perhaps crucially, he was not a member of a West End club, although he was a frequent and familiar guest at M’s club, Blades. He was comfortable and accepted in such surroundings.
Well, so far so good – a relationship between James Bond and the Clubland Heroes has been established. But is something missing? Is there a pivotal link that joins the CHs of the1920s with the 1950s James Bond? Someone who is not quite a gentleman – but knows the form; lives in a fashionable part of London; has an iconic sports car – and a servant; carries out his assaults on the enemy for financial gain (as well as ideology) but is most definitely operating without the backing of the law; is tough and resourceful; has a respectful attitude (in the contemporary sense) towards women and who spans the period, in real-time, from the late 1920s to the 1960s?
Enter the Saint
The Saint – Simon Templar is the hero of thirty six books by Leslie Charteris (1907 – 1993) from the first “Meet the Tiger” (1928) to “The Saint in the Sun” (1963) – anything published after 1963 was written by others, although Charteris had a supervisory and editorial role. Unlike more recent follow on books (James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves& Wooster, Mr. Campion, Peter Wimsey etc.) the Saint follow-ons were written during his creator’s lifetime so at least he had some idea of what was going on and a level of control. Having said which, like most follow-ons they lack the sparkle of the originals.
Why do I suggest that Simon Templar is the pivotal link between the Clubland Heroes and James Bond? Well here’s a starting point. From “The Saint in New York” (1935). Dossier sent to the New York Police Department by Chief Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard:
SIMON TEMPLAR (“The Saint”) DESCRIPTION: Age 31, Height 6ft. 2in. Weight 175 Ilbs. Eyes: blue. Hair: black, brushed straight back. Complexion: tanned. Bullet scar through upper left shoulder. 8 in. scar, right forearm.
SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS: Always immaculately dressed. Luxurious tastes. Lives in most expensive hotels and connoisseur of food and wine. Carries firearms and is expert knife-thrower. Licensed air-pilot. Speaks several languages fluently. Known as “The Saint” from the habit of leaving drawing of skeleton figure with halo at the scenes of crimes (specimen reproduced below).
This is followed by details of a number of Templars exploits.
Now, compare with this from “From Russia with Love” by Ian Fleming (1957)
Extract from file held on James Bond by SMERSH:
First name: JAMES. Height: 183 centimetres, weight: 78 kilograms; slim build;
eyes: blue; hair black; scar down right cheek and on left shoulder; signs of plastic surgery on back of right hand (see Appendix “A”).
All-round athlete; expert pistol shot; boxer; knife-thrower; does not use disguises. languages: French and German. Smokes heavily (NB: special cigarettes with three gold bands; vices: drink but not to excess, and women. Not thought to accept bribes.
This is followed by details of Bond’s Secret Service career.
Well, coincidence, maybe, if that is the way you feel, or homage by Fleming to his primary influence if you see things differently. At one level there are differences between James Bond and Simon Templar. The Saint books are full of humour while Fleming’s work largely eschews humour. The Saint approaches his enemies with a blithe self-confidence, optimism and lack of apprehension; James Bond is given to occasional bouts of melancholia and self doubt. He often questions the value of his way of life, something Templar rarely does. Interestingly and perhaps unexpectedly, James Bond’s adversaries tend towards the grotesque, deformed megalomaniac, whereas the people the Saint confronts are relatively normal in appearance and general behaviour, distinguishable more for their dangerously anti-social and evil intentions and ultimate behaviour.
On the other hand there are great similarities between James Bond and the Saint and before we delve further into this it is worth pointing out that both characters were idealised versions of their creators. James Bond shared many of his characteristics with Ian Fleming and Fleming used Bond as his mouthpiece to articulate his own philosophy; well so did the Saint, who not only looked like Leslie Charteris but also shared and expressed his world-view which was a good deal more anarchic and anti-establishment than that of his Clubland Heroes forebears and for that matter of his successor, James Bond.
There is no doubt that the early 1930s Simon Templar owes a good deal to Bulldog Drummond: his racy badinage, his gang of loyal chums who would always come to the aid of the party, the Brook Street apartment with the well-used beer barrel in a corner of the sitting room, the ever-ready sports car waiting to roar off into the night in pursuit of the “Ungodly”, but over the period of 35 years and 36 books he develops into a more solitary, self-sufficient character, sometimes exhibiting an element of wistful melancholia and his taste moves from beer towards whisky and cocktails. Well just as Templar owes a lot to Drummond, I feel equally sure that Bond’s “onlie-begetter” was Simon Templar.
Let’s look at their similarities
- Both lived in areas of London fashionable at the time of their stories. Simon Templar in various Mayfair locations familiar to the Clubland Heroes: Brook Street, Upper Berkeley Mews off Berkeley Square and an apartment house in Piccadilly; Bond in a small plane tree lined Chelsea Square.
- Both had a servant to look after domestic aspects of their lively lives: the Saint’s man, Orace, whose favourite one-liner was “breakfuss ‘narfa minnit” while Bond relied on his Scottish treasure, May, who was also no slouch at breakfast.
- Both drove iconic high performance cars: Bond’s 1930, 4 1/2 litre, Amherst Villiers supercharged Bentley; Simon Templar’s Hirondel, a red and cream monster roadster based on Charteris’s own Lagonda Rapide, which won at Le Mans in 1935 and was designed by W O Bentley after he left his eponymous company.
- They shared similar characteristics in terms of build, colouring, features and scarring (see above) although perhaps this was due more to their creators’ characteristics than imitation.
- Both were English (or bearing in mind Bond’s ancestry) British, but had strong affinity with the United States. Both featured in stories that took place in the US and both lived there at some stage of their lives. Fleming remarked, somewhere that Bond could be taken for an American and Templar became very Americanised in the final dozen or so books, after Charteris moved there.
- Both had interesting wars.
- Both were heavy cigarette smokers and consumed prodigious quantities of alcohol, at the same time maintaining high levels of physical fitness.
- Both were formidable exponents of unarmed combat.
- Both carried automatic weapons and throwing knives, sometimes strapped to their forearms.
- Both dressed well, often in suits from tailors in or near Savile Row.
- Both travelled extensively, often shadowing their creator’s wanderings and their destinations are described with journalists’ eyes for detail and atmosphere.
- Both enjoyed good food and their stories were punctuated with descriptions of meals.
I believe there is a strong case to be made that Simon Templar, who owed a debt to the Clubland Heroes, was a great influence on Ian Fleming when he created James Bond – and that, if so, the Saint is the crucial link that ties James Bond umbilically to the original Clubland Heroes. Buchan, Yates, Sapper, Charteris, Fleming – Clubland Heroes and beyond. I will be interested to hear what others think.
James Bond vs The Saint: Two 1960s Conduit Street Suits (The Suits of James Bond)