Interesting Facts about Leslie Charteris and The Saint

Fun facts about the Saint and his creator, the author Leslie Charteris

The Saint – aka Simon Templar – is a well-known character, both on television and in countless books. But who created him? The author behind the Saint, Leslie Charteris, is as interesting a figure as his most famous fictional creation.

Charteris was half English and half Chinese, born in Singapore in 1907 to a Chinese surgeon father. Consequently, his first language was not English, but Mandarin. (He was born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin.) He was a highly precocious young man: his first book was Roger Mooreaccepted for publication while Charteris was in the first year of his degree at Cambridge. He promptly left the university, abandoning his studies in favour of trying his hand at a literary career. It would prove a hugely lucrative decision.

‘Charteris’ was a pseudonym – chosen (supposedly from a phone book) as a quintessentially English-sounding name. Simon Templar, his most famous creation, made his debut in the 1928 novel, Meet the Tiger, written when Charteris was still in his early twenties. It’s never made clear why he’s called ‘the Saint’, though it could be from his initials – ‘Simon Templar’ giving us ‘ST’ = St. = ‘saint’. His calling-card – a stick-figure crowned with a halo – is almost as famous as the character himself. Like Robin Hood, Simon Templar is a criminal but – as his saintly nickname reveals – on the side of good in many ways. He goes after corrupt politicians and officials on numerous occasions.

Roger Moore immortalised Simon Templar, ‘the Saint’, on television in the 1960s, but Moore wasn’t the first person to play the role of Templar. Indeed, he wasn’t even the second, or the third, or the fourth. Simon Templar first came to the screen – the big screen first of all – in 1938 in a film, The Saint in New York, starring Louis Hayward. Other films followed with George Sanders in the title role. Between 1945 and 1951, Vincent Price – also known for his roles in many Hammer Horror films – played Templar on American radio, though others such as Edgar Barrier also played the Templar role. It was in 1962, eleven years after the radio show ended, that Roger Moore brought Templar to the small screen and an even bigger audience. By this time there had also been a Saint comic strip and a magazine devoted to the character. In the late 1970s, the Saint would find a new incarnation, when he was played by Ian Ogilvy in the British series Return of the Saint.

Charteris, a highly bright and gifted individual, was one of the first members of Mensa, and invented his own sign language, Paleneo. He died in 1993, four years before the Saint returned to screens – the big screen again this time – in the 1997 film starring Val Kilmer.

Image: Roger Moore in 1973 (via Allan warren), Wikimedia Commons.

5 thoughts on “Interesting Facts about Leslie Charteris and The Saint”

  1. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know The Saint was based on books. I loved the Val Kilmer movie when I was in high school. I saw it three times in the theater. I will have to check out the books.

  2. I loved The Return of the Saint in the 70s as a kid. I can still remember the theme tune and the stick figure and halo. Great stories though I confess I don’t know the books.


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