Wednesday 10 June 2015

books that inspired cult TV series

Some of the best cult TV series of the 60s and 70s were based on literary sources. Since I also have a book blog, Vintage Pop Fictions, specialising in popular literature of the past (what could be described as Cult Literature), I thought a post on some of these literary sources might be in order (with links to my reviews).

The best-known example undoubtedly is The Saint, based on Leslie Charteris’s phenomenally successful novels and short stories chronicling the adventures of the daring rogue Simon Templar. The Simon Templar of the early Saint books is very different from the character familiar to us from the TV series - he’s both more whimsical and more ruthless and at the same time more cocky and self-confident. And while he’s unquestionably on the side of the angels it’s also much more clear that he has not always been on the right side of the law. These early Saint books like The Saint Meets his Match (originally published in 1931 as She Was a Lady), The Saint Closes the Case (AKA The Last Hero) and The Avenging Saint (originally published in 1930 under the title Knight Templar) are enormous fun.

In the late 1940s the character went through a metamorphosis. The Saint of the later stories is a bit older, a bit wiser and a bit sadder. He still feels the lure of adventure and he’s still the scourge of the ungodly but one gets the feeling that he is just a little lonely. The tone of the 60s television series is very much derived from these later story collections such as The Saint on the Spanish Main. Roger Moore captures the spirit of late-period Simon Templar remarkably well. One gets the feeling in these stories that Simon Templar is not quite at home in the new post-war world, which makes the 1960s setting of the television show even more interesting since Templar is definitely not a man of the 60s. 

The Baron was a series with obvious similarities to The Saint and the books (by the incredibly prolific John Creasey) which inspired this series were also somewhat close to the spirit of the Saint books. Judging by the first of the books, Meet the Baron, the TV series seems to have had little in common with its literary source!

Ellery Queen was another notable writer to have a television series based on his work (although Ellery Queen was of course two people, Frederic Dannay and his cousin Manfred Bennington Lee). In fact there were several Ellery Queen TV series but it's probably the 1975-76 Ellery Queen series that will be best remembered by most people. It's set in the late 1940s (actually 1947) but seems fairly close in tone to the early Ellery Queen novels of the 1930s, which happen to be some of the best detective stories of their era. Of the novels The French Powder Mystery and The Dutch Shoe Mystery are particularly good and The Greek Coffin Mystery is even better. The slightly later The Siamese Twin Mystery saw the authors moving into more bizarre territory but still with the same breath-taking mastery of plotting. The Egyptian Cross Mystery goes even further, being at times positively macabre.

Back in the late 50s Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (the one with Darren McGavin as Hammer) was a surprisingly successful attempt to bring the works of this most controversial of crime writers to the small screen. Spillane created a sensation with his first novel I, the Jury in 1947. My Gun is Quick, Vengeance Is Mine! and Kiss Me, Deadly are all worth reading. Be warned though - they are much more violent than the series and very politically incorrect. 

These are of course only a small proportion of the many novels that made it to TV in this era. There are countless other examples. Several of Dorothy L. Sayers' stories such as The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club were adapted very successfully for the 1970s Lord Peter Wimsey series.

It's intriguing to note the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, differences between the original books and their TV incarnations. In some cases the changes are for the better (I personally think Lord Peter Wimsey works better on TV). In other cases the changes are not so successful (The Baron being the obvious example). 

1 comment:

  1. There's a podcast on ITC series you might like, the latest episode is on The Baron.