The other day I caught Vendetta for The Saint on archive channel Talking Pictures TV. It’s a movie stitched together from two episodes of the classic ITC series starring the late Roger Moore. They were part of the final 1969 series and based on one of the novels featuring modern day Robin Hood Simon Templar.
It starts in an Italian bar/restaurant where Fulton (Silurians/ Porridge/ Fraggle Rock) Mackay calls out to Dino, an old friend played by the original Avengers girl, Ian Hendry. He gets duffed up for his trouble , rescued by a dashing stranger with the slightest hint of a halo. Fulton’s character is later murdered, triggering the vendetta of the title. What follows is an exciting and compelling adventure with The Saint facing off against Mafia dons. Aimi MacDonald gets to step outside her trademark ditzy blonde and Steven Berkoff gets to punch out Simon Templar, though that isn’t a wise move in the long run. Impressively, it also exploits some location filming but then spoils the effect by switching back to a lot in Borehamwood.
But the locations are not the most surprising thing about Vendetta for The Saint. The source material, the original 1964 novel was a big deal being the first Saint novel for 18 years, but it wasn’t written by Saint creator Leslie Charteris - it was ghosted by science fiction legend Harry Harrison.
As a freelance writer Harrison developed a relationship with Charteris, writing book reviews for The Saint Mystery Magazine, submitting a few stories under his own name and also scripting The Saint comic strip syndicated to newspapers.
“At that time I had one or two outlines that I had done for comic strips, and I went to see Leslie and he said would you like to expand this into a novel? “Yes!” I said, because I was dying of starvation! I’d just gone freelance a few years earlier. I didn’t know at the time, but the last three books he ‘wrote’ were all ghosted.”
Harrison, who would later create The Stainless Steel Rat accepted the job for a lump sum, though it seems he was promised extra for any adaptations. And while the novel is set in Naples and Sicily, the author was staying in Denmark when he wrote it.
“He [Leslie Charteris] didn’t change much of it at all, if a word. He added a paragraph or two to a chapter, but I don’t remember him changing much.”